Running to daylight

HE PUT UP SOME heady numbers on the board last year, powering his way to a league record 1,991 ground yards and scoring 25 touchdowns. Most important, he helped his team capture its third <i>consecutive</i> state championship. But for <b>J.R. Hasty</b>, son of Cougar great and former NFL standout <b>James Hasty</b>, that's only part of the story.

J.R. Hasty gets the bulk of his yardage crashing through the tackles. To do that, you have to be a tough, durable hard-nosed player. You have to be mentally strong; to keep on hitting the line with everything you've got, time after time.

There are two other prep running backs out of Washington state receiving serious publicity this recruiting season -- and it's all much deserved. Jonathan Stewart may become the most highly sought after recruit in state history when its all said and done. And Leon Jackson is extraordinarily versatile; he might play receiver, safety or running back at the collegiate level. The two Washingtonians are the only players in the state to be listed on TheInsiders National 100.

With both Stewart and Jackson coming out this year, the 5-11, 200-pound Hasty could be a tad overlooked by those who follow recruiting.

That would be a mistake.

"(Some) might shy away because of his lack of top-end tailback speed, but they shouldn't," said Chris Fetters, Northwest recruiting analyst for TheInsiders.com. "He's going to be a consistent four-yards-a-pop guy, will very rarely lose yardage, and will bust loose a couple of 20-yard gallops a game."

LAST YEAR, HASTY was busting loose all season for Bellevue High, averaging 8.5 yards and the nearly 2,000 hashes. Important to note: Hasty shared time in the backfield with Tracy Ford. Still, Hasty averaged 16 carries a game for the Wolverines in '03. (Ford averaged 13 touches.) The 1-2 punch combined for 3,841 yards.

Plenty of eyes should be focused upon Bellevue in '04 to see what kinds of numbers Hasty puts up. How well the school's running game performs, and how many yards Hasty racks up, isn't so much dependant upon the fact Ford has moved on to the University of Idaho.

It's all about the offensive line.

The '03 unit loses but one starter to graduation. It also helps that Bellevue's football players have a tradition of lifting weights year-round; most players had already put in 85 lifting sessions between the end of last season and June of this year. Linemen Connor Mawhinney, Ryan Roeter, Ethan Marks and others will all be back to help to pave the road for Hasty; who in turn is quick to credit his teammates.. and also his family.

Said Hasty late last season; "Everything on the field starts with our offensive line.. and none of this would be possible for me to experience without the support of my family."

THOSE FAMILY BONDS are strong ones. J.R. is the son of James Hasty, a name recognizable throughout the Cougar Nation. The Coug defensive back went on to a stellar 14-year career in the NFL after graduating from WSU in 1987, playing for the Jets, Chiefs and Raiders.

Hasty Sr. was an in-your-pocket NFL corner who also played the run exceptionally well; earning two Pro-Bowl selections while with KC. Toughness and propensity to play his best in the big games helped make him an invaluable member of the Chiefs, and a fan favorite. Coming out of semi-retirement for a cup of coffee with the Raiders, Hasty Sr. retired for good following the 2001 season, and is an assistant coach at Bellevue. He also runs the James Hasty defensive select camp.

Because of his father's and family's shared experience, J.R. Hasty is well prepared to compete at the next level.

"J.R. is an incredibly seasoned high school player, probably the one player in the Northwest outside of Jonathan Stewart best-equipped to play at the D1 level right away," said Fetters. "He has a feel for the game that comes from being around it his whole life."

THAT SEASONING IS almost certainly helping him deal with the recruiting season. Hasty, for his part, has played it fairly close to the vest to date. After initially naming a top-5 that included Washington State, he has since said he really doesn't have any leaders and remains wide open. Early on, he also mentioned he might want to go out-of-state for the experience, but that too doesn't appear set in stone.

Hasty currently holds seven offers in hand: Washington State, Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Oregon State and the most recent; Penn State. A school long thought to be a favorite, UCLA, has yet to offer.. but that could change soon.

As Hasty told Fetters recently, the Bruins are rising up his chart, saying they'd offer after he turned in his transcripts. He also took part in the Bruins one-day camp in June and also got a chance to look around Westwood. "I walked around campus and I liked it," said Hasty. "It's a good-looking school. It's right in the middle of the city, which is nice."

Still, Washington State would appear a great fit for Hasty, and vice-versa. Besides the fact the Cougs have run the ball more often than they've thrown it over the last ten years, Hasty's mental makeup and bruising style are a match for what the coaching staff looks for...

"We want kids that want to be here and are good, tough, hard-nosed players and bleed Crimson & Gray," says coach Bill Doba.

WHETHER ANOTHER HASTY ends up wearing the Crimson and Gray, there are other things to consider beforehand for J.R... Next up, a senior season at Bellevue; one that looks to hold considerable promise for both he and for the team. The Wolverines return 11 starters all told; and boast that veteran offensive line. It won't be easy, it never is, but the pieces are in place for their run at a fourth consecutive state championship.

Right out of the gate, Bellevue faces the sternest of tests; squaring off against national powerhouse De La Salle in its opener as the Concord, Calif. team brings a 151-game winning streak into Seahawks Stadium. Make a note of the date, Sep. 4, and also to follow J.R. Hasty this year. Its a good bet you'll see him featured prominently against De La Salle... and throughout the year.

He should be easy to pick out; running low, powering through the tackles, laying waste to opposing defenses... continually ripping off four..six..eight yards a pop.

And the story of Hasty's senior season promises to make for some interesting reading -- as does his recruitment by Washington State; from now.. through the football year.. right up until LOI day in February.



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