By CONOR NICHOLL for Sports in Kansas Cnicholl1@gmail.com w/ Chet Kuplen
Hays High School senior Gaven Haselhorst grew up playing soccer. In the summer of his eighth-grade year, Haselhorst elected to switch to football. He wanted an increased challenge and enjoyed watching football more. At first, Gaven’s mom, Amy, had some apprehensions, though eventually became okay with the change.
Haselhorst had extremely high attendance in the weight room as he entered his freshman season. However, Haselhorst faced two challenges: football ability and a position.
“I wasn’t very good at all,” he said.
Haselhorst learned from the Hays High assistant coaches, specifically Mitch Harris, a longtime member of the Indian staff since the early 2000s. Harris, also a veteran Indian track coach, coaches the defensive line and serves as head coach Tony Crough’s unofficial “right-hand man”/director of football operations.
Crough said Harris, whose son was a former Indian football/track athlete, is a real “selfless human being.” Harris worked with Haselhorst on staying positive in all situations.
“He just pushed me to be the best I could be on and off the field, and he treats me like a son, and I respect him a lot for that,” Haselhorst, from a single parent household, said.
No position “really clicked” when Haselhorst was a freshman. He tried running back, outside linebacker and safety. The coaches knew Haselhorst liked hitting and switched him to defensive end as a sophomore.
“Since the first day that we put his hand on the ground, we thought oh my (gosh), we have got something special here,” Crough said. “Just speed, explosiveness, power, and just a relentless motor with great effort to get to the football.”
In the 2018 season opener against Junction City, Haselhorst was still a JV player, but HHS used him in packages to rush the passer. On his first play, Haselhorst ran right past the tackle before he came out of his stance and delivered a sack. It remains Haselhorst’s favorite play of his career.
“Every time I think about it, I am just ecstatic,” Haselhorst said.
Crough and the other coaches looked at each other and realized Haselhorst’s ability.
Crough, entering his third year at Hays High, has coached in a variety of places, including the DeSoto (Tex.) school district when Von Miller played. Miller starred at Texas A&M and has earned Super Bowl MVP honors with the Denver Broncos.
“His get off, his first couple steps is as fast and explosive as I have seen,” Crough said of Haselhorst. “I coached down in Texas for awhile. I was on the staff that coached Von Miller and guys like that, and he reminds me a lot of some of those guys. I mean, just his initial get off, and that’s what I remember is we just all went, (Wow), his kid, if we can teach him to play football with that speed, watch out, it’s going to be over.”
Last season, Haselhorst went from a relative unknown – Sports in Kansas named him one of Kansas’ best Under the Radar players in a midseason story – to among the state’s top defensive players. He picked up Division II offers from Washburn and Fort Hays last winter.
In the last week, Haselhorst earned a Kansas State scholarship offer, and then committed to the Wildcats on Monday. Haselhorst is part of a highly talented HHS junior/senior class that has four players with Power 5 offers, extremely rare for the Indians.
Throughout the years, Hays High has consistently had talent. HHS has 31 Shrine Bowlers, tied for 18th all-time, and only two behind powerhouse Bishop Carroll, a program that’s won three state titles since ‘12. In the last five recruiting classes, HHS has had nine players sign to play in college, six to Fort Hays, according to KPreps Signing Day data.
HHS football has very few Division I players in the last 18 years.
Safety Marcus Watts, quarterback Alex Delton, and tight end Brett Alstatt, an ’04 graduate, all played at Kansas State. Watts, an ’02 Shrine Bowler, and Delton, who signed in the ’15 class, were well-known players. Lane Clark went to FCS Tennessee State and completed in ’17 as a two-time All-American kicker. Clark completed his career second in TSU history in field goals made.
Haselhorst was a SIK Class 5A Defensive Player of the Year finalist and earned Hays Daily News Super 11. He finished second in the Western Athletic Conference with 113 tackles and led the league with 22 tackles for loss, along with two forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries.
A first team all-league pick, Haselhorst delivered 22 total tackles in playoff games versus Goddard-Eisenhower and Maize South. HHS went 4-6, though the 31-6 victory against Eisenhower marked the third playoff win in school history, first since ’93.
Last year, Haselhorst stood 6-foot, 215 pounds. He has added 15 pounds, notably with multiple workouts per day during the coronavirus quarantine.
Haselhorst performed admirably at the Jake Sharp Combine on July 10 at Kansas Wesleyan. Currently 6-1, 230, Haselhorst ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds, jumped 34 inches and bench pressed 225 pounds 21 times. He tied for fourth in the bench press among more than 450 athletes at Sharp. He will not be 18 until May 2021. Haselhorst can bench 385, clean 365 and squat 500 pounds.
“His first couple steps are very, very elite,” Crough said in late June. “If he has a couple more inches to go with it, I think the whole country would be seeing it.”
A former Garden City quarterback and Fort Hays honorable mention all-league linebacker, Crough had served in several places, including as head coach at Great Bend and Andover for a combined three years. He had long sought the HHS position. His wife and in-laws have longtime ties to Hays, and his father-in-law, Fred Joy, coached at Palco for several decades.
