With a look of disbelief on his face and clear disappointment, Michael Hiers sat in a crowded interview room inside Bryant-Denny Stadium on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, taking questions from reporters after his Briarwood Lions lost a 14-13 heartbreaker to St. Paul’s Episcopal School in the 5A state championship game.
Seven days later on Thursday, Dec. 14, the quarterback traded in his cleats for a pair of Adidas basketball shoes as he took to the hardwood for the Lions’ basketball team to kick off his second of three sports.
Whether the frustration of the agonizing loss in the state championship played a part in it or not, Hiers started the season with a double-double performance, posting 21 points and 11 rebounds in a 61-43 win over Montevallo.
“I’d say he handled it pretty well,” Briarwood offensive coordinator and head basketball coach Bobby Kerley says. “He was the best player on the floor for either team that night.”
While Kerley was glad he had two basketball games canceled the two days after the state championship, Hiers had a completely different outlook.
“We were hoping to play that next day because we didn’t want to think about the state championship game,” he says. “We just wanted to jump right into basketball so we wouldn’t have to dwell on the loss.”
There was no immediate remedy for what Hiers or Kerley had gone through—losing the state championship in the final two minutes of the game—and it was possibly the most difficult sporting moment of Hiers’s life.
“I was honestly in disbelief that we lost,” Hiers says before a brief pause, finishing with, “I’ll have the last play in my mind for forever.”
Hiers hasn’t been able to watch the tape of the game since the heartbreaking loss. Knowing it was the last game he would ever play with his friends and teammates makes it almost too unbearable to watch.
“I remember walking off the field and remembering that was the last pass I’ll ever throw,” Hiers says. “That was pretty terrible.”
Just a week before, however, Hiers has a positive memory to look back on and says he has no problem watching game tape of the miraculous 37-33 comeback win over the Saint Clair County Saints to advance to the state championship.
Trailing 27-10 at the half, Briarwood outscored the Saints 27-6 in the second half behind Hiers’s arm as he completed 13-of-16 passes for 157 yards at one point, before finishing the night 31-for-42 with 326 yards passing.
“That was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Hiers says.
It was a moment he and his teammates had dreamed of since the end of the previous football season when they fell to Wenonah in the semifinals to prevent a trip to the state championship.
“We told ourselves we didn’t want this to be our last game together and didn’t want to lose on our home field in front of everyone,” Hiers says. “We wanted to redeem ourselves from the 2016 season. At first we just wanted to make it to state, but then we realized we were there, we might as well win it.”
Instead, sadness and tears ensued after a loss in the title.
“Something like that is such a difficult thing to go through,” Kerley says on Hiers’ behalf. “I think he embodied exactly what coach (Fred) Yancey said in the locker room after the game. He said ‘I could be a happier person, but I couldn’t be any more proud of a person than I am right now.’
I know Mike was hurting, that’s going to happen, but the sense of pride that Mike felt in what the team had accomplished was unbelievable. He’s a guy that wants to compete all the time. I think he would tell you the sad part is that it was over, that we didn’t get to go to practice and he didn’t get to compete with his friends on the football field again.”
It’s something that will follow Hiers forever, sitting in the back and even in the front of his mind sometimes, but a moment in his life that will lead him to a prosperous future in dealing with life’s many obstacles.
The broken heart wouldn’t have been possible had Hiers not poured years and years of work into not just the game of football, but all three of the sports he competes in.
Playing baseball and basketball since the age of 5, and football since the fourth grade, he has had a passion for all three of the sports, saying his favorite is the one that is in season.
While he has a deep burning desire to get back on the football field after that gut-wrenching loss, he’s now averaging 20 points and seven rebounds for the basketball team.
With baseball still on the horizon, he held a batting average of .382 as a junior and totaled 20 RBIs, while pitching in 30 innings, posting a 4-0 overall record, an ERA of 1.72 and 25 strikeouts.
Now with college on the horizon and three months of school left at Briarwood, it’s all coming to an end.
But the three-sport star has learned many valuable lessons along the way that have helped him grow into the successful athlete that he is.
“All sports teach you to overcome adversity,” Hiers says. “There are challenges in every single sport that you have to overcome, so I wouldn’t say any one has had a bigger impact than another.
“In football I may get popped and have to get back up, but in basketball I may be exhausted and coach Kerley will say, ‘You’re not tired,’” Hiers says with a chuckle. “Each one kind of builds off of the other and teaches you lessons not just on the field, but off that gives you a better understanding of how to handle that situation the next time you face it.”
Hiers, who says he loves competition and hates losing more than he likes winning, is now faced with the realization that that competition is winding down.
While he has a good shot at playing a sport in college, he knows his days as a Lion are limited, but he doesn’t take lightly the lessons he has learned in his years suiting up in three different uniforms, knowing what it has done for his future.
“Whatever I do, I want to be successful, and the experiences I’ve had at Briarwood in these three sports will help me do that,” Hiers says. “I don’t really know what my future holds or what I’ll be doing, but I want to be good at it. I’m going to make sure I’m good at it.”
Kerley had nothing but praise for his quarterback and shooting guard, saying to be successful and a captain in all three of those sports, you have to have an unbelievable work ethic, but also a great understanding and natural ability, all three of which he has seen in Hiers throughout their relationship.
“If you’re going to be the quarterback, if you’re going to be the shooting guard, if you’re going to be the pitcher and the shortstop, then everybody just kind of naturally looks at you and asks, ‘Are we gonna be OK?’” Kerley says. “When they look at him they have to think, ‘OK, Mike is OK so I’m going to be OK, too.’”
A Relationship Beyond Sports
Kerley says he remembers when his relationship with Hiers first blossomed into a great player-coach relationship, which eventually turned into a friendship.
“When I was his seventh grade football coach, I remember going home and telling my wife, ‘Nobody is going to believe me, but we have this really tiny kid who can sling it,’ and we just laughed about it,” Kerley says. “It was so funny to see somebody so small throw a ball so pretty and so well.”
Ever since then, their relationship blossomed into a friendship where they could talk about sports on the field or life off the field.
At first, Kerley says it wasn’t fair to ask him the impact that Hiers had on his life, but eventually the words started pouring out in an emotional statement just after Hiers walked into the room to sit across from him.
“He’s an athletic artist, but that’s not my favorite thing about him,” Kerley says with a crackle in his voice as he tried to hold back tears. “My favorite thing about Mike is the amount of respect he shows me, the amount of effort he has given to me and the amount of time we have spent talking about a whole lot of other things besides sports.
“It’s one of those things where you can’t wait to see him go to the next level, and you can’t wait to see what he does in the work place, but man, you don’t want to let him go right now either. I’ll never forget the years I got to spend with Michael Hiers.”
Hiers, with that same look of disbelief after the state championship game, lets his jaw drop, this time for a good reason, and says, “Do I have to follow that?”
Looking for the words to be as sentimental as his coach for the last seven years, Hiers looks up at his coach and simply says, “He’s who I want to be like.”
“He’s my favorite coach of all time,” Hiers says. “I just love seeing him and being around him. He’s much more than just ‘coach’ because he’s taught me so many life lessons that I can’t thank him enough for.”
While Kerley is looking down at his desk to keep from tearing up, Hiers adds that whenever their last basketball game comes—which he hopes is in the state championship—he will be a wreck and it will be very tough to cope with.
While it will be a heartbreaking departure to leave the coach that has been with him for seven years in two of his three sports, Hiers will never really be gone as he carries with him throughout life the valuable lessons coach Kerley has shared with him and the different values all three sports have taught him.