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Shamrocks' Hazlett nearing 2,000 yards
Yuma Catholic senior running back Kody Hazlett is within striking distance of a milestone.
The Shamrock back is 184 rushing yards from reaching 2,000 on the regular season. It's been that kind of season for Hazlett when 184 rushing yards in a game sounds like a realistic expectation — he has four games with more than 214 yards on the ground. Yet another big game from Hazlett at home against San Tan Foothills at 7 p.m. tonight and he'll pass the 2,000-yard threshold.
But he doesn't really care.
“If somebody else got a touchdown or got the yards and we still won the game I'd be fine. It's a team sport, it's not all about stats and all that,” Hazlett said.
“He's the ultimate team guy, he doesn't care about that stuff at all,” Shamrock coach Rhett Stallworth said. “Normally, that's why things like this happen to kids like that. He could care less about stats. To win the state title is what he wants.”
But Stallworth realizes the kind of rarefied air that Hazlett is in right now. After nine games, Hazlett has 173 carries for 1,816 yards and 20 touchdowns and is the third-highest rusher in the state — behind Division III's Mark Dogbah and Division VI's Cale Merrell, who plays 8-man football. In 2009, Yuma Catholic running back Ed Harris finished just short of 2,000, ending the season with 1,928 yards and 29 touchdowns — but he did that in 13 games and on 210 carries. In 2010, Cibola's Jordan Mitchell finished the regular season leading the state with 2,192 rushing yards — but needed 300 carries to do it.
“I think it's an important thing for a kid who puts that much work into it to hit certain milestones,” Stallworth said of his mindset coming into the regular season finale with Hazlett less than 200 yards from 2,000. “I don't know if it's his goal but he's there and it's a big deal to break the single-season rushing record for us and it will be in three less games. Not only can he break it, he can shatter it throughout the playoffs.”
When the Shamrocks stormed through the 2011 regular season, they were led on offense by quarterback Tommy Pistone, who was the 2011 Yuma Sun/Yuma Rotary Football Offensive Player of the Year and is currently redshirting for No. 4 Arizona Western. While Pistone was busy filling the night skies with spirals, Hazlett became an afterthought. He rushed for less than 73 yards in five of his first eight games. Then when teams started to play back to prevent the pass, Hazlett started to make teams pay.
“We got to the point in our schedule when we were just decimating people through the air so bad that people were making a concerted effort to give us Nickel and Dime packages and putting extra defensive backs in,” Stallworth said. “And at that point, it was like if you're going to do that, here's what we're going to do. And we always knew that Kody could get it done.”
It started with the 2011 regular season finale against San Tan Foothills — when Hazlett rushed for 170 yards and four touchdowns in a 77-50 shootout. In the first round of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division V playoffs, he rushed for 151 yards and three touchdowns against San Manuel and in the rematch against San Tan Foothills, he added 165 yards and two touchdowns in a 51-15 semifinal win over the Sabercats.
Then, in the biggest game of his life, Hazlett rushed 30 times for 149 yards in the 21-19 win over Northwest Christian in the state championship — going toe-to-toe with Northwest Christian's Casey Jahn, the state's all-time leading rusher, who finished with 153 yards on 29 carries. With the victory, Pistone's career at Yuma Catholic was over and the keys to the offense were figuratively handed over to Hazlett.
“(This year) it's a whole different story. We're more run-oriented and people are cramming the box but we get more and more effective with the run every week,” Stallworth said.
A major benefactor of Hazlett's strong season has been Pistone's replacement — sophomore Jagan Cleary, who has efficiently completed 58-percent of his passes for 1,388 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“(Hazlett) has been really important because whenever we get our run game going, that brings up the linebackers. And that opens up the passing game, too,” Cleary said.
The 5-foot-8, 166-pound Hazlett is not the fastest back in the state and he certainly isn't the biggest. Sophomore linebacker Moisis Barcenas, the Shamrocks' leading tackler and main force on the scout team defense, sees firsthand what Hazlett does on a regular basis. He doesn't breakaway from the defense or run them over, but he tightens his chinstrap and pushes for the extra yard and manages to follow his solid offensive line and cut at just the right time.
“He works for it. He's dedicated to being a football player and knows how to run the ball. It may not be his strength, it may not be his speed, but he knows how to get in there and cut,” Barcenas said. “He knows where the gap is going to be open. He has really good patience.”
“I think there's a good chemistry between him and the O-linemen. It seems every game we can just make things click,” senior left guard Glen Justice said. “We know how he's going to play every game and he knows how we are going to play.”
Hazlett and the offensive line have had some monster games this season. There was the 334-yard, four-touchdown performance at Parker and 305 yards and three touchdowns in a 21-14 win over River Valley, which is No. 9 at Division IV. But ask anybody on the team what Hazlett's magnum opus has been and the answer is the Shamrocks' 37-24 win at Buckeye. Hazlett rushed a season-high 30 times for 237 yards and two touchdowns.
“The competition at the Buckeye game, you have to understand, there's two or three Division I athletes out there and he's putting a hurt on them,” Stallworth said. “He made this linebacker who's going to (University of Arizona) miss all night and making that defense wonder which way was up. And that's because he just won't quit.”
The next day, his body felt the toll of each and every hit.
“Oh it hurt. It did not feel good,” Hazlett said. “They hit pretty hard and were really physical.”
With just one more game in the regular season, the Shamrock senior who averages more than 10 yards a carry and 200 yards a game is 184 yards from a milestone few high school running backs ever reach. But Stallworth said that the celebration if Hazlett breaks 2,000 yards in the regular season will match the humbleness of its subject.
“We'll pat him on the back and tell him good job and maybe get an extra doughnut during film on Saturday.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.