Up in the air | NevadaAppeal.com

Up in the air

Steve Puterski
sputerski@lahontanvalleynews.com
Fallon grad Nathan Heck is the LVN's Male Athlete of the Year for his efforts on the football field and track.
Steve Puterski / LVN | LVN

A banner year complimented with an athletic scholarship, a school record, all-state honors and invitations to a pair of the largest prep track meets in the country.

Fallon senior Nathan Heck raised his game to another level leading the charge for the Greenwave football and track teams.

The all-around standout was sublime on the gridiron as the second or third option at running back heading into fall camp, but taking over the reins after off-the-field issues arose.

On the track, he was the best pole vaulter in the north and Fallon’s best all-around athlete as he qualified for state in four individual events, although he was ranked in the top 10 in six disciplines.

As a result, Heck is the LVN’s male Athlete of the Year for the second straight year.

On the run

Coming into his senior season, Heck was slated to lock down his familiar cornerback spot as a returning first-team All-State selection.

Instead, he was thrust into the lineup as the Wave’s No. 1 running back and thus his defensive ability was no longer required. A team-first player, Heck had no trouble filling the shoes and leading the rushing attack along with Charles Fulks, the No. 2 back in the stable.

“There was a battle for the running back spot,” Heck said. “Coach said whoever does the best in summer and camp will be the starter. A lot of it was the line that was really (the reason) for my success.”

The dynamic of the team changed with the suspensions of two of its best and fastest players and breaking in first-year quarterback Joe Pyle.

As Pyle got his feet wet, Fallon leaned heavily on Heck to carry the load. And he responded with his best season ever rushing for 1,436 yards and 19 touchdowns as Fallon capture its second straight Northern Division I-A title.

“At the beginning of the year I was trying to be shiftier,” Heck said. “Coach told us to go forward and not lateral. Even though I wasn’t the biggest guy, I would hit somebody and keep going.”

The explosive offense rolled through opposing defenses including a 34-6 thrashing over Lowry as Fallon advanced to its third state semifinal appearance in four years.

But Heck and his teammates ran into its toughest test of the season in a 16-0 loss to Desert Pines.

“It was a rough game,” Heck said. “Probably one of the most physical games I’ve ever played in. I was getting hit hard … but just having to get up and keep doing it. We were really looking at the state championship and thinking we could get back there and win it.”

The loss was a stinging blow as Fallon suffered another heartbreaking postseason defeat, the first coming in Heck’s junior year in a 17-0 loss in the state title game.

Despite the disappointment, Heck was tabbed as the North’s Most Valuable Player and earned his second first-team All-State selection.

Juggling act

While Fallon was in the midst of its playoff and state championship drive, Heck was also contemplating his future.

During the summer of 2014, Heck’s vaulting caught the eye of Idaho State coach Dave Nielsen. The longtime coach started courting the Fallon standout, and Heck visited the campus during the summer.

Soon, though, other college programs started to take notice including the University of Washington of the Pac-12. The issue with the Huskies, however, is they wanted Heck to clear 16 feet before they would offer a scholarship.

Nielsen, though, had already planted his seeds and wooed Heck with an 80 percent scholarship based on what he had seen during the summer.

For Heck, the decision was fairly simple in two respects. First, an injury could wipe out his senior season leaving him with no option, and two, clearing 16 feet wasn’t a guarantee.

So, Heck inked his National Letter of Intent with Idaho State of the Big Sky Conference in November and couldn’t be happier.

“Looking at all those schools and hitting a certain mark, I didn’t want to deal with that,” he said. “After visiting ISU and meeting with everyone, I instantly loved it. I thought it really worked for me and that’s why I choose there.”

But now he is a Division I athlete, which brings added pressure to perform. Scholarships are one-year renewable contracts in which a school can drop an athlete any time.

Heck, though, brings the right attitude and work ethic to Nielsen’s team. Plus, the coach had high praise for Heck, who will also compete in other events at ISU, in November.

“He’s just a talented athlete and ran really well,” Nielson said in a previous interview. “He was very receptive and interested in the vault. And I was also pretty impressed in his football clips. He’s a whale of an athlete.”

Last chance and moving on

Closing out his senior year, Heck had three primary goals — break the school record of 15 feet, clear 16 feet and win the state title.

However, he battled a lingering hamstring injury throughout most of the season but was still healthy enough to qualify for the Arcadia and Mt. SAC meets — two of the biggest in the country.

On April 11 at the Arcadia Invitational (one of the two invitational meets), Heck flew above the bar and cleared 15-1 to set a new school record.

“Just even being able to go there was awesome, let alone competing in the top sections,” he said.

He only cleared 15 feet twice all season, but narrowly missed numerous attempts between 15-3 and 15-6 during the season. It was just a matter of tightening his technique, but Heck said it will drive him during his freshman campaign at ISU.

“I had a high goals and some of them weren’t reached, but that’s alright” Heck said. “I still got second at state, so that was good.”

As for the state title, Heck once again fell short. He was the runner-up for the third consecutive year as Moapa Valley’s Caleb Witsken had a vault for the record books, becoming only the seventh Nevada high school pole vaulter to clear 16 feet.

Despite the set back, Heck also qualified in the 100-meters, long jump and 110 hurdles. If needed, Heck could have qualified in the 300 hurdles and 200.

His dominance during the season showed at the regional meet where Heck won three events and took second in his fourth.

“I knew he had a lot of talent,” Fallon boys coach Steve Heck said. “It was a pretty tremendous performance. It was an amazing season … and to be good in that many events, you just don’t see that.”

Despite the disappointment of falling short at state, Heck has moved on and is prepping for his first year in Pocatello, Idaho.

He competed in New Mexico recently and may return to Clovis, Calif., for the annual Clovis Street Vault. In addition, the Junior Olympics in Reno will be on Heck’s calendar as well.

But the most intriguing aspect of college track, Heck said, will be the winter indoor season. Although his primary focus is the vault, Heck said he will also compete in several running and/or jumping events.

The indoor meets provide a different challenge with short tracks and tighter turns, which excites Heck.

“I’m just going to push myself through the summer and hopefully get that 16 early next year,” he said.

But the lasting legacy now hangs on the wall of the Elmo Dericco Gym. Nathan Heck’s name rests next to the pole vault record, while Steve Heck’s remains up for the 100, 200 and 400.

“That’s pretty cool,” Nathan Heck said. “That is pretty exciting that we are both up there.”