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Titan in the backfield: Hastings tops 1,000 rushing yards for second straight season

Mount Vernon/Plankinton's Jesse Hastings (28) shoves Winner's Brandon Volmer (17) to the ground while carrying the ball as Winner defenders including Trevor Peters (21) and Sam Kruger (14) close in on Sept. 21 in Winner. (Matt Gade / Republic)

MOUNT VERNON -- Jesse Hastings calls the Mount Vernon/Plankinton football team his family, which makes sense considering most have played under head coach Brent Olson since third grade youth football.

Hastings’ family is who he credits for his toughness, which is more than wanting to run through defenders rather than go around them. It’s biting through his mouthguard and chipping a tooth during the Titans’ 40-12 win over Chamberlain on Friday, then still surprising himself and running for 326 yards and four touchdowns to push Class 11B No. 3 MVP to 7-0.

It’s also fighting through two torn meniscuses as an eighth-grader to finish the season, or having surgery on a torn meniscus prior to this season but still racking up 1,035 yards and 20 touchdowns through seven games.

“(Toughness) is a good pride to have, but it’s definitely my (team) that pushed me to keep going and fighting through that,” Hastings said. “My coaches, not so much yelling at me to go, but the belief from them is awesome.”

The junior back doesn’t mind sharing the load, as Weston and Colton Tobin, along with quarterback Hayden Haak all have at least 40 carries this season. If anything, it keeps him fresh enough to also play middle linebacker.

While Haak carries the ball, Olson also isn’t scared of letting Hastings throw it on pitches when defensive backs play up on him. Olson remembered Hastings’ arm from Little League baseball and knew the former pitcher had the accuracy and arm strength, which showed on Sept. 21 against Class 11B No. 5 Winner when Hastings went 3-for-3 for 70 yards.

“I do like throwing the ball,” said Hastings, who added he could throw 50 yards. “It’s kind of cool doing something different. Just throwing the ball and seeing how far I can throw is fun.”

On the ground, Olson credits Hastings’ recent success to on-field adjustments and having a better understanding of 11-man football since MVP changed from 9-man two years ago.

“He had the tendency earlier in the year to try to hit home runs and he’d stop his feet and look for holes and cracks,” Olson said. “Now he’s just running full speed and he’s finding some kids don’t like to tackle a 220-pound kid that’s running full speed.”

At six-feet, 220-pounds, Hastings calls himself a power back, even though he ran a 4.6 40-yard this summer and the 100-meter during track season, which he admits is, “kind of weird seeing a 220-pound guy running down the 100-meter dash and being with everyone.”

Being a sprinter helps with his acceleration, which was seen last week when MVP tried to get him to the edge to avoid Chamberlain all-state lineman Nash Hutmacher. Hastings’ third sport is wrestling, which helps him with tackling.

Although, between the 9.9 yards per carry this season, his second straight 1,000-yard season and 17 tackles on defense, Hastings’ best attribute has been his ability to find the end zone. He said that he tries to find the end zone every play, even though, “you’re not supposed to look at it this way.”

He doesn’t score every play, but he scores often, with at least three touchdowns in each of the past four weeks.

“I’d be a pretty foolish coach not to give a 220-pound running back the ball inside the 10-yard line,” said Olson, who added Hastings’ play elevates when it gets cold outside.

Hastings is only in his junior season with a game against Beresford in Mount Vernon on Oct. 12, but neither he nor Olson are scared to talk about him playing at the next level.

“(Football) is something I want to do in college,” Hastings said. “It’s something I’m wanting to be a part of for the rest of my life.”