Three years ago, Hayes Crockett was throwing passes to Layton Rainbolt and Hunter Herring at Prairie View of the MAIS. Now seniors, Crockett and Rainbolt remain a tandem at Sterlington. When the Panthers host Ouachita Christian on Friday night, Herring will be Crockett’s opposing quarterback.

Crockett and Rainbolt were a year ahead of Herring, who started as an eighth-grader while helping the Spartans reach the 2016 quarterfinal round. Herring and current West Ouachita head coach Matt Middleton left Prairie View for LHSAA schools after the season, and Crockett and Rainbolt followed suit a year later.

Besides football, the trio were basketball and baseball teammates at PVA.

Different-colored jersey aside, the former Spartans are eagerly anticipating Friday night’s reunion.

“It’s going to feel funny playing against each other, especially with me and Hayes both playing quarterback,” said Herring, who will make his second varsity start behind center. “We’ve always messed with each other. Hayes likes to keep it interesting. He’s a great guy and a great quarterback. I’m looking forward to seeing him again.”

Crockett recalls making many a trip from Bastrop to Herring’s home in Calhoun.

“We were best buds at Prairie View,” Crockett said. “I used to go to his house. We played travel ball together. His mom (Michelle) is awesome. She was always there for us.”

For Crockett, playing against Herring adds a little spice to what is already a rivalry game.

“It’s a little weird, but it’s always fun to have some friendly competition. It makes it even better when you win,” said Crockett, who has verbally committed to ULM. “It’s always a battle when Sterlington and OCS play, and it should be a good one Friday night.”

Crockett and Rainbolt are 2-0 in games against Herring and Middleton. Sterlington won last year’s meeting with the Eagles 22-20 while Rainbolt was the catalyst in the Panthers’ 35-21 come-from-behind victory over Middleton’s West Ouachita team in the 2018 season opener.

With the Panthers trailing 21-7 in the third quarter, Rainbolt housed the ensuing kickoff from 85 yards out and the Chiefs never regained the momentum.

“It was crazy,” Rainbolt said, reflecting on his Sterlington debut. “I heard coach Middleton yell out to his kicker not to kick the ball to me. Then he booted it right to me, and I picked it up and ran it back. I looked back, and coach Middleton was yelling and screaming. It was a pretty cool experience.”

Rainbolt has caught for Herring before, although it was pitches rather than passes. Herring started at third base and saw spot duty on the mound for Prairie View while Rainbolt was the catcher. 

Seeing Herring at quarterback caught Rainbolt by surprise.

“We both started at wide receiver at Prairie View. I had never seen him at quarterback until I saw the film,” Rainbolt said.

Herring played quarterback as a seventh grader at Calhoun Middle School prior to transferring to Prairie View. He took limited snaps last season while starting both ways as a wide receiver/tight end and defensive end.

Crockett could see the potential in Herring, who has grown to 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, three years ago.

“You knew Hunter was going to be good. Even back then, he was growing like crazy,” Crockett said. “He was one of our better players.”

Three years later, the former Spartans are reaping the benefits of playing early.

“Starting as an eighth-grader made me mature a lot faster,” Herring said. “Obviously, the competition is not as strong as the people I play against now, but it definitely forced me to step up. I learned that it was about the team and not so much about me.”

Middleton demanded the best even from eighth-graders.

“Coach Middleton stayed on me,” Herring said. “I love that man, but he could chew you from one end to the other. It was a fun year, though.”

Added Rainbolt: “I was playing against seniors as an eighth-grader, which helped me when I moved to Sterlington my junior year. Playing against older kids definitely helped prepare me for the move to 3A.”

Sure, it was on a smaller scale, but the playing time and the playoff run were a valuable experience.

“We played against some good teams that year. Trinity Episcopal, the team that beat us in the playoffs, had some good players,” Herring said. “If all three of us were still together on that team, I would be scared to play us.”

“We had some talent,” Crockett said. “Auston Smith came in (from Sterlington), and we had me, Layton, Hunter and Austin Carroll. We were pretty good.”

Besides playing against their former teammate, this marks the final chance for Crockett and Rainbolt to play in the OCS-Sterlington rivalry.

Crockett was limited by a cameo appearance in last year’s 22-20 Sterlington victory due to an injury.

“I missed last year’s game, but I’ve been around. I know about the rivalry,” Crockett said. “It’s quarterback vs. quarterback this year.”

Rainbolt learned last year that Sterlington-OCS isn’t just another game.

“I didn’t realize how big this game was until we played them last year, and all the coaches were hyping it up,” Rainbolt said. “You have two schools right down the road from each other, so it’s like the battle of (Hwy.) 165. It’s pretty cool.”

Regardless of the outcome, the reunion of 2016 Spartans will be pretty cool, too.

“I’m looking forward to talking to Hunter after the game,” Rainbolt said.

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