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Idaho wide receiver Hayden Hatten more focused on Vandals’ rise than program’s record books

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – Hayden Hatten is a prolific wide receiver, an All-American and record-breaking player who has cemented himself as one of the great talents in Idaho Vandals program history.

But when Hatten completes his Idaho career, he hopes to leave a legacy that extends beyond personal accomplishments. Contributing to the success of a building program – to Hatten, that’s more important than individual stats and accolades.

“As long as the Vandals win, I’m happy,” Hatten said recently. “I’m just ecstatic with how the team’s doing. When the ball comes my way, I’ll be ready.

“The only stat that matters is that the Vandals have more points than whoever we’re playing,” he said earlier this season. “That’s the best thing for this team and this university. That’s what I’m excited to be a part of.”

Hatten has been a key cog during the Vandals’ recent resurgence. He helped Idaho to a Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth last year, and he’s been a vital piece this season for the sixth-ranked Vandals (7-3, 5-2 Big Sky), who are well on their way to another FCS postseason appearance.

A fifth-year Vandal, Hatten takes pride in his commitment to the program, and he has cherished the opportunity to become a leading figure in Idaho’s rebuild.

“I’m just so thankful, so thankful for everybody here,” he said. “I love being a Vandal … and being able to make an impact and help this team get back on track. Seeing how far we’ve come, it’s jaw-dropping. Not that I should be surprised, because I’ve seen the work we’ve put in, but seeing how much we’ve grown, it just shows that the team is going in the right direction.”

To be sure, Idaho’s return to relevance might not have been possible without its star receiver from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Hatten had one of the best pass-catching seasons in Vandals history last season, earning numerous All-American awards after amassing 1,209 yards and a single-season Idaho record 16 touchdowns – he led the FCS in that category.

“He’s just been a tremendous player for us, and very consistent,” second-year Idaho coach Jason Eck said. “He’s a guy you can count on. He plays at a high level all the time.”

With one regular-season game remaining this year, Hatten sits atop the Big Sky rankings with 911 yards (seventh nationally). The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder ranks 17th in the FCS and second in the conference with seven receiving touchdowns. Hatten broke the Idaho career record for touchdown catches earlier this season. He’s up to 31 career TDs.

“That’s pretty special, and it’s something I never would have dreamed of,” Hatten said of the record. “Just being in that position is amazing. I’m fortunate for my quarterback, the offensive line, the new coaching staff coming in and helping me. I couldn’t have achieved this dream without them.”

Hatten’s production dipped a bit from season to season. Opponents are double-teaming him more often and the Vandals are operating with more balance in their play-calling.

“We’re doing a good job spreading the ball around, getting everyone involved and winning games,” Hatten said.

Still, Hatten is putting up impressive numbers – especially during this final stretch of the season. He’s recorded 481 yards and five TDs over the past four games.

Hatten and 16 other Vandals will be honored Saturday during senior day celebrations at the Kibbie Dome before Idaho faces Idaho State. Hatten has one season of eligibility remaining, but he hasn’t specified whether he’ll be returning or turning pro.

“Maybe we’ll be able to talk him into coming back for another year,” Eck said Monday.

“He’s been a great representative, a great ambassador for the university,” the coach added of Hatten earlier this month. “Just a great guy to go out in the world and tell people he’s an alum of the University of Idaho – and not just for his football accomplishments, but for the person he is and the leadership he has, and how he carries himself.”

If Hatten decides to move on, he’ll do so knowing that he was a crucial part of the Vandals’ most successful two-year stretch since the mid-1990s. If he stays, Hatten will have a chance to claim every receiving record still left to break.

Through 42 career games, Hatten has 3,129 yards – 306 yards behind second-place Jerry Hendren and 718 yards short of record-holder Kasey Dunn. Hatten is up to 221 career receptions – nine behind Hendren and 47 back of Dunn.

It would have been hard to predict such a memorable career from Hatten when he first arrived at Idaho in 2019.

Coming out of Saguaro High, Hatten and his twin brother, Idaho long-snapper Hogan, had been recruited by Ivy League schools, but they decided to sign with the Vandals, then led by longtime coach Paul Petrino. The tight-knit community of Moscow stood out, and Idaho was “one of the only schools willing to take a chance on both my brother and me,” Hayden said.

Hayden Hatten played receiver in high school, but he was recruited as a tight end.

“I was just so thankful to receive a scholarship and to be able to play with my brother,” he said. “I was going to put my head down and play whatever position they wanted, and do it as hard as I could.”

Hatten served as a backup throughout his true freshman season, but he got an opportunity in the Vandals’ final game of the year, at Northern Arizona. A couple of Idaho’s receivers were unavailable, so Hatten was shifted to receiver. He caught two touchdown passes.

“And I never gave the spot back,” Hatten said. “I was fortunate that coach Petrino knew I was working hard and threw me in at the ‘X’ position. That was a huge, defining point of my career.”

Hatten trimmed down to 205 pounds the following offseason, improving his athleticism as he prepared to take on a starting role at receiver.

He broke out during the spring 2021 season, earning All-Big Sky honors after leading the team with 613 yards and three TD catches.

Hatten missed all but three games in the 2021 fall season due to a shoulder injury. The Vandals made a change in leadership after the season, hiring Eck. Hatten opted to stick around.

“The most important thing for me and my family was to make sure I got my degree,” said Hatten, who graduated cum laude last year with a degree in business economics. “I was planning to stay, get my degree, then make a decision after that. I was coming off a surgery, so I was like, ‘What if nobody wants to take a chance on me?’ When (the new staff) came in, you could instantly see that these guys were the real deal.”

Hatten sat out of spring camp in 2022 as he recovered from surgery. He was eager to get back to full health and factor into the Vandals’ rebuild. Hatten said the new staff was unsure of his potential heading into the fall.

“I think I definitely surprised them,” he said.

It took a few weeks for Hatten to find his footing again, but it started to click around midseason. Hatten scored at least one touchdown in Idaho’s final eight games in 2021, and amassed 100 or more yards in seven of those games. He tied the Idaho single-game record with four TDs on Nov. 5 in a win over Eastern Washington.

Asked what traits set him apart, Hatten said he’s “an ultimate competitor” and a perfectionist who “cares too much to not give everything I have.” That attitude stems from his parents, both of whom played basketball in college. Growing up with a twin brother certainly boosted Hatten’s competitive nature.

As for his physical skill set, Hatten is a rangy target who is adept at creating separation from defenders. He boasts exceptional ball skills and footwork – he’s able to high-point the ball for highlight-reel catches, and he’s incredibly coordinated in tight spaces.

“Since I’ve been at Idaho, I’ve gotten so much faster and twitchier,” he added. “I feel like I’m a real deep threat now. I can really separate from people. I feel a lot quicker, faster and more elusive at the top of my routes, and more elusive with the ball in my hands.”

As Hatten has developed, so has the Vandals’ program. He’s seen the highs and lows, from three losing seasons to two consecutive winning records and, most likely, back-to-back playoff appearances.

“That makes you really appreciate it, it makes you appreciate the people who stuck through it with me,” he said. “There are only seven guys from my class who are still here. We’ve been through the dog days. We’ve seen it all.”

While his individual talent and statistical production will long be remembered, Hatten will leave a legacy as an important program-building player who helped the Vandals create a winning culture and restore enthusiasm to the fan base.

“I’m so thankful for this experience,” he added. “I’m going to cherish being a Vandal for the rest of my life.”