Danville senior Nathan Hazlett shines in summer kicking camps

Published 10:00 am Saturday, July 21, 2018

Nathan Hazlett doesn’t really remember his game-winning field goal against Boyle County from last season.

He remembers the silence of the stadium before the kick, the roars of Boyle County’s student section as he took aim and the pandemonium that followed when his 45-yard field goal went through the uprights.

The rest, as they say, is history. Hazlett has made a name for himself as a kicker since that field goal — before, he was a soccer player who also kicks for the football team. Now, those roles might be flipped.

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His football kicking career started his freshman year at Lincoln County.

“What really got me started, one day at soccer practice at Lincoln County, (football coach) Travis Leffew came over and said that they needed a kicker and asked who wanted to kick,” Hazlett recalled. “I thought I’d give it a shot. He came out Thursday, I said sure, that next day was Friday night and I kicked in a game. That was pretty crazy to me.”

And Hazlett hit a field goal that game, just one day after Leffew came to soccer practice.

“It looked terrible, looking back at game film. But it went through,” he said.

Fast forward two years to that game against Boyle County, where Hazlett’s kick was perfect.

“I don’t think people had confidence when I stepped up there against Boyle,” Hazlett said. “But coach (Clay) Clevenger said field goal and I was nervous. I knew what was at stake. I just went out there, Zach (Thornton) told me to just calm down and I said ‘I got it.’ Preparing for that was kind of crazy, I just tried to stretch and stay loose on the sidelines. I was pretty sore after the soccer game that day, I didn’t want to lose that game either.”

Clevenger said that Hazlett’s leg is vital for the team on kickoffs as well as field goals.

“That was a huge kick that he made in that game (against Boyle),” Clevenger said. “We haven’t had to kick a lot of field goals, but it’s nice to know that if you get within 45 yards or so that you’ve got a chance at points. I think he helps more defensively, after scores, with his leg you’ve got a good chance at touchbacks. You’re making teams have to drive the length of the field to score against you. That’s the part of it that probably benefits us the most.”

Hazlett is a star on the soccer field as well — he scored 22 goals in 21 games for the Admirals — but said that his focus has shifted to kicking on the football field.

“I looked at myself as a soccer player who played football, that was my first love,” Hazlett said. “My whole family played soccer, one of my uncles played semi-pro and I was like, ‘man, that’s what I want to do with my life.’

“But coach Clevenger, he said ‘I don’t know if you know this, but you’ve got a leg and you’ve got a future with this.’ I was like, ‘no, you’re not telling the truth, you just want me to play football.’ But I went to some camps, and college kickers, college coaches told me that I could do this at the next level and that’s when I realized that coach Clevenger and coach Leffew were telling me the truth.”

Ideally, he’d play both soccer and football in college. But he said his focus is on football in his senior year — he’s got one offer to play football at Morehead State.

If he focuses on football in college, Clevenger said he could break out.

“He’s going to get a lot better in college because he’s not doing multiple things,” Clevenger said. “I’ve always, at Henderson County and at Danville, I’ve had good kickers who have played soccer. But I think there’s a wall there mid to late season, as soccer season is winding down, your legs get a little tired from all the running that they’re doing. That will probably allow his leg strength to get better when he moves to college, not doing all that running in college.”

Last weekend, Hazlett attended the Ray Guy ProKicker.com Top Prospect camp in Richmond. He placed second overall for kickers and is now ranked as a 5-star in the 2019 class, ranked No. 3 as a kicker and No. 5 as a kickoff specialist.

It’s been a busy summer for Hazlett — before the Top Prospect camp, Hazlett placed fifth in Top Gun’s top 25 kicker camp in South Carolina. He also won the “last man standing” competition at the camp, hitting a 57-yard kick to win. He hit a 61-yard field goal in warm ups, he said.

“I’ve put a lot of time in — no days off,” Hazlett said. “This morning I went out and hit a few balls. I’ll hit at least 30 balls a day, at the minimum. I’ll start kicking in the morning. Then it’s soccer and football practice, then after that I’ll go to the gym and just do legs and abs. I just try to stay on the grind for that, just stay focused.

“The camps were very, very intense. I didn’t think I would go in there and do what I did, I’m just some kid from Kentucky who no one really knows. These camps are known all over the country, I was kicking with people from all around the nation, they were committed to Washington, Clemson, Miami (Florida), Columbia. I out-kicked them and I was just stoked about that, I didn’t think I could do that. They asked me where I’m committed, and I said I just have one D-I offer.”

Clevenger said he’s seen Hazlett’s hard work pay off.

“I think he’s just really working hard at it,” the coach said. “He got in the weight room in the offseason and I think that’s helped him with his leg strength … He’s one of the better athletes in our school and on our football team. That helps too, he’s just a really good athlete that happens to kick.”

But what Clevenger likes most is Hazlett’s strength on kickoffs.

“It’s tough for a team to drive 80 yards, especially if you’re good defensively,” Clevenger said. “If you get a touchback, you force a three and out and they don’t move the ball, you’ll get the ball back in really good field position.”