After the Northern Wyoming Community College District eliminated the athletics programs at Gillette and Sheridan colleges this past summer, Kolby Hayes didn’t know if he’d have another chance to play college soccer.
Hayes, a Class of 2020 Thunder Basin High School graduate, is taking classes at Gillette College, but will transfer to the University of Providence in Great Falls, Montana, next semester.
While COVID-19 has played a significant factor in college recruiting this year, Hayes also has experienced more adversity than most student-athletes before even taking a step onto the college pitch.
The 19-year-old Gillette native was named all-conference his junior season and started for Thunder Basin High School beginning his sophomore year.
But injuries and a life-threatening condition have kept him off the soccer field for his senior season.
Clearing the hurdles
In January, Hayes was airlifted to the Children’s Hospital in Denver when he was a senior at Thunder Basin High School. Soccer was the last thing on his mind as he spent seven days in the ICU.
His hospital trip started with an allergic reaction to a new medicine he was taking. A simple fever turned into a severe rash and a life-threatening 107-degree temperature.
After being diagnosed with drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms (DRESS), Hayes was cleared to start practicing with the Bolts soccer team in early March. But on March 11, he suffered a second episode and was flown back to Denver.
“The two times that I got life-flighted, those were the darkest times I’ve ever had,” Hayes said.
On top of the rashes that were created by his body reacting to the drugs, Hayes said he also dealt with hair loss, breakouts and gained 40 pounds. Dealing with DRESS wasn’t the only adversity Hayes faced over his soccer career at Thunder Basin.
In the first round of the state tournament his junior year, Hayes broke his hip in a game against Kelly Walsh. A few months later in October 2019, he broke the same hip playing at the Campbell County Recreation Center.
When Hayes was life-flighted to Denver for a second time in March, the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to take hold around the country. By the end of his second stint in the ICU, Hayes began to realize his final soccer season as a Bolt was in jeopardy.
After the 4A state basketball tournament was canceled because of COVID-19, it became clear to Hayes and to the rest of his teammates that a soccer season wasn’t going to happen in the spring.
Yet another blow
Despite missing out on a senior season at Thunder Basin, Hayes impressed coaches at Gillette College and earned a roster spot as part of the Pronghorns soccer program.
A couple of months later on June 25, Hayes was dealt another blow when all athletics were cut at Gillette and Sheridan colleges in a budget move.
“At first we didn’t really know if it was legit or not,” Hayes said. “It starts off as a rumor and then it eventually grows into me getting a text from the coach saying that they canceled it. I was pretty disappointed.”
Shortly after his college soccer program was cut, Hayes attended a camp hosted by Montana State University at Billings. His expectations weren’t high because it was an ID camp, where only one or two players will typically be recruited out of a group of 100, Hayes said.
And besides, he was coming off a twice-broken hip and two other life-threatening medical emergencies.
“I was just taking it with a grain of salt,” Hayes said. “I wasn’t trying to get my hopes up.”
It was at MSUB’s soccer camp in Great Falls, where Hayes met University of Providence soccer coach Danny Burstein. Hayes was invited to UP for an official visit, where he was offered a scholarship to play soccer for the Argonauts.
Through the last two years, Hayes has developed a mindset of not taking any opportunities for granted. That’s why he plans on taking full advantage of being given a second chance to play soccer in college.
“I really do believe it was all just God’s plan,” Hayes said. “I think everything that has happened to me has kind of just set me up to get to where I am now.”
Not taking things in life for granted trickles well beyond just soccer, Hayes said.
“One thing for me that’s been huge was having my skin just feel normal,” Hayes said. “Being able to do normal things and to just be able to see my friends.”
Hayes feels confident in taking his talents on the soccer field to UP, and he feels equally as confident that his health will allow him to keep playing throughout college.
Barring any other unexpected setbacks, Hayes will begin his college soccer career in February.