GARDNER – Tanner Hazelwood has been playing on the line in football games “since before I can remember,” he said earlier this week.
The PikeView High School senior would like that to continue for at least 11 more high school games. After that, who knows?
“My goal is always to make the playoffs,” he said. “That’s what I want to do: I want to play more – more than 10 games.”
The Lerona resident learned about football, and the commitment required to play it well, early in life. His father Chris graduated from Athens High School prior to the merger that created PikeView. He later served as a quarterbacks coach for the Panthers.
“My dad was a coach,” Tanner Hazelwood said. “I’ve always played.”
The senior lineman knows he has his father’s backing, but it comes with a caveat that is universal with coaches and ex-coaches.
“He supports me all the time,” Tanner said. “He always makes it clear that the coaches are always right – but he tells me stuff he thinks he could help me with.”
His dad was there for him late in 2017 when PikeView was edged out of a playoff spot in Class AA by a tiny fraction of a percentage point, on the final night of the regular season.
Tanner said, “I remember the night we found out we didn’t make it. That was rough. It was heartbreaking.”
In the years that Hazelwood has worn the Panthers’ red and black jerseys, the seasons have been quite a roller coaster ride.
“The year before (the playoff run), we only went, like, 3-7,” he recalled. “Then, to come in after winning a few games, it’s just nice – having everybody on your back, and having everybody come out to your games … in the stadium.”
Asked if he gets feedback from other PikeView students, he said, “All the time. You hear people supporting us and hoping we do good.”
He is upbeat about playing this fall under the leadership of new coach Jason Spears, who was elevated from his assistant role after longtime head coach Bobby Wyatt hung up his whistle.
Hazelwood said the mood is “definitely positive. We’re all dedicated.”
He obviously misses the presence of last year’s senior linemen, but he likes the potential of this year’s line contingent.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve had a very good line,” Hazelwood said. “Losing Logan Price and Jordan Vaught, that hurt us a lot. … They were good. They were leaders.
“But we have Seth Lucas coming up, and Ty Willoughby, who played last year. They’re looking really good this year.”
Hazelwood said he continues to pick up useful tips from watching telecasts of college and professional games.
He said, “Every time I watch football, I watch the linemen, to try to learn and get better off of (their example), instead of just ‘watching football.’ “
He was a member of the PikeView wrestling program in 2017-18 but did not pursue that last winter. “I’m thinking about it this year,” he said.
“It definitely helps with conditioning, and lateral movement, and working with leverage to move people.”
But his focus for now is on the gridiron, and making the most of his final prep football season.
He said last week, “It’s exciting, but it’s also a bit sad. I don’t want it to be over. Not high school. Hopefully I can go on to college, but … .”