It was an unexpected twist.
After three years dominating the defensive line for the Fallon football team, Justin Hatfield will continue his career in college after an unlikely turn of events.
Hatfield, the Nevada Division I-A all-time sack king with 33, was all but sure his last game was a playoff loss to Desert Pines last fall.
But during a visit to the University of Idaho for academic purposes, Hatfield found himself at the Kibbie Dome staring at the field. The memories swelled and the desire to once again strap on the pads was an overwhelming feeling.
So he called coach Paul Petrino, brother of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino Jr., on the spot and arranged a meeting.
Hatfield went to Petrino’s office and within five minutes, the coach said to be ready to go on Aug. 2. Hatfield was officially a walk-on for the Vandals.
“I didn’t feel like he was overly interested,” he said. “I looked at their field and knew immediately I would regret it. So I called the coach right there and met him the next morning. I was really shocked.”
Road to Moscow, Idaho
Hatfield is a driven teen, using his determination to succeed on and off the field; however, he knew his athletic limitations and realized a quality education was the path for him.
In preparation for college, the 2015 Churchill County High School graduate started to plan for his future. He searched for top engineering schools, even though he had options to play lower-level college football.
He was in contact with Colorado Mesa thanks to Greenwave assistant coach Trevor de Braga, who played for the Mustangs before returning to Fallon.
But the Division II and III schools didn’t provide the engineering programs Hatfield wanted. He turned his attention to the University of Nevada, Reno and Idaho.
“I was looking more for an academic level and ROTC scholarship,” Hatfield said.
Upon his first visit to the Idaho campus last fall, Hatfield was recruited for the first time — by the engineering department. He said he fielded at least three calls from professors and the dean urging him to enroll.
“That’s how it felt,” he laughed. “It seemed like the teachers really care. I got to meet several of them. I decided right there and felt like I don’t want to look anywhere else.”
After evaluating his options, Hatfield opted for Idaho. He said a major factor is the engineering department is one of best in the country and research-based.
As for football, though, it was a series of connections leading to interest in Hatfield.
Fallon coach Brooke Hill played for Paul Petrino at Carroll College (Mont.) in the early 1990s. In addition, Hill also had a tie with former Las Vegas High School coach Kris Cinkovich, who previously coached at UNLV and recruited former Fallon star Josh Mauga.
Hill sent tapes to the coaches, who in turn, saw an athlete who may, one day, make an impact with the Vandals.
“Justin’s always been a hard worker and strong athlete,” Hill said. “If anything kept him off the radar, is he’s not as big as your typical DI defensive end. He’s a very good athlete and very productive, and I think that was the big key for him.”
Still, in the back of his mind Hatfield had the urge to continue his football career. Hill sent video of Hatfield to the Idaho staff, although Hatfield said the conversations were few and far between initially.
“All of them are connected closely with (former Fallon coach) Chris Klenakis, so in a roundabout way, Cinkovich and I were able to get in touch about (Hatfield),” Hill explained. “I think they will be impressed with his (Hatfield’s) quickness and speed. I could see him redshirting, but you never know. I think once they see how he can play and that he makes play, he will find himself on the field.”
Nevertheless, on the second visit and standing on the field, Hatfield knew he had to at least speak with the coaches and see what came next.
“I feel I can earn a spot, maybe not a starting spot, but squeeze my way into the rotation,” he said. “I don’t expect too much being a walk on. I know it’s going to be much harder than what I’ve been through. I want to surprise the coaches with the offseason work I’ve put in.”
More than football
Hatfield was more than just a terrorizing player for the Wave. He was also fully committed to the Navy Junior ROTC program at CCHS.
Through his dedication in JROTC, Hatfield earned a three-year scholarship from the Army ROTC program at Idaho, which doesn’t kick in until his sophomore year. He also picked up another scholarship from the university and along with his financial aid (FASFA), so he sits in good financial shape going into his freshman year.
Of course, the road becomes more congested soon as Hatfield will move into his dorm at the end of July as the Vandals begin camp.
His mother, meanwhile, has already made the move to Idaho, relocating to Meridian. However, Hatfield said he refused to look at Boise State University as his allegiance to Nevada and the Wolf Pack’s rivalry with the Broncos was a deal breaker.
Idaho, meanwhile, provides the research option, which Hatfield said peaked his interest.
“They’re research based,” he said. “Some companies will come to them and make a project out of it to solve a problem for a company. They have a 100 percent employment rate out of their engineering (program).”
Chasing a dream
Fallon’s last DI football player now plays in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Josh Mauga, whose brother, T.J., played alongside Hatfield this season, is an inspiration, Hatfield said.
Growing up, he watched as Mauga shredded the prep scene and moved to star with the Wolf Pack. The time and work Mauga put in to football drove Hatfield to do the same.
On the field, meanwhile, Hatfield led a suffocating and punishing defense to one of the best seasons in school history. In addition, the team won the outright Northern DI-A title and advanced to the state semifinals for the third time in four years.
Unfortunately, the Hatfield and the Wave came up short in a 16-0 loss.
As a result, Hatfield was named the Northern DI-A’s Defensive Player of the Year, was named first-team All-State and is the all-time sack leader in Nevada DI-A history.
“I went to a few camps … and a lot of them told me unless I already had a coach talking to me, there was nowhere I would go, other than a DII or DIII,” Hatfield explained. “I lost hope and more focused on what was going to secure my future.”
Just as impressive as Hatfield nabbing a spot on a DI school, however, is the class of 2015. In addition to Hatfield, the Wave is sending five athletes to DI programs including Ali Tedford (Nevada, women’s basketball), Joe Pyle (Nevada, football) and Nathan Heck and Jordan Schultz (Idaho State, track and field).
A haul of this size from Fallon may be unprecedented in recent school history.