“To an extent, we were aware that this junior class, this 2022 class, they were eighth graders and we knew that they were going to be something special,” Crough said.
In addition to Haselhorst, Indian junior wide receiver/returner Jaren Kanak had zero offers before Sharp. Kanak and Haselhorst are longtime great friends.
“It’s a really tight-knit relationship that we have had going on for awhile and I go over there a lot,” Kanak said. “He’s very welcome at our house.”
Kanak was expected to perform well in spring track before the season was cancelled because of coronavirus concerns. At Sharp, he finished second in the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds and earned KU and Kansas State offers within the next week.
Kanak recorded more than 1,000 all-purpose yards as a sophomore and was second in the Western Athletic Conference with 30 catches.
Junior inside linebacker Gavin Meyers (6-2, 205) gained national attention last winter and is currently ranked as the No. 4 player in Kansas, according to 247 Sports, a well-known recruiting service. From Dec. 10, 2019 to Jan. 30, 2020, Meyers picked up offers from Colorado, Kansas State and Nebraska.
As a freshman, Meyers delivered 49 tackles, second-most on the squad, and paced the team with two interceptions.
An all-state wrestler and javelin thrower, Meyers emerged in a 35-28 loss to Garden City in Week 4 of 2018. In a half, Meyers delivered 11 tackles, four for a loss. He collected more than 100 tackles and double-digit TFLs as a sophomore. At one point last year, Hays High had 15 sophomores and three freshmen who started.
“We knew right then that this kid was going to be something special,” Crough said. “We didn’t know that the big power 5s would come this quick, but that’s kind of the way it works. You get one, and they all start kind of recognizing, but he definitely has that kind of ability.
“He’s a big-time football player that has the frame and has all the tangibles to go with it,” he added. “But his intangibles are just so good, and that’s what coaches see is the way he reads out and makes plays and flies sideline to sideline.”
As well, junior quarterback Dylan Dreiling is long known for his baseball ability. Dreiling’s grandfather, Frank Leo, won 576 games in 39 seasons with Hays High baseball.
Leo has coached more than 35 summers with the Hays Larks, a top-flite summer collegiate squad. Dreiling, the oldest of Leo’s grandchildren, was consistently around the HHS and Larks programs as a youngster.
Known for his work ethic and speed, the 6-foot, 180-pound Dreiling has played on a national traveling team.
A left-handed outfielder/pitcher, Dreiling has committed to University of Tennessee. From ’82-19, Hays High has had nine Division I baseball players. Since ’03, Connor Rule, a ’16 graduate who played at Kansas State, is the only one.
As a sophomore, Dreiling has limited football experience and completed 71 of 160 passes for 964 yards with an 8/12 TD/INT ratio in the first nine games. He rushed for more than 500 yards.
“Absolutely loves football,” Crough said.
In Week 10, HHS trailed Maize South, 14-10, when Dreiling was hurt late in the first half and was out for the game. Maize South outscored HHS, 27-0, after the break.
“He was by far our toughest runner when we needed him,” Crough said.
Additionally, senior defensive end Trey Adams (6-7, 240) recorded seven tackles for loss as a sophomore and more than 12 as a junior. Crough said Adams blocked four kicks. Haselhorst has known Adams since sixth grade.
“He is probably the most natural, just elite athlete on our team, which is crazy, because he doesn’t get talked about near as much, but his stats last year were worthy of all-state honors at every level,” Crough said.
“When he extends on the linemen, they can’t do anything,” Haselhorst added. “They have no control, and he’s pretty fast for his size.”
Crough has continually lauded senior safety Tucker Veach as one of the state’s most underrated players. The 5-9, 165-pound Veach recorded 94 tackles and picked off six passes for second team all-league. Crough said HHS molding the “hidden talent” of the senior class is a positive for the program.
“Trey Adams, just his God-gifted talent and what he can do - we knew about him,” Crough said. “But Haselhorst hadn’t even played football, but now he’s, in my opinion, one of the best players in the state. Tucker Veach, our safety, who led our team last year, is one of the best football players in western Kansas.
“He’s just undersized and hasn’t shown a lot of interest to play college football, but he is amazing,” he added. “And so we have guys like that that have come on that nobody told us about, we didn’t know anything about them, and they just kind of developed in our system and have really taken off.”
As well, the junior class has running back Roy Moroni and defensive tackle Gavin Nutting. Hays High has started a freshman at nose guard in the last two years, a rarity at any classification. Nutting started at nose guard in ’18, and then moved further out on the defensive line last fall. Carson Spray started at nose guard in ’19 more than half the year.
Moroni recovered two fumbles as a freshman and cleared 350 rushing yards as a sophomore. Crough believes Moroni can be a collegiate running back.
At the Sharp Combine, the 5-9, 192-pound Moroni posted 4.55 in the 40-yard dash and jumped 34 inches in the vertical. He can clean 325. Junior Carson Kieffer was among the state’s leaders in assists per game for basketball and is a solid wide receiver. Additionally, Crough believes other players could emerge.
