More than any other sport at the high school level, football is a game that requires players to be mature physically and mentally. Because of this, it is rare for an underclassman to succeed at the varsity level.
Derek Hatfield is bucking that trend, and his coaches and teammates at La Jolla Country Day couldn’t be happier about it.
Hatfield, the Torreys’ 6-foot, 2-inch, 175-pound sophomore quarterback, is having a standout season in his first year with Country Day’s varsity team. Following up on a stellar freshman campaign with the junior varsity team, Hatfield has turned in solid numbers as a sophomore. Hatfield has completed 95 of his 163 passes for 1,473 yards and 14 touchdowns with just six interceptions, and is also the team’s leading rusher, having carried the ball 102 times for 373 yards and nine more scores.
Despite being in his first season running a complicated offense at a high level, Hatfield has quickly developed into one of the most dangerous passing-running threats in the Pacific League.
“It’s pretty rare, and it’s pretty impressive,” La Jolla Country Day coach Jeff Hutzler said of the success his sophomore signal-caller is having. “On top of all that, we installed the spread offense this year - there is a lot of pressure on the quarterback to perform in the spread, with his feet, his arm and his head. We run a no-huddle spread, and he does a great job getting the signals from the sideline and making sure the team is where they need to be.
“We in large part installed the spread because of Derek. He’s a pretty special player.”
Hatfield himself has been a bit caught off guard by how well his varsity debut has played out.
“Yeah, I’d say I’m surprised,” he said. “All the credit has to go to the offensive line, though, because without the big guys up front, I’d have no time to pass or run. They’ve been more than I could ask for.”
Hatfield clearly is a special player with many talents. A baseball player in the spring, he possesses a strong arm, and because of that, people may overlook his ability to run the ball.
Hatfield’s intelligence also has clearly helped him. He is a straight-A student, which, according to Hutzler, is extremely rare at a challenging academic school like La Jolla Country Day.
“He runs deceptively well,” Hutzler said. “He runs better than people think he does. He has a nice arm, but I would say absolutely, his best attribute is his head - his ability to think, recognize things on the field and be coached. He understands what we’re trying to do and sees the big picture.”
Hatfield’s success didn’t come overnight, though. While it helps that he has a strong, accurate arm and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds, he also put in plenty of time studying the playbook, working with his receivers and sweating in the weight room.
“Before the season started, I got out a lot with the guys and went over all the routes, which really helped with timing,” Hatfield said. “And then all of our lifting has doubled or tripled my strength, and that has helped a ton, too.”
Remarkably, Hatfield is only one of a large group of sophomores starting on Country Day’s varsity team. He has classmates in Montell Allen and Cody Maxwell (who both play running back and linebacker) and Indi Lavarias and Gabe Fox (offensive and defensive lineman). The Torreys even have a freshman starting for them, 6-foot, 2-inch, 250-pound right guard Junior Togiaso.
“That makes us feel good looking at the next few years,” Hutzler said.
Hatfield’s mastery of a difficult position has helped the Torreys have yet another solid season. Through the end of the regular season, they were 6-3 and had won the Pacific League title with a 3-0 record. That was good enough to earn them the No. 5 seed in the CIF San Diego Section Division V playoffs, and they were scheduled to host Mountain Empire in a first-round playoff game on Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m.
A victory in their playoffs opener would pit the Torreys against fourth-seeded Francis Parker in the quarterfinals, a matchup the team has been looking forward to ever since its 49-26 defeat to Francis Parker on Sept. 20.
The defeat was Country Day’s last one this season before it pieced together four straight victories to ride into the postseason with a swell of momentum.
“We’re happy with the No. 5 seed,” Hutzler said. “The top four teams get a bye in the first round, but we’re such a young team that we really didn’t want a week off. We think it benefits us to keep playing. If we’re fortunate to win this weekend, that puts us against Parker, and our guys want to play Parker again. We’re excited about possibly getting that chance again.”