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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hatch showing progress on field

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Oct. 8, 2008 KU football interviews

Jeremiah Hatch smelled a rat.

As an incoming freshman at Dallas' Carter High hoping to make the school's basketball team that winter, Hatch was approached one day by the Carter basketball coach, who offered him this ultimatum: In order to play for the basketball team, Hatch first would have to sweat his way through a season of football - a sport he'd never before played.

Not wanting to miss out on basketball, Hatch obliged, playing offensive line for Carter as a freshman and liking it well enough to return the next three years, eventually developing into an all-state center.

But something about the whole "football-for-basketball" arrangement screamed conspiracy.

"I think it was more of the football coach telling the basketball coach (I had to play football)," Hatch said following the Kansas University football team's Wednesday night practice.

In any case, the result couldn't have been much better for the 6-foot-3, 311-pound red-shirt freshman. Today, Hatch has arguably the most important - though under-appreciated - job on campus: making sure standout quarterback Todd Reesing's blind side is protected entering a Big 12 season in which the importance of the quarterback's health is at an all-time high.

Since committing to Kansas two years ago, Hatch hasn't wasted much time ascending the depth chart. Following a red-shirt season in 2007, it wasn't long before he'd worked his way into a starting spot as the right tackle on this year's offensive line. And it wasn't long after that - following Kansas' victory over Sam Houston State on Sept. 20 - before he'd worked his way into the left tackle position, switching spots with fellow red-shirt freshman Jeff Spikes.

"Jeremiah has shown the last few weeks that his pass sets, the quickness of his feet, getting set, are more conducive to protecting the backside of the quarterback than perhaps Jeff," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said.

To borrow a phrase from Mangino's repertoire, however, the team's rookie tackles have experienced their share of "growing pains" through the season's first five games. Up to now, the offensive line has been looked upon as a weak point for the Jayhawks, unable to pave the way for a potent ground attack and forcing Reesing to flush the pocket more often than coaches would like. Last week, in the first game Hatch and Spikes were posted at their new positions, Reesing was sacked a season-worst three times - a number that could have been much higher had the quarterback not snaked his way out of multiple tight spots.

Still, it's nothing coaches weren't expecting when they replaced all-American Anthony Collins and four-year starter Cesar Rodriguez with a pair of first-year players.

"You see it in steps," said offensive coordinator Ed Warinner. "Sometimes it's baby steps, but we've seen improvement week after week. They've just hung in there and kept battling, but they're coming along; they're coming along pretty decent."

Hatch says he's learning fast, focused on improving. And despite the abrupt change in position, Hatch insists it's all the same to him. The offensive line is the offensive line.

"Left tackle, right tackle, center, guard - it's offensive lineman," Hatch said. "You have to have the same mentality for all of them."

Informed that, historically speaking, left tackles in the NFL garner significantly more lucrative contracts, Hatch just shook his head.

"I got a long way, long, long, long, long way to the NFL," he said, smiling. "It's a long, long way. Trust me, I'm not even thinking about that."

KU excelling on third-down: Entering Saturday's 11:30 a.m. game against visiting Colorado, the Jayhawks are currently ranked fourth in the nation with a third-down conversion percentage of 56.4, up from their 43-percent average a season ago.

Against Iowa State last Saturday, the Jayhawks converted on two of four third down attempts in the second half to overcome a 20-point halftime deficit and earn a 35-33 victory.

"I don't know that there's anything that I can put my finger on other than the fact that we have executed well," Mangino said. "We have, at times, changed things up on third down and have not been very predictable, and that has helped quite a bit."

Reesing closes in on records: In addition to being among the nation's leaders in multiple offensive categories - he ranks third in completions (28.8), total offense (368.4) and passing yards (344.80) - Reesing is also inching toward a number of school career marks despite having played just a season and a half as Kansas' starter.

If Reesing completes 33 passes against Colorado, he will become Kansas' career leader in passing completions. Frank Seuer is the current leader with 467 completions and Reesing is second with 435. He also trails Seuer by 327 for first in total offensive yards in a career.

Comments

Rivethead 14 years, 1 month ago

You can say good bye to those records soon enough.Man, Hatch is a humble kid. Stark contrast from Anthony "Mama's Gotta Eat" Collins from last year!

DallasHawk 14 years, 1 month ago

Hatch is a great kid and I think him and Spikes are just going to get better going forward. Reessing is flat-out greatness. A great kid and an even better player. Keep Sawin' Wood!

plotku 14 years, 1 month ago

Man am I glad they made a move at left tackle casue Spikes was just getting used. And I hope Hatch is the answer, cause entering a tough Big 12 schedule keeping TR5 off his backside is crtical. Running the ball is only going to get tougher agaianst the more physical Big 12 defensive lines (and we have been mediocre at best), so the offense falls on are airial attack.

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