Hammond has come a long way since youth FB
Appeal Sports Writer
Eight words best sum up Mitch Hammond’s feelings for football when his mother first signed him up to play for the Might Mites.
“I thought it was the worst thing ever,” said Hammond, a junior who has been a starter for the Carson Senators’ varsity team since he was a sophomore last year.
Ask him what he thinks about the sport now and Hammond has a slightly different attitude.
“Even if the season ends Thursday, I’m not turning in my helmet and shoulder pads,” said Hammond, who will lead the Senators into tonight’s battle against Reno for a spot in the Northern 4A Regional playoffs next week. “I’m devoting my life to it. I even breathe it. I like the lights, coming out on the field, the crowd, the smell and going to war every Friday night. I like the adrenaline rush, the emotional roller coaster of the game.”
Hammond, originally from Huntington Beach, Calif., moved to Carson City when he was 5, forgot about soccer after the Mighty Mites and, with the full support of his mother, began to immerse himself in the game of football.
But Hammond, who turned only 16 earlier this month, got a little more than he bargained for from his game of choice as a direct result of skipping kindergarten to begin school in the first grade.
As a 14-year-old sophomore, Hammond was called up to varsity for six games after an injury to starting quarterback Chris McBroom and his real indoctrination to the sport began in earnest.
“I was kind of scared when I first started,” said the 6-foot, 170-pound Hammond. “I was 14 playing guys 18. I was 145-150 pounds wet playing guys 300 pounds, knowing I could get torn in half.”
“Not too many sophomores get the opportunity to run the team,” said Carson head coach Shane Quilling. “He probably wasn’t ready, but he learned under fire.”
Senior wide receiver Richie Norgrove said Hammond paid an early price.
“He’s a tough kid, man,” Norgove said. “Against Liberty last year – one of our toughest games – he got hit real hard. It was a two-guy sandwich. He had a bloody nose. (Last week) against Wooster, he got hit real hard. The trainers thought his nose was broken. He was all messed up for five minutes, but he came back in. He always does that. When he gets hurt, he never stays out long. I thought he’d be out for the game, but five minutes later he was back in.”
In addition to taking abuse on the field, Hammond soon realized that he needed big shoulders off the field as well.
“He always has a ton of pressure on him,” Norgrove said. “He never says anything. People criticize him whether he has a good or bad game. He comes back and shows who he is on the field. He leads by example on the field, rather than with his mouth.”
“You kind of get used to it,” Hammond said of the scrutiny. “I do better under pressure. Some kids who don’t know what they’re talking about hate me when I lose and love me when I win. I take the blame for the stuff I do. It’s a team game. Eleven guys have to come out and play as one. You can’t have 10.”
After showing an ability to run Carson’s veer offense as a sophomore, Hammond had an opportunity to work with former North Valleys head coach and current Carson quarterbacks coach Blair Roman last winter.
Norgrove said he noticed a noticeable improvement.
“He’s got a powerful arm,” said Norgrove, who has pulled down 26 of Hammond’s passes this year. “When I came back after the off-season, I couldn’t catch some them they were so fast. He throws a tight spiral. It’s good that he throws it like that.”
Hammond said Roman worked with him on his footwork and accuracy and, combined with hitting the weights, it helped put some more zip on his passes.
“He has a good arm for high school and will get better next year,” Roman said. “He throws a catchable ball. He has a good touch and the smarts to go with it.”
Roman said that to call Hammond cerebral would be an understatement.
“He not only understands the game, he understands the protection, the routes we’re running and, with the option, he’s able to audible and find whoever’s open,” Roman said. “Most high school kids couldn’t do it. That’s where he’s a special player. That’s the biggest compliment I can give him at this level of the sport.”
Hammond crunches film before school, during lunch and after school, all while fitting in his schoolwork.
“The veer is hard to run,” he said. “You have a read man on every play. As soon as you get the ball, you look at the read man and decide what to do with the ball. It works well if it’s run correctly.”
And it has this year. Hammond not only has passed for more than 900 yards and eight touchdowns this year, but as his highlight-reel 93-yard touchdown run against the Colts last week showed, he’s as equally dangerous with his feet.
“He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he has good instincts when he runs the ball,” Roman said. “He can drop back and throw or he can run the ball. He’s one of those players that could be a good running back.”
If he had his way, Hammond said, he’d be like Michael Vick on the ground and Peyton Manning in the air.
“I like it where (the offense) is at,” Hammond said. “You run half the time and throw half the time. On the ground I do a lot better than most quarterbacks because we run the option. It gives me the chance to run the ball a lot.”
Although he’s not known to be a yeller in the huddle, Roman said Hammond is a capable general on the field.
“As a coach, in my mind, he is exactly what you want in terms of a leader,” Roman said. “He works to get better. He’s on of the toughest guys on the team. He’s not a vocal, fiery guy. He’s definitely the silent type. But he takes charge of the huddle. The kids know when he steps into the huddle. He’s as good a quarterback that I’ve ever coached.”
Hammond has already played baseball and basketball as a freshman and may try some jumping events and pole vaulting in the spring, but there’s no doubting where his passion lies.
“I just like football,” Hammond said. “I don’t want it to end after next year. I don’t want to be one of the guys who sits back and talks about playing high school football. I want to at least be able to talk about playing college football.”
Following college, where he may major in engineering or history, Hammond said he’d like to become a member of the elite Navy SEALs and go in as an officer.
“I think I’m tough enough,” said Hammond, whose uncle is a SEAL. “I like the respect they get. There aren’t a lot of things harder to conquer. If you can do that, you can do anything.”
Hammond credited Quilling and Roman for his early development and said the best is yet to come.
“I don’t think age affects me,” Hammond said. “On the field, it doesn’t matter how old you are, it matters if you get the job done. If I keep learning like I have been…oh my god. You’re in for a season next year.”