Hayden Hatcher hoped to gain some exposure before his sophomore season at Iowa Western when he signed up for a pair of recent football camps at the University of Nebraska.
He gained much more than that. He picked up a scholarship offer from Kansas for the 2019 season.
The Lewis Central graduate caught the attention of new Jayhawk coach Les Miles on June 14 at the Friday Night Lights camp in Lincoln with 40-yard dash times of 4.47 and 4.49. He’ll be heading to Lawrence soon, with the intention of competing for playing time at linebacker and on special teams in the 2019 season.
Hatcher said he was focused on his performance during the June 15 camp when his life changed.
“Somebody pulled me aside and said, ‘Les wants to talk to you,’ and I’m like, ‘Les?’’’ Hatcher said. “I was just kind of shocked.’’
The conversation turned into a scholarship offer. Hatcher took an unofficial visit to the school last Saturday and liked what he saw. He informed the Jayhawks on Tuesday of his acceptance.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Hatcher was a walk-on at Iowa Western. The Reivers annually have a deep rotation of players in the defensive line, and Hatcher was hoping to be somewhere in that rotation this year.
But now, he’s trading the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference for the Big 12. Hatcher ran the two sub-4.5 40s on Friday, when only a handful of coaches were present. Word spread quickly when Reiver defensive line coach Aaron Terry tweeted out the times, and Hatcher knew many more coaches would be present for Saturday’s Nebraska Pipeline Camp for linemen.
He impressed Miles enough to pick up his first FBS offer.
“I was getting some looks from FCS schools, but nobody had really jumped up and offered me yet,’’ Hatcher said. “I just wanted to go there and get my name out there.
“That’s got me really excited. In 60 days, I could be playing Big 12 football.’’
Hatcher will have four seasons to play three at KU. He said he isn’t intending to redshirt this year until he’s told otherwise.
Hatcher actually participated in five sports at Lewis Central. He competed in football, track and baseball for four years. He played basketball as a freshman and then joined the wrestling team as a heavyweight as a senior.
“I thought I was mentally tough, but that taught me a different kind of mental toughness,’’ he said of his time on the mat.
Hatcher’s father, Chris, a Thomas Jefferson graduate, was the Pacific Coast League MVP in 1998 with Class AAA Omaha, finishing the year with 46 home runs and 106 RBIs. He spent a brief stint with the Kansas City Royals and hit 238 home runs in his distinguished minor league career.
Hayden Hatcher credits his father with preaching patience throughout his athletic journey.
“I had a lot of doubts when I was a freshman and sophomore,’’ he said. “I was like, man, I’m 145 pounds and I’m out here getting pinballed around and stuff. He just told me, ‘Don’t worry. Just like me, you’ll hit puberty and your genetics will kick in.’ And it started to happen.
“I couldn’t have done it without him supporting me and his wisdom.
“He always knew the right thing to say for some reason.’’