TEMPE – Who is Case Hatch? Consider this:
During his freshman year at Arizona State, he would wake up at 3 a.m., work at his father’s construction company for a few hours, leave and head to football practice at 7 a.m. After practice, he would return to work for two more hours. That was followed by night classes from 6-9 p.m.
This was his schedule, Monday through Friday.
So although a lot of expectations accompany playing fullback at ASU, it’s not surprising that Hatch has not only accepted the challenge, he is excelling.
He has been a key fixture in Arizona State’s rushing offense this season and embraces the responsibility of playing fullback, giving fans a glimpse of the past when fullbacks like Jeff Paulk and Mike Karney played for the Sun Devils.
“It’s rare to find a guy like Case Hatch, who was willing, that’s the word, willing, to go in there and sacrifice his body for the greater good of the offense,” said Karney, who played for ASU in the earlier 2000s and went on to become a two-time NFL Pro-Bowler. “I’m telling you, man. It’s demoralizing for defenses when you got a fullback that can go in there and shorten people’s necks.”
ASU is ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. A big part of its success is because of Hatch, who transitioned from linebacker to fullback after his freshman year.
Offensive coordinator Zak Hill called Hatch a “swiss army knife.” He can impact the game in different ways, whether it’s blocking or receiving. He is also someone the Sun Devils can plug into different positions if they have injuries.
Hatch took a non-traditional road to get where he is now.
“Out of the six boys, he’s probably the most goal-oriented,” said his father, Cody Hatch. “He has goals written down on sticky notes all over his bathroom near and around his bed. He wants to be the best at whatever he’s asked to do.”
Hatch is the second oldest of his siblings and said there was never a dull moment growing up with five brothers. Fighting was common, so playing football helped channel that aggression to a different outlet.
Perry High School football coach Preston Jones said that he has never coached a player like Hatch in his 20 years of coaching football.
“He’s the only kid I had like that, that just was a complete package,” Jones said. “A kid you let marry your daughter, a kid that you would take with you in the back alley if you needed help, a kid that you put in on fourth down and inches. … He’s a guy you want next to you at all times in any phase of your life.”
Jones and Hatch’s father each spoke about Case’s ability to be kind off the field but morph into a different person when the game starts.
“When the ball was snapped until the whistle blew, he was a mean, mean individual,” Jones said. “Those guys that are like that. There’s only a handful of them. They can flip that switch and be the nicest guy in the world. As soon as the whistle blows … he’s one of them.”
Although he was highly recruited in high school, Hatch decided to put football on hold and serve a Church of the Latter Day Saints mission trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
When teams discovered he was going on his mission, school after school pulled their scholarship offers.
“It was probably one of the most depressing times in my football career … losing all those opportunities to play,” he said.
Hatch leaned heavily on his faith, which helped him come to peace with his decision.
“If football is something that I wanted to do, it’s always going to be here when I get back,” Hatch said. “If this is the only thing keeping me away from serving a mission, the mission has to be pretty important.”
While serving the mission, his desire to play college football never left him.
He would wake up at 4:30 a.m. to train every day and then return home and get ready to start his schedule.
After he came back from the mission, he was given the opportunity to walk-on to play football for ASU.
“When I got there, man, I had a chip on my shoulder because I felt like I had something to prove,” Hatch said. “I remembered telling myself, with every opportunity, I’m going to do my very best. It doesn’t matter who’s in my way.”
Hatch began his career as a linebacker, but most of his game reps came on special teams.
When he was approached by ASU’s offensive coordinator at the time, Rob Likens, to play fullback, he jumped at the opportunity. At the time, Eno Benjamin was the running back for ASU, and they were looking for ways to open up some more running lanes for him.
When he transitioned to fullback, he reached out to Karney for advice on playing fullback.
Karney was thrilled that Hatch reached out to him, eager to learn. He was also happy that ASU was implementing the fullback position into its offensive scheme again. He began sending Hatch some of his old game tapes and gave him some coaching advice.
Hatch switched his number to 44 before the season to pay homage to the ASU fullbacks like Karney and Paulk.
“I look up to those guys in every way possible, and see how they did things back in the days and see how I can incorporate that now with the way football is played,” Hatch said.
Karney has been one of Hatch’s biggest supporters, and if you look at his Twitter feed during ASU football games, all of his tweets are about Hatch.
“He’s ascending … the sky’s the limit for him,” Karney said. “I’m very proud that the position’s back and that he’s representing the way he is representing at a very high level. Because not everybody can do it.”
In two games this season, Hatch has been superb, and his play is a major reason ASU’s rushing attack has been so successful.
On Saturday, the Sun Devils travel to Provo, Utah, to play a BYU team that is currently ranked 23rd in the Associated Press Top 25.
BYU was a school that recruited Hatch when he was in high school. It took the offer away after the coach who offered him was fired.
“Being an LDS kid, that’s an LDS school. You know, everyone wants to go there. And when that was taken away from me, I just got fired up,” Hatch said. “It’s not a normal game that we go into every week. This week, it’s more personal for me.”
When Hatch steps on the field Saturday, his mentality will be to get his hands inside the defender’s shoulder pads, to finish his blocks, and to embrace a tip he received from Karney:
“Be the hammer and not the nail.”