To try and count the number of big plays, nearly miraculous escapes and game-changing moves by Hayden Friend during the past two prep football seasons might be next-to-impossible.
An all-around impact player for Plainville High School, Friend — the Cardinals’ senior quarterback — most often was described as “elusive.”
A shifty runner with 4.56-second 40 speed, elusive might just the tip of the iceberg when describing the senior, who guided Plainville to the Class 2-1A state championship game. He put together arguably the most impressive seasons in Cardinal history.
Friend finished the year with 2,039 passing yards to go along with 28 passing TDs to just eight interceptions. He added 1,268 rushing yards and 18 more scores.
In helping Plainville make its third appearance in a state championship game and improve the Cardinals’ record by eight wins from 2015, Friend was named the Offensive Player of the Year on the 2016 HDN All-Area Super 11 team.
“It’s unreal how he can escape and he makes plays with his feet by just prolonging a play,” said Norton coach Lucas Melvin. “Then he throws the ball over you.”
Friend’s career at Plainville didn’t start as a quarterback. In 2014, he was the Cardinals’ top rusher with 606 yards and eight touchdowns as Plainville finished 3-6 under former coach Joe Simon. Then a sophomore, Ryan Buresh was the team’s primary QB. When Grant Stephenson took over the Plainville job, he made the switch to put Friend at QB, and move Buresh to a wide receiver. The move paid off — despite the Cardinals’ 3-6 mark — as Friend passed for 1,760 yards and 10 touchdowns, with Buresh collecting 963 receiving yards and six scores in their junior campaign.
“You could see a lot of things from last year to this year he had gotten much better at,” Stephenson said of Friend, who for the time being also is the MCL’s all-time career leader in passing yards. “He threw a better ball, made better reads.
“He understood what we were trying to accomplish on offense.”
When he wasn’t doing it through the air, he was beating teams with his feet. His output was helped this season by the emergence of senior running back Riley Nyp, who transferred from Palco for his final campaign.
“That just took the pressure off Hayden” Stephenson said.
Still, Friend had a hand in at least one touchdown in every game, though he did not score an offensive TD in the state championship game against Troy, a 28-24 loss — one of only two this season. However, Friend did break free for a 69-yard touchdown on a kick return.
He also was a true leader in the huddle, often times answering questions.
“He got people lined up,” Stephenson said, adding he probably could have just let guys go at times and the team, with Friend’s leadership, would have been able to run things efficiently. “He’ll be really missed.”
Following the season, he was named the top QB in the MCL, atop a list from teams that featured great quarterback play this season by the likes of Norton’s Jace Ruder, Ellis’ Easton Smith, Phillipsburg’s Trey Sides and Smith Center’s Colton Hutchinson, a backup-turned-starter after Week 1.
We have run into a lot of great dual-threat QB’s the last few years but Hayden is as good as any that we have played against,” said Phillipsburg coach J.B. Covington. “He absolutely tore us up his junior year so we were forced to adjust our defensive scheme when we played Plainville this year.”
Phillipsburg was one of only two teams this season that was able to keep Friend from reaching the century mark in either passing or rushing yards.
That didn’t matter to Friend, though. He wasn’t concerned with racking up the yards.
“Numbers don’t really mean anything to me,” he said. “The only numbers that matter are in that win column. That means the most. Stats are cool but it’s nothing I focus on. I just focus on getting the win.”
Friend’s 3,834 passing yards is a career-best in the MCL, though Ruder needs just 250 yards next season to surpass that as the MCL leader. Friend also climbed to No. 9 all-time on the MCL’s career rushing list as Plainville’s all-time leading rusher with 3,329 yards. He also moved to second on the passing touchdowns list with 38 (behind Smith’s 40). In addition, Friend is fifth on the rushing TDs list with 52 for his career.
“It’s just how we utilized Hayden in our offensive scheme,” Stephenson said. “He was just always a threat, every play. You had to be ready for him on every play.”