Zone Read: Hayden Hatten Unplugged

Arizona Sports News online

The football journey of Hayden Hatten, to this point, has all the makings of a Hollywood movie.

The former Pinnacle and Saguaro High standout had gone from a “chubby” young teenager to an NFL prospect.

Now entering his senior season at the University of Idaho, the FCS All-American wide receiver opened up with the”Zone Read” about his Big Sky Conference rise to stardom, how family has become an even bigger focal point in Moscow, his “ban” of the on-campus Chick-Fil-A, and much more.

I’ve been covering you since your early high school years and I know you grew up playing multiple sports. Has football always come natural to you? “Football has always had a calling for me. It might sound a little cheesy but I don’t feel there’s anything more rewarding than football. There aren’t many sports that are as difficult as football. It’s hard. You work really hard, but you get a lot of enjoyment from the game. That’s something I’ve always appreciated about football. I feel really connected to football. I think I knew [my sport] was going to be football, right when I got to high school.”

You’ve had to transform your body a few different times and I’ve seen you put that work in the weight room, specifically at Saguaro. How has your physique changed again being at Idaho, considering you were technically recruited as a tight end, but not you’re exclusively a wide receiver? “My freshman year [at Idaho], I weighed about what I weighed in high school – around 225 pounds. I got up to like 230 because they wanted me to. I was just fortunate to be on the field somewhere and glad to be playing college football…towards the end of the [2019] season, two of our wide receivers got hurt and I went out there are the chubby wide receiver in college. My first game at wide receiver, I scored two touchdowns [against NAU] which was pretty sweet – especially considering they didn’t recruit me. Ever since then, I never gave the position back. Since then, I’ve lost 25-30 pounds. I’ve gotten bigger, faster, stronger. But bigger in weight room sense, not bigger in body weight sense. I feel like I’m lifting more weight than I ever have before and I’m 25 pounds lighter than I was.”

I know a lot of college wide receivers coming off an 83-catch, 1209-yard, 16-touchdown season would be headed into the transfer portal for a bigger school. Did that ever cross your mind this off-season? “I definitely had some schools reach out to me and I took it all with a grain of salt because I’m very thankful to be a Vandal. This is one of the only schools that gave my brother [twin Hogan] an opportunity together, and now my cousin plays basketball here. We all live together. It’s a fantastic situation for us. We’re very in debt to the University of Idaho and just very loyal Vandals. So, I wasn’t going to leave for my last year. I felt I owed it to the school to stay here and try to win a Big Sky title.”

Do you feel the NFL is more of a true reality than simply just a childhood dream for you? “I do. I really do. I feel like if I continue working hard and taking advantage of my opportunities here, I can manifest it and give my self a chance of competing in the NFL. That would be pretty amazing. I’ve spoken with some agents and [draft] people. It kind of feels surreal being in this position.”

What were those conversations like? “They said I do a great job of catching the football and that’s the number one thing they look for in the NFL. Also, creating separation, which is something I’m good at. Being at the University of Idaho, I just need monster production again. I just need to go out there, play my game, have fun, and not overthink anything. That will hopefully really give myself a chance of possibly being a draft pick. I have to keep working hard and keep performing.”

Take us through the moment you found out you were named the 2023 Big Sky Pre-Season Offensive MVP last month? “That was pretty awesome. I actually found out before the banquet ceremony by accident. There was a lady doing an interview with me and she asked me how it felt being named the Big Sky Offensive MVP (laughing). I said, ‘Oh, well that’s pretty exciting, especially considering I’m hearing it for the first time now.’ I found out but I didn’t want to tell all the Big Sky people that I already knew so I kept it myself until the ceremony…a lot of things have to go right for you to have success. You need a quarterback. You need coaches that trust you. You need coaches that call plays for you. A lot of it is uncontrollable. You can only control the opportunities you have. It was one of those things that I was very fortunate and blessed to receive…my only goal is to help the Vandals win.”

Your drip that day was pretty epic, as well. How did the come up with that? “Coach [Jason] Eck that day was like, ‘Hey, for media day we should wear suits. I want you guys to wear suits.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I need to go find some place to dry clean my clothes.’ I hadn’t cleaned that thing since freshman year. I had coffee all over it. So, I got it dry cleaned and then I thought, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m going to wear what I wore to my junior year prom.’ So, we got there, and my buddy, J.J. [wide receiver Jermaine Jackson] and I just wore our prom outfits and it turned out pretty well. It was a hit.”

That suit is probably five or six years-old now. How did it fit? “It was a little looser, but it fit better, I think. It was a hot take for sure. People were liking it (laughing). [People] were like, ‘White is a great choice. Total baller.’ I was like, ‘Thank you.’ I would have worn black but I had to wear white. I didn’t have any other suit jackets here. My other suit jacket is in Phoenix.”

Back to football. Do you expect teams to scheme you differently this fall, considering the numbers you put up last season? “For sure. I’m interested to see what they might do…they kind of already threw the kitchen sink at me already…I think they’ll do a better job just game planning us. Last year our coaches were new coaches with new schemes and it was their first season in the Big Sky. I can just see our team being a bigger target of interest, just doing more film work on us, and seeing our tendencies.”

What did you do this summer to get your body ready for the upcoming season?  “I did a lot of stretching, a lot of yoga. I have this machine called an Arp. It’s common in the NFL. I just hook that thing up and stretch. Get my body right. I try to stay limber. It’s definitely helped with my speed. I only do it after workouts. I don’t want to stretch really hard before a workout.”

How’s school going? “I just graduated [with a degree] in business economics. I graduated Cum Laude. Then, I took six credits this summer. I’m doing my Master’s Degree in Adult Organizational Leadership and Learning. It’s a pretty cool program because it has a lot of older people in it. Not a lot of 21, 22-year olds. My classes this summer were about 10 deep and my brother and I were the youngest by about 20 years. It’s a different type of learning degree. It’s teaching people how to openly communicate and talk to people…I’m really enjoying it.”

Are you sick of living with your brother yet? “No, it’s awesome. We’re both busy dudes and we have different schedules so I really don’t see him as much as you’d think I’d see him. Because my brother has been playing defense or long snapping, I don’t really see him in practice, either. If we’re both home at night, I get to see him. But it’s not like we’re connected at the hip up here.”

How often do you and Hogan eat at the Chick-Fil-A on campus up there (The Hatten’s mom owns a Chick-Fil-A here in the Valley)? “Never! It’s not the same. It’s just not. It’s one of the express ones and it’s owned by a different company. It might be my own personal boycott. So, listen to this. My mom sent me like $10,000 in Chick-Fil-A cards. She’s like, ‘Here ya’ go. You’re going to be there for four years. Just have all these.’ I was like, ‘Let’s go!’ And, none of them are valid because it’s an express restaurant. This is horrible. So, I’ve never been back. It’s not the same. It’s an abbreviated menu. Plus, I’ve never paid for my Chick-Fil-A so I’m not going to start now.”

What would your parents say if you ever ate at Cane’s? Would you even tell them? “I wouldn’t tell my mom, but I’d tell my dad. Honestly, I’m not a big Cane’s guy. I think Cane’s has great sauce but I think the chicken is kind of lackluster without it. It’s a very sauce-oriented kind of chicken place. My brother loves Cane’s. He’s a huge Cane’s guy…that sauce is fantastic.”