November 27, 2022

If Hayden Hatten had a funeral home, you can imagine the reviews would be terrible. Hatten is good at putting people (usually cornerbacks) in coffins. The problem is that he likes to dance to it.

One of Idaho’s best gimmicks is to make tight formations to isolate the top receiver, and with three minutes and 44 seconds left in the second quarter of the Vandals’ game against Eastern Washington at the Kibbie Dome earlier this month, was it Demetrious Crosby Jr.’ It’s his turn to face Hatten, all alone on the left side of the field. Just as the announcer reminded viewers to pay attention to Hatten, he burst off the line and ate Crosby’s 8-yard cushion.

Idaho freshman quarterback Gevani McCoy released the ball before Hatten had even made the second break of his out-and-up route, and by the time the camera caught up with play again, he had the ball high in the shot back. corner of the end zone with Crosby sprawled on the ground in an ineffective attempt to stop the inevitability.

It was Hatten’s 12th touchdown in his last five games, seventh in the last four quarters he had played and fourth in that game alone. And as he got back to his feet, he held up two fingers on each hand, slammed them together and held up the result: four fingers, four touchdowns.

‘You have to be careful that you don’t get flagged, don’t you? You don’t want to draw too much attention from the referees,” said Hatten. “So you have to do it in little subtle ways, but yes, we work hard all year to be able to perform on a big stage and so if you excel at that I don’t see any problem in taking it in.”

Hatten hasn’t just been the country’s most unguarded receiver over the past two months. Cool, confident, and most importantly, fun, he’s also the perfect avatar for an Idaho team that found its mojo in head coach Jason Eck’s freshman year.

He added two more touchdowns in an effort of 13 catches and 126 yards, despite a disappointing loss to UC Davis the week after the Eastern Washington game. At the end of the regular season (Idaho is one of five Big Sky Conference teams to advance to the FCS playoffs), Hatten leads the conference in catches (74), yards per game (100 – only three other players are even over 80, including his second-place teammate Jermaine Jackson with 85.3) and, of course, touchdowns (15 after having none in his first three games.) Only Weber State’s Ty MacPherson reached double figures with 10 touchdowns.

Montana fans found out how good he is a month ago. Hatten had nine catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Vandals to a 30-23 win at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. He also celebrated his second score, a 43-year-old he snatched from Corbin Walker’s head, by knocking out Cristiano Ronaldo’s iconic celebration for the north end zone, then said of the victory in the post-game press conference: “I knew it was was going to happen.”

“(Washington-Grizzly) has to be my favorite stadium I’ve ever played in just based on the atmosphere and everything,” Hatten said. “I love how passionate the fans are there. … That’s why you play the game, right, to go in and prove people wrong and show off and have fun in such an environment.

That belief in himself and his team is perfect mirror of his head coach, who has accomplished one of the biggest turnarounds in the country.

Fair or not, Paul Petrino quickly earned a reputation as the FCS’s Jeff Fisher – in the three full seasons since the Vandals fell back to the Big Sky Conference, they had finished 3-5 in conference play each year, and either 4 -7 or 5-7 overall.

Eck, who looks like a side character from a forgotten Cheers season and has the demeanor of a golden retriever at a press conference, led the Vandals to a 7-4 record with six Big Sky wins and the first FCS playoff berth of the program since the shooting. of the then Division I-AA after the 1995 season.

In his first game as Idaho coach, the former South Dakota State offensive coordinator went for fourth against Washington State seven times and pulled a near upset win over the Cougars, 24-17.

In the “upset” over Montana, Eck called for an onside kick to start the second half, then chuckled after the game: “Everybody told me we wanted the ball to start the second half, so that was the only way to understand.”

Hatten fits perfectly with Eck’s gambling, “fuck it, let’s try it” style – you can almost hear the coach whispering that to himself on the sidelines every time he sees Hatten match one-on-one.

Hatten is a physical receiver, adept at using his body to outwit defensive backs for contested catches, as he did on Crosby and Walker, or shut them down on ramps near the goal line, as he did on a pair of his three touchdowns in the second half against Sacramento State. He also has great hands and arguably the longest roll of highlights of anyone in the league. After a whirlwind, jumping, one-handed catch into the side of the end zone earlier this year against Portland State — this time a fade against one-on-one coverage at the goal line — he pulled out another famously famous athlete’s celebration: Michael Jordan shrugs.

The Vandals also happen to have the perfect recipe for getting Hatten into one-on-one situations – a great receiver at the other end in Jackson, a very accurate quarterback in McCoy, and an effective running game with Roshaun Johnson and freshman Anthony Woods.

“I kind of like, in man-to-man coverage, one-on-one, Hatting against everyone we play,” Eck said after the Eastern Washington game. “There’s no one we’re pulling back from there.” Eck can barely contain his glee as he talks about this and tries not to smile.

Hayden is now part of a trifecta of Hattens in Idaho that includes his twin brother and linebacker Hogan and their cousin Jack, a six-foot-tall freshman on the basketball team. Their house is a magnet for other Vandal athletes on campus (and, in fact, where the inspiration for the Ronaldo party comes from – the trio plays FIFA a lot. Hayden’s favorite teams: France and Liverpool).

That they ended up in Idaho at all is a bit of an upset, though. Originally, their path from Scottsdale, Arizona, where the twins’ father runs a branch of Josten’s, the cap-and-cape company, and their mother runs a Chick-Fil-A franchise, seemed to point in the direction of the Ivy League. Hayden is studying economics with plans to go into the family business, and the brothers knew they went to the same school so their parents could watch them both play at the same time.

An initial union with Brown fell through when the coaching staff was fired and Idaho was one of the few schools to offer scholarships to both twins. In fact, the Vandals were the only Big Sky team to offer Hayden (“I was kind of surprised when I couldn’t get NAU,” he said).

He caused the Lumberjacks to regret this early by catching the first two touchdowns of his career against NAU in the final game of his freshman season in 2019 after appearing in every game that season.

Hatten was second in the Big Sky with 43 receptions in the 2021 spring season and was about to start a breakaway year with 12 catches, 200 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games of 2021 before hurting his shoulder and losing the rest of the game. year missed.

Doing his best work in the under-the-radar spring season and the unfortunate timing of the injury left Hatten a bit of a surprise to people who weren’t watching Idaho closely.

No one outside of Moscow would have predicted that the receiver with the most touchdowns in the country this year would have had fewer than 70 career catches entering the season. No one outside of Moscow would have guessed that the Vandals would be flirting with a top-10 spot at any point in the season.

But after a slow start to the season (for all his outstanding stats, Hatten’s most unique statline of the year might be this: he had 13 yards on six catches in the Washington State season opener), Hatten and the Vandals are now rolling, and neither seems inclined to shy away from the new spotlight.

“I just think the most important thing in college football is that you’re going to win, and changing the culture of an entire team to believe that you’re going to win is important,” Hatten said. “I am a very confident person, I believe in myself and being surrounded with the people I am surrounded with definitely helps me personally. … I think anyone who’s been here and seen it first hand, how everyone just sort of freaked out and really believed in the program… it’s an exciting time to be a Vandal.

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