The past three years, as the Erie Tigers have made the steady rise to their status as an undefeated Class 3A quarterfinalist this season, No. 54 has been a mainstay along the offensive and defensive lines.
Nate Hackney has embodied the grit and growth of the school’s football team since he was a sophomore; Just a dude wanting to be the best he can be, in all aspects of the game, for the sake of his teammates.
His senior year has seen a few surprises — can you say two pick-sixes? — but at the same time there’s the feeling he’s a foundational part of why Erie is 11-0 heading to Friday night’s playoff clash against Green Mountain.
“He’s just not content with what happened last year and he’s the guy, if something is not going the right way, he’s the one willing to get in a guy’s face a little bit,” said Erie head coach Chad Cooper, in his fourth year at the helm. “That’s a good thing because you can’t have coaches doing that all the time.
“It’s nice having a senior leader like that, especially up front, who is kind of the one that will hold guys accountable. It’s refreshing.”
Hackney has played in 35 games since he joined varsity, and he can take credit for a lot of Noah Roper’s school-record shattering career yardage, as can several of his offensive line mates.
But Hackney’s athleticism and football smarts has shown through in three improbable interceptions — picks against Canon City, Niwot and Roosevelt — and a pair of those ended up going to the house.
That’s the tip of the iceberg for a kid who has a future at the next level — somewhere.
“This year has been all about proving myself that I can do it all at a higher level, so throughout the year I’ve just been trying to improve every aspect of my game to make all of my opportunities work for me,” Hackney said. “I wanted to be a force to be reckoned with this year, a really big impact player on the field.
“It’s kind of wacky,” he said of the interceptions. “That first one against Canon City, I was just hitting a pass rush move and I dumped my guy, then just see the ball come flying at me. I’ve never scored a touchdown, so when I got the ball my eyes were as big as they’ve ever been and the end zone looked like it was as far away as it could ever be. The other two, it was just about reading the quarterback’s footwork and the quarterback’s eyes.”
Cooper nodded in agreement about Hackney’s off-the-charts athleticism, but just added his recognition of plays this year has been superior, as well.
“His preparation puts him in good spots and that’s why you see plays like that,” Cooper said.
Erie continues to put on a parade with its turnover ratio. Last week against Durango, the Tigers intercepted Demons quarterback Jordan Woolverton three times giving EHS a turnover margin of plus-15 according to MaxPreps.com.
It’s a telling stat for a team that hasn’t lost a game this year and has been remarkably good at home.
Green Mountain comes rolling into Erie on Friday in a familiar position to what the Tigers were during the 2017 playoffs — the Rams have not had a lot of recent success (12 wins over the past four years combined) and started 0-2 this year but have reeled off nine straight victories. GMHS has just seven seniors on the roster.
“Truthfully, that was kind of us last year,” Hackney said. “We had not been very successful in the past … but the way you stop a team like that is to put the throttle down. They haven’t been in that situation before … they’re a good team but I think we’re way too experienced and way too dominant on the field to let this one slip.”
“Lot of juniors over there,” Cooper said. “Most of their guys … and they’re having one of those seasons where it’s like, before you know it, you’re on this run and having a lot of success.
“We try not to focus on other teams and more on our own, but they truly have some talent. (Trey Towndrow) is one of the more athletic quarterbacks you’re going to see and we have to emphasize keeping him in the pocket. But they’re coached for running downhill and everyone being around the ball. Everyone preaches it, but you see it on film with them.”
Friday’s kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Tiger Stadium, but the suggestion is to get there early to find some parking as it is expected to be a packed house.