The suspect for the fatal shooting of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith is himself a pigskin player — who appears to have fumbled his once-promising career even before Saturday’s fatal encounter.
Accused shooter Cardell Hayes, 28, is a former New Orleans prep football star who never managed to make it beyond the Big Easy. In 2004, the year before he graduated Warren Easton Charter High School, Tiger Sports Digest named him as one of Louisiana’s 50 best prospects.
Since then, Hayes scored small successes — competing locally and playing a bit part in the hit comedy “22 Jump Street” — but never made a name for himself until allegedly shooting Smith in an apparent road rage incident.
Police said there is no indication Hayes targeted Smith or had any relationship with him.
But there is at least one coincidence linking the killer and suspect.
Hayes sued the city and several cops in 2006 for the fatal police shooting of his father Anthony Hayes, a mentally ill man who confronted officers with a knife. One of the officers in the suit, which was settled in 2011, is Billy Ceravolo — a close friend of Smith’s for years.
Ceravolo joined Smith and several friends, including former Saints player Pierre Thomas, for a sushi dinner just hours before the shooting. Ceravolo and Smith were driving, in separate cars, to hang out in a hotel when Hayes allegedly rear-ended Smith’s car — triggering an argument that ended in gunfire.
Ceravolo told the Daily News there was “absolutely not” a prior connection between Hayes and Smith.
“It’s a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said Sunday.
“It’s just a coincidence. New Orleans is a big small town.”
Hayes played for the Crescent City Kings local development team as recently as 2015, according to its website.
Hayes, who listed himself as a University of New Orleans player on Facebook, does not appear to have been recruited by any colleges. His profile on the prep recruiting site Rivals lists him as a 6’4”, 280-pound defensive tackle who is “undecided” on a team commitment. The page lists several colleges, mostly in the South, showing only “medium” or “low” interest in him.
He had a brush with fame as an uncredited extra in “22 Jump Street,” the 2014 action comedy that earned more than $330 million worldwide.
Hayes posted photos on his Facebook in January 2014 showing him on set at New Orleans’ Tad Gormley Stadium, where the crew filmed a football game sequence.
The pictures show Hayes wearing the same blue and orange uniforms as dozens of other extras in the scene. In one pic, he’s hugging Wyatt Russell, one of the film’s co-stars.
“Tbt on the movie set wit da big bro big fav and Wyatt Russell,” Hayes wrote on Facebook.
The middling gridiron player appears to have only made it into the film for one second. In one crowd shot, a uniformed player with Hayes’ distinct dreadlocks and brick house body is seen far on the side, cheering with his teammates. He barely makes it into the frame.
The film’s casting directors could not immediately be reached for comment.
Police said Hayes remained at the scene of the crime and was arrested there. He now faces a second-degree murder charge. The shooting also left Smith’s wife, Racquel Smith, with two non-fatal wounds.
Arizona Cardinals cornerback Tyrann Mathieu — once a star of the Louisiana State University Tigers team — alluded in a tweet Sunday to knowing Hayes from his college days.
Mathieu did not appear to be a fan.
He tweeted: “I know that dude, he been a hating ass coward…. Never knew he’d grow up to be a killer tho…. May you get what you deserve coward.”
With Laura Thompson