Auburn, Ala.--Getting brief action last season as a freshman, attempting an onsides kick at LSU, walk-on Will Hastings made his 2016 debut at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the Auburn Tigers one to remember on Saturday night. Catching three passes for 29 yards in the loss to Clemson, Hastings said the moment was one he will always remember.
“It’s really cool,” Hastings said. “Last year I had one kick, and that was really awesome, too, but coming out here and playing receiver, that’s my first love. It was really awesome getting to catch three passes.”
It didn’t take him long to get into the action as his eight-yard grab on a third and seven gave Auburn its initial first down of the game in the opening quarter. With Auburn scripting its early plays he said it was up to him to step up when he name was called.
“It meant a lot,” Hastings said of that first catch. “It really got to me. That first got hit me and it’s all about that first hit. Once you get that done you’re ready to go.”
Working into the rotation at wide receiver in the spring after working last season entirely as a kicker, Hastings caught the eye of the coaching staff and Gus Malzahn said seeing him get the job done in the opener only backed up what they had seen from him in practice.
“Will’s got some natural abilities," Malzahn said. "He had some big third-down catches, a fourth-down catch. He’s got some natural things to him. For a new guy you worry if the moment is too big, but obviously it wasn’t for him. He did well in pressure moments, and I thought that was encouraging. He’s a quick guy, a fast guy, and I thought he did a solid job.”
A player who was one of the most prolific high school wide receivers in the country coming out of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark., where he caught 113 passes 2,040 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior, Hastings is a wide receiver at heart. Only receiving three scholarship offers from Division II schools, Hastings said for him the decision to walk on at Auburn wasn't easy, but it has been the right move.
"I definitely think it was hard deciding that, but I believe in myself and a lot of people believed in me," he said. "Definitely my family, I couldn’t have done it without them. It was definitely hard, but I definitely made the right decision.”
Showing his physical skills in offseason conditioning drills led to getting a shot in spring practice with new wide receiver coach Kodi Burns. Hastings showed he belonged with the group and the sophomore said it was the young coach that pushed him to be the best he could be.
“Kodi is definitely the man," Hastings said. "He truly believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He loves us all and we love him. He just gets us better every day.”
Now that he’s shown what he can do against one of the top teams in the country the kicker turned wide receiver said it is time to build on his initial success. This weekend that comes against the home state Arkansas State Red Wolves, a place his grandfather played football. Saying this one isn't any different from any other game, Hastings notes he wants to continue to play well and gain the confidence in himself and his teammates.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster, I think,” he said. “Against the number two team in the nation, that means a lot. I think it built my confidence for sure.”