North Gwinnett’s Hayden Sphire grew up around quarterbacks with his father Bob Sphire, a longtime football coach. Now a senior, Hayden is the starting QB for the Bulldogs with his dad the head coach. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
When North Gwinnett quarterback Hayden Sphire was growing up in Kentucky, he spent a lot of time on high school football fields.
His father, Bob Sphire, was a successful coach at Lexington Catholic, where he won a state title.
As Bob ran his players through quarterback drills, Hayden was right there by his side to help out.
“He always coached quarterbacks, so I always helped at his practices in Kentucky,” Hayden said. “I kind of grew into it.”
Hayden subtly learned the nuances of the position, improving his throwing motion and picking up on how to read defenses. His vocabulary was filled with football terms and he mentored under guys like Justin Burke and Jacob Doss, who went on to play quarterback at Division I schools.
“There were some really high character, high performing players we had there that Hayden had a chance to be around,” Bob said. “I was coaching the quarterbacks as a position, so when he’s hanging out at practice he helped me run the drills. It was kind of a natural carryover.”
Fast forward to this season and all of the tutelage from his dad has come to fruition.
Hayden Sphire has emerged as one of the state’s top quarterbacks on the No. 1-ranked team in Class AAAAAA. Even better, he’s doing it with his dad by his side as the head coach of the Bulldogs.
“He’s made it easy for me. I put more on him. He’s made it easy for me in a lot of ways,” Bob said. “With the way he’s handled himself, with his composure, character in the building, leadership with the team. Playing the position he’s playing, he’s made it easier for me as a coach and a dad.”
For Hayden to become North’s starting quarterback, Bob made sure he earned the spot and wasn’t given it.
Hayden was in a neck-and-neck battle with Michael Haynes for the starting job last season coming out of spring practice. But over the summer Haynes took the lead for the No. 1 spot. That forced Bob to make a tough decision. He would have to choose someone else over his son. As a football coach, it made sense. As a father, it was difficult.
“It was strictly a coaching decision,” Bob said. “What’s interesting is I think Hayden would be the first to say Michael earned it. That was proven by the way Michael performed.”
Even when Hayden took his first varsity snap in the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome, it wasn’t in the most ideal situation. North had the ball on its own 1-yard line and Hayden was sacked for a safety.
“Anything he got, he needed to earn on his own,” Bob said. “To the point I got worried he thought I was a little too non-existent. He needed to learn on his own. Nothing he got would be because of me.”
Through the first six games of this season, Hayden has thrown for 1,362 yards and 22 touchdowns. Both are among the Gwinnett County leaders. He also has a 58.4 completion percentage and just eight interceptions.
“I look at more of our record than my stats,” Hayden said. “I hope I definitely dismissed the whole, ‘he’s the coach’s son that’s why he’s starting.’ But if they want to say that, I don’t care.”
Hayden has had some of his best games against the state’s top teams. He threw for 290 yards and four touchdowns against defending state champion Norcross. Against Mill Creek he led a fourth-quarter comeback with 280 yards passing and five TDs. He threw for six touchdowns against Meadowcreek.
“He’s always the first one when I come off the sideline to be there,” Hayden said of his dad. “He’s always got something positive to say no matter what happens. If it’s a touchdown, ‘good throw.’ If it’s an interception, ‘put it behind you and play the next play.’”
Those are the kinds of things Bob would say to whoever is playing quarterback for him and not just his son. They’ve managed to keep their football relationship apart from their family relationship.
“It’s a coach-player relationship in the locker room,” Bob said. “I don’t treat him any different than I treat any other player. I don’t have any expectations. I do have the ability to tell him to make his mom happy, so she’s not mad at me. But other than that, it’s no different than any other player and our relationship in this building.”
Once they get home, it’s not about game-planning and breaking down film together either. They like to spend their time with each other by relaxing and watching college football on Saturdays or the NFL on Sunday night.
“He’ll come home and ask me if I’ve watched this week’s film, but he’s never sat down and walked me through the plays,” Hayden said.
It’s that separation from football and family life that Bob feels like has helped Hayden this season.
“It’s really a family thing. I’ve got the most awesome wife (Marian) when it comes to being a coach.” Bob said. “His sister Danielle is so excited about the year he’s having. That makes it nice, too, when you have the whole thing going on with the family. I think he feels that support.”
Hayden is continuing a recent trend of first-year North senior quarterbacks having successful seasons, following Scotty Hosch and Haynes. Both led the Bulldogs to the playoffs and signed college scholarships. Hayden has a scholarship offer from Jacksonville State and is still receiving interest from several other schools.
“This year has been a lot of fun so far,” Hayden said. “Yeah, it’s going to be unfortunate when it ends, but right now I’m focused on how it’s going.”
North Gwinnett is in position to claim to its fourth region title in five years. A region crown and possibly a state championship would be a nice accomplishment for Bob and Hayden in his only year as a starting quarterback. According to the Georgia High School Football Historians, Waycross’ Dale and Todd Williams and Commerce’s Ray and Bobby Lamb in 1981 are the only recorded father-son duos to win state championships.
“I don’t really see it as a one-year thing. I think Hayden has had a tremendously positive experience here.” Bob said. “This is high school football, it’s not about starting every snap, it’s not about being a starter for two, three, four years. You earn what you get, you’re part of the team. I don’t look at it as a one-year thing, I think he’s had a tremendous four-year experience here.”
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Like Father, Like Son - North Gwinnett's Bob and Hayden Sphire
North Gwinnett head football coach Bob Sphire and his son Hayden, the Bulldogs starting quarterback, face off in a friendly game to see how well they know one another.