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Rocklin’s Chase Hatada has an experienced Thunder team pointed toward a championship season   By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor   The reviews on...

Rocklin’s Chase Hatada has an experienced Thunder team pointed toward a championship season

  By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor

  The reviews on Rocklin defensive lineman Chase Hatada read like something off of a blockbuster action movie poster.

  “He’s a man-child!”

  “He has great explosion off the line and is extremely athletic.”

  “Incredible amount of talent.”

  At 6-foot-3 and 255 chiseled pounds, Hatada has the look of the next Friday night lights action hero on par with many comic book heroes gracing the big screen these days. And, like the Avengers, he can transform from mild-mannered citizen to larger-than-life champion at the sound of a whistle.

  “On the field, he turns into the football Chase Hatada,” Rocklin head coach Greg Benzel said of his humble star. “He is able to flip the switch, and 48 minutes of him getting after it the way that he can is a pretty dangerous thing.”

  Hatada has been getting into opponents’ backfields and getting after quarterbacks and running backs for two years as a starter, and is hopeful that his third and final varsity season provides a thrilling finish to his high school career.

  “I have been waiting for this (senior season) for a long time, and am very excited and ready to go,” Hatada said.

  Hatada and his Thunder teammates got off to a fast, exciting start in 2014 with a 6-0 record and legitimate hopes of challenging Folsom in the newly-realigned Sierra Foothill League. Then, several injuries capped by a gruesome broken leg suffered by senior quarterback Max O’Rourke dampened the excitement and eventually brought the dream season to a difficult end.

  While Rocklin pulled out a victory in the Del Oro game in which junior William Floyd replaced the injured O’Rourke, the energy and belief that the team could continue its success dissipated.

  “What killed us last year is that when Max went down with that injury, a lot of guys thought that the season was done,” Hatada said.

  Floyd filled in admirably — passing for nearly 1,300 yards and 16 TDs in six-plus games of action — and every healthy body available stepped up to fill any gaps left by banged-up teammates. Rocklin suffered back-to-back losses to SFL foes Folsom and Granite Bay, finished in a three-way tie for second in the league, and earned a No. 6 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs. In the postseason, a confident and healthier St. Mary’s-Stockton team dispatched the Thunder in a 56-14 quarterfinal rout that left a sour taste in the mouths of Rocklin’s returning players.

  Hatada and Evyn Holtz, another third-year varsity starter and Hatada’s best friend since they were 8 years old, quickly decided that the disappointing finish would be used to motivate and prepare this year’s team for a stronger finish.

  “All of that adversity will help us this year,” Holtz said. “We have all come together as one team, and that chemistry is one of the biggest things for a team to have when those grueling games come down to the fourth quarter.”

  Hatada believes that last season’s experience with hardship can be used to make the team stronger in 2015.

  “We are going into this year knowing that injuries can and will happen, but that we have to play the same way no matter what we face,” Hatada said. “The chemistry is better this year and we are better prepared because of that experience.”

  Experience will be a key for the Thunder and Benzel, who enters his 15th season Rocklin’s coach. Hatada and Holtz have been impact players since they were sophomores and Floyd gained valuable playing time to build confidence for his final campaign. Senior tight end Wesley Preece is the team’s top returning receiver (18 catches, 274 yards, 6 TD) and a valuable blocker on the line.

  Experience and health will be necessary to endure the gauntlet that is the SFL. Defending CIF State Bowl champion Folsom and local rival Del Oro are expected to be top teams in the section this year, and the league offers more heavyweights in Granite Bay and Oak Ridge.

  “We were used to being in a very strong league and then we added Oak Ridge and Folsom last year,” Benzel said of the SFL. “We face playoff-caliber teams each week, but that brings a sense of pride. It is exciting that we are in one of the best leagues in the state.”

  When opponents prepare to face Rocklin, coaches and coordinators will no doubt spend extra time preparing to stop — or at least slow — Hatada. Regarded as one of the top defensive linemen in the region, he committed to Boise State in the offseason and requires that teams commit attention to him when game planning.

  “He controls the edge and makes opponents have to plan for him and account for him on the field,” Benzel said. “We have maybe two or three guys who can give him some good reps in practice because he is that talented.”

  Hatada’s talent has continually grown since he started as a running back and linebacker in the Junior Thunder program. He played alongside Holtz in the Pee Wee backfield, but preferred to hit over being hit. He developed as a linebacker, but moved to the defensive line so that he could move up to the JV team as a freshman.

  Hatada quickly adapted to the trenches and took advantage of the new vantage point of a lineman. “On the defensive line, things slow down and you can see things developing in the backfield,” Hatada said. “You can often see tendencies with the offensive linemen and try to use speed to get to the action.”

  He has seen plenty of action and developed a reputation as a hard-nosed tackling machine who enjoys the physicality of his position. But the physicality and toughness he exhibits on the field is a far cry from the gentleman that he is off the field.

  “On the field he is crazy, but off the field he is probably one of the nicest people I have ever met,” Holtz said. “He is genuine in caring about his friends and teammates.”

  Benzel echoed the sentiment and called his senior defensive leader a “great character kid” who has the integrity and responsibility that coaches dream about. Hatada is one of many Rocklin varsity players who display a gentler side as coaches and mentors to youngsters in the Junior Thunder program. He regularly offers teaching and guidance to impressionable young athletes.

  “Those little guys see (Hatada) as Hercules or Adonis, and hold him in high regard,” Benzel said. “Our guys are all extremely helpful with the young players and are able to bring positive energy to the program and help the kids out.”

  Hatada grew up with his own athletic idols to inspire him to greatness on the playing field. Chase’s father, Ian Hatada, was a great influence on his life and passed along some athletic genes. Chase Baker, a 2007 Rocklin graduate who played collegiately at Boise State before professional stints in the NFL and Canadian Football League, also exposed Hatada to Rocklin football and Boise State.

  Ian Hatada was a Big Sky 110-meter hurdles champion for Boise State in 1996, but the family connection to the school was not the biggest factor in Hatada’s commitment.

  “I grew up a Boise State fan because my Dad went there, but his going there had nothing to do with my choice,” Hatada said. “I have been to Boise many times, and every time I go there, I love it more and more.”

  With his college choice out of the way, Hatada will play for his team and their goals and not worry about drawing rave reviews from recruiters and coaches looking for a college star to fill stadium seats.

  “My goal is to play hard every game, and do everything I can to make us better as a team,” Hatada said.

  Said Benzel, “He can just go out and enjoy being the great player, student, and person that he is.”

Jim McCue is a senior contributor to SportStars. He lives in Folsom with his wife and three kids, focusing his reporting on the Sac-Joaquin Section.

Jim McCue

Jim McCue is a senior contributor to SportStars. He lives in Folsom with his wife and three kids, focusing his reporting on the Sac-Joaquin Section.

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