A photo caption with the article on Navy fullback Jack Hatcher misstated the first names of his father and brother. They are Ronald Hatcher Sr. and Ronald Hatcher Jr., not Robert Hatcher Sr. and Robert Hatcher Jr.
End of the Bench Jake Hatcher, Navy
Navy's Jack Hatcher has never played a down, but is still looking up
Saturday, December 12, 2009
On Saturday afternoon, Jack Hatcher will put on his Navy football uniform for the second-to-last time. The senior fullback will run onto the grass at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field with his teammates and hear the cheers from a capacity crowd. Then he will walk to the sideline and disappear.
Hatcher is part of a select group. He is one of the 165 players on the Midshipmen's roster. He is one of the roughly 100 players who will be in uniform for the 110th Army-Navy game. He is one of 32 seniors who are hoping to finish their careers having never lost to another service academy team. And he is one of seven seniors who have yet to play a single varsity down in four years.
"Nobody says, 'I want to be a scout guy.' Nobody settles into that role," said Chris Culton, who is in his seventh season as a Navy assistant. "We have a phrase here: 'All in.' The kids that stick around to their senior year are all in. They really believe that they're part of the brotherhood. I would say there's a great deal of humility that comes with that, and pride."
Hatcher plays football because it's fun, and because it keeps him fit. He likes the camaraderie. He uses it to relieve stress; he is a chemistry major with a 3.4 grade-point average -- the highest of any fullback -- and he hopes to go to medical school one day.
"When the smoke clears and the dust settles, it's a game. It's not a lifestyle. It's what you do, it's not who you are," Hatcher said. "Football is something that builds character, and it's one of the last sports that make men. I believe that."
There are two games left for Navy (8-4), and two chances left for Hatcher to get on the field and play. The odds are not good: Army (5-6) has improved and needs a win to secure its first bowl berth since 1996, and Missouri (8-4), Navy's opponent in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 31, finished second in the Big 12 North.
But if Hatcher finishes his college career having never played a single snap, that's okay. In fact, it might be better that way.
"To be honest with you, as a senior, I'd probably be offended if the coach put me on the field just because we were killing somebody. To me, that would be an insult," Hatcher said matter-of-factly. "I'd rather they put in a freshman who is wavering on whether or not he wants to stay here. I'd rather they take him and show him something that may be beneficial. Me? It's not my dream."
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Playing football at Navy wasn't part of Hatcher's initial plan. He wanted to go into the military, and the Naval Academy seemed to offer the most appealing combination of geography -- better weather than West Point, N.Y., or Colorado Springs, and a shorter flight home to Birmingham, Ala. -- and potential careers.
He had a strong résumé -- honors graduate at Shades Valley High School, most valuable player of the football team, best hitter on the baseball team -- but his Blue & Gold officer, who was helping him navigate the admissions process, suggested that he contact Navy's football coaches, because their influence could increase his chances of admission. So Hatcher called Keith Jones, the assistant coach who recruits in Alabama, and told him he wanted to play football for the Midshipmen.
"He actually called two or three times," Jones recalled with a laugh. "He kept leaving me messages."