Heck of a year: Nathan Heck named LVN’s Boys Athlete of the Year
June 18, 2014
He has developed a nasty habit of breaking bars in the pit.
Not to mention, the one they call "Nasty" also locked up opposing wide receivers on the gridiron. An injury during the winter, though, prevented Churchill County High School junior Nathan Heck from becoming a three-time state tournament participant in the 2013-14 school year.
He tied a school record in the pole vault with a height of 15 feet, qualified for the Division I-A state track meet in the pole vault and both hurdle events (110- and 300-meters) and helped lead the Fallon football team to its first state championship game in more than 30 years.
Not too shabby for nine months of work.
“My freshman year my dad told me I was going to hurdle,” I couldn’t say no to the coach. I found out I was pretty good at it.”
For his efforts on the field and track, Heck is selected as the LVN's Boys Athlete of the Year.
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"He had a tremendous year in both sports," said Fallon track coach Steve Heck, who is Nathan's father.
Pole bending, breaking
Standing at 5-8 and weighing about 160 pounds, Heck had a breakout season in the pole vault pit.
He, along with four others, vaulted their way to the tip-top of the pole vault mountain. The foursome recorded the best height in the state this season at 15 feet.
During the season, however, Heck had a pair of frightening run-ins during his event. In a meet in Fallon, he broke the crossbar during one of his jumps. The second, though, was nearly disastrous.
Going head-to-head with Elko's Brendan Shelly in the state meet, Heck went down the runway and put his pole in the box. As he was lifting off, he felt something but wasn't sure of the context.
Before he knew it, Heck landed on the pit just short of crashing in the metal box. He had broken his pole in three places during his attempt at 15 feet and for the state title.
His miss forced a jump-off with Shelly, which the Elko senior won, leaving Heck with his second consecutive runner-up finish in the event. The jump-off, though, also caused Heck to miss the 300 hurdle race.
"I think that's in his mind already, that he wants to be the state champion," Steve Heck said. "There's a couple other guys who are right there with him. I know Nathan is taking it pretty serious."
His state meet, though, ended with a sixth-place finish in the 110 hurdles.
The hurdles, though, didn't come by choice.
"My freshman year my dad told me I was going to hurdle," Nathan Heck laughed. "I couldn't say no to the coach. I found out I was pretty good at it."
The hurdles, though, is a complex event centered on precision steps between obstacles, speed and conditioning. Many newcomers jump over instead of hurdling, which takes time and patience to perfect.
"He's always been a little bit of a natural at it," Steve Heck said. "He's at a disadvantage in the high hurdles because of his height. In the 300s, that's a race all about guts and that's him in a nutshell."
Chasing a championship
For more than 30 years, the Fallon football team has found little success. The past four seasons, however, the Greenwave has rebuilt their program into one of the best in the Northern DI-A.
For Heck, though, two transitions were necessary to find a starting spot for coach Brooke Hill's team. Heck played outside linebacker the previous season on the JV team, a position he knew he lacked the size for at the varsity level.
"Coming into this year, I just wanted to start and I didn't care where," he said.
So, during summer camps he slid over to cornerback, one of the toughest positions on the field.
The second adjustment, though, was catching up with the speed of his varsity counterparts. But Heck's speed and physical nature lifted him into a starting role where he flourished.
Coming from a long line of family athletes, Heck spoke with his brother, Charlie Heck, who relayed tips about how to manage a new level of football.
"He told it will be a lot faster and you have to do things faster," Nathan Heck said.
He tallied 64 tackles, five tackles for a loss, two interceptions, a team-high 13 passes defensed and three fumble recoveries. As a result, Heck was named second-team All-State in the DI-A at cornerback.
"I wasn't expecting to make all-state," he said. "I was pretty surprised and happy about that. I didn't have a lot of interceptions but that's because no one really threw to my side."
The defense was stingy, allowing 13.8 points per game but the end result was one of heartbreak.
"We didn't want anyone to score all year," Heck said. "There were a few games where our starting defense got scored on … but we were the best defense in the league."
After cruising through the first eight games, Fallon ran into its old nemesis in Lowry. The Buckaroos won 21-14, but Heck said it was a wake-up call for the Wave.
Fallon went on to beat rival Fernley and Moapa Valley in the state semifinals to clinch a berth in the state title game.
"That next week, the whole town was rooting us on," Heck said.
However, Fallon fell 17-0 to Faith Lutheran, although the defense was on point all night despite the final result.
Nevertheless, it was a bitter pill for Heck to swallow.
"It was not fun to watch," Heck said of the game film. "We are going to use that to motivate us this year."
Heck's summer schedule is a busy one, filled with football camps and a pair of track meets. He recently competed at the Great Southwest Classic in Albuquerque where he placed 13th in the pole vault.
Next week he and his football teammates will take part in a football camp in South Lake Tahoe. After Heck's football duties are completed, he will compete in a Junior Olympic track meet at Reed High School in Sparks.
One day later, he will head to Sacramento for one of the top meets of the summer slate and also head to a pole vault camp in Idaho.
"I don't have much time off," Heck said.
But once the leaves turn and football resumes, Heck has his sights set on bringing home a state title and keep his high level of play to secure another all-state selection.
On the track, meanwhile, he is aiming high.
Heck's steady rise in pole vault has lifted his confidence to where he said a height of 16 to 16-6 is in his reach. He is quick to point out, though, his success has come as the result of the tutelage of Bert Serrano, the former University of Nevada women's assistant track and field coach.
"Without him, I probably wouldn't have got this far," Heck said.
For the hurdles, speed and condition are Heck's priorities in the offseason.
"Getting over the hurdles just takes practice," he added.