BANCROFT – There’s so much to work with.
This is not a blonde-haired, blue-eyed John Williams. In the dawn of time, I’m sure, nicknames were created for people like Bridger Hatch – those special few who are too unique to go by simply the name on their birth certificate.
Two seconds watching Hatch sends the mind into a flutter searching for phrases to encapsulate North Gem’s senior quarterback.
He is this sensational athlete who looks like a comic book character. His auburn hair flows down to his shoulders and flares out like small fire when he sprints down the field. He is a southpaw, a left-handed quarterback who is the contrary to most of his peers. He runs this seldom-used offense, a scheme so heavy on deception that referees have been known to whistle down a running back when it’s Hatch who has the ball. His school’s enrollment hovers around 40 and plays on a football team with just 18 kids.
He runs for a million yards a game. He trucks defenders. He slips out of tackles. Best of all, his name is Bridger Hatch.
He is the enigma of football in Southeastern Idaho and he needs a great nickname. One thought was dubbing him “The Bancroft Bandit,” which lends itself to a great superhero backstory. Or maybe even just “Hatchback,” – which sounds awfully tough for a car most associate with soccer moms.
Luckily, Hatch has heard some better ones.
“They call me Ginger Thor sometimes,” Hatch said with a laugh. “I went to a camp this summer and they called me Ginger Thor there, too – I didn’t even tell them about it. They called me Tebow and they called me redhead Mike Vick … I like Ginger Vick the best.”
Those are solid – and the Vick comparison is apropos. On a much, much smaller scale, he does look reenact those vintage Michael Vick highlights. There are moments when Hatch starts running where it doesn’t seem entirely clear where he’s going. Sometimes, he doesn’t know how he’s going to find space and make magic. But he always does.
“A lot is put on him as far as reading out the defense and so you really don’t know how it’s going to work out until it does,” said Hatch’s dad and North Gem coach Corry Hatch. “
He’ll cut back or reverse field or throw someone to the ground to just sprint past everyone. It’s an expansive arsenal that produces ridiculously gaudy stats.
Last week against Watersprings, Hatch set a school record with 442 yards rushing and found the end zone six times. The week before, in North Gem’s shutout of Challis, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Ginger Thor carried the ball just 10 times but tallied 230 yards on the ground and a half-dozen scores.
Most impressive were touchdowns of 35 yards, 58 yards and an 84-yard scamper as time expired. By that point, the crowd gathered at the small Bancroft field just chuckled. It’s just Bridger being Bridger.
“I don’t know if there’s an art, I just see it,” Hatch said. “If we’re going this way and (the defense) follows the motion and everyone is going, I’m looking and (see) everything is open this way. You just keep your eyes up and keep looking around. There’s a hole somewhere, you just have to find it.”
This summer, Hatch and North Gem fullback Brett Yost – a 5-foot-10, 230-pound wrecking ball – traveled to Boise twice, Las Vegas and even Florida – a circuit of Football University football camps that exposed some top-tier coaches to two kids from a small town in Idaho.
Hatch has garnered some interest from some Division III and NAIA schools, programs thinking he may be able to transfer his skillset into a running back or slot receiver. Yet for all his stats all his wow-factor, no school has pulled the trigger with an offer.
One possible reason: People don’t think very highly of 1A DII competition in Idaho. Most people see 400-and-whatever yards and think he must be facing kids who are 4-feet tall and weigh as much as a can of veggies.
Now, there’s certainly some of that but it doesn’t take long to see that Hatch’s versatility could probably transfer to levels above what he’s playing in. But rarely do decision-makers see him in person – which explains the sub-par interest.
“They’ve got to see him play,” Corry Hatch said of colleges.
There may not be a more fun kid in the area to watch. Hatch leaves you shaking your head and laughing at the absurdity of some of his runs. Most of all, he leaves you searching for a nickname good enough to encapsulate him.
But, first, you have to actually watch Bridger Hatch.