“There are kids in this class that we haven’t talked about and that haven’t come out yet, that I think have a chance to be as good or better than the ones that are getting recognition now,” Crough said.
Hays High has posted five straight seasons of under .500. The Indians have never produced double-digit victories in a year in school history, according to longtime HHS broadcaster Dustin Armbruster. Since 1983, the top marks are 9-2 in ’93, along with 8-2 in ’90 and ’11.
Crough has continually discussed building the program. Few teams jump from nine games one year to a semifinal/final run the next. Playing 10 games and winning a playoff game last season was a key improvement for Hays High.
In addition to the talent, Crough’s coaching history and HHS’ production in key areas bodes well for 2020. In ’18, Hays High allowed 341 yards and 32.4 points per contest for a 3-6 team.
Last year, the Indians returned five defensive starters, though just two seniors. HHS was much more effective with creating negative plays. Paced by Haselhorst, four Indians recorded at least 13 TFLs. Hays High allowed 304 yards and 29 points a contest. Layton Hickel, a Claflin graduate who made 30 starts at linebacker for Fort Hays, coordinates the defense.
Offensively, Crough has done well with quarterback development. In ’14, Great Bend went 3-6 and averaged 19.4 points a game. The following year, GB jumped to 7-3 and collected 31 points per contest. Jacob Murray was a first-year starting quarterback, and Crough helped him to more than 2,400 yards of total offense.
In ’16, Crough guided Andover to a 6-4 record and five-win improvement. Andover improved by 10.2 points per contest, and Chase Oberg exceeded 2,000 yards of total offense. At HHS, Crough has two quarterbacks, Palmer Hutchison and Dreiling, who had never played the position before at the varsity level.
This season, Dreiling is expected to make a big jump.
“I think he’s going to be way better this year than he was last year, because he just wasn’t experienced yet, and it was his first year playing varsity quarterback,” Haselhorst said.
Crough said the Indians will still be young with five to six sophomores expected to play a key role. Eight starters return on offense, nine defensively. The schedule features Dodge City, Wichita Northwest and Maize South, three teams that all lost one game last fall.
“We really think by the midseason to the end of the year, we could be gelling and be pretty good,” Crough said. “We think we could be pretty solid.”
Gaven and Amy have long lived with his grandparents, Gary and Sandy Haselhorst. Gary is well-known in Hays for his construction and rental work. Gary serves as Gaven’s role model. Gaven’s Twitter inset photo is of himself and his grandfather.
“He’s the hardest working person I know, and that’s what I follow about him,” Gaven said.
Gaven was around 150 pounds as an eighth grader and wanted to “get really big and athletic.” He started going to Munsch Fitness, a Hays workout facility, on a daily basis.
During COVID-19 quarantine, Haselhorst lifted in a shed on his property. He has a squat and bench rack and can clean, too. A couple of defensive teammates have lifted with him. Haselhorst and Kanak sometimes worked out multiple times a day.
Haselhorst’s normal summer routine started at 6 a.m. He went to school weights at 7 a.m. and sometimes had agilities after weights. Haselhorst normally consumed six to seven meals a day since the start of summer. YouTube is his place to find good meals, though he has staples of two cups of oatmeal and peanut butter pre- and post-lift.
Around 7 p.m., Haselhorst normally heads to Munsch for heavier weight workouts. Several Indians, including Kanak and Moroni, use Munsch, too. The work has yielded multiple high-level offers – and possibly another improvement for HHS this year.
“Hitting a new 1-rep max – that has to be the best feeling ever,” Haselhorst said.
Chet Kuplen, CEO/Founder of Sports in Kansas, on Hays
"First off, it's pretty cool to see all the attention Hays is getting in the recruiting world. Last fall I had a conversation with Coach Crough about a couple of his players and it turns out after talking to him he had a lot more than that and those are a lot of the kids you're seeing blowing up today. Its not often you have a 4A/5A high school in Western Kansas that has potential 4-5 kids that will have a Division I offer in a sport at the same time, specifically the majority of those in football. As soon as I had that convo with him its almost like I heard from someone telling me to check these kids out every day after that or a video of them lifting etc since then. They definitely caught my eye. Western Kansas can sometimes go overlooked to some coaches so it is great to see. I really think FHSU program has benefitted off getting some of those diamonds in the rough from Western Kansas over the last five years. Now Hays is ready for that recruiting hype to transition to the field this fall and have one of the better seasons they've had. 5A football is no joke and certainly will be (5A West) tougher than that of the 4A West this season in my opinion. We've really been blowing this guys up and hyping up a lot over the last 6-8 months on all of our platforms and I'm glad that a lot of colleges are noticing. We are also very fortunate these guys had an event to get to this summer to get tested etc. As far as Gaven goes, he is very explosive and quick. Sure you want a kid that's a DE to be 6'3" plus but does that kid have his speed, strength or first step? Gaven has the opportunity to fill a lot of spots whether thats DE, LB or FB. His height doesn't bother me because I've seen success with it at the Division I level, specifically KSU in recent memory. And I'm not sure any of those kids I am thinking of were quite as explosive entering their senior year. "
This feature is presented by Nex-Tech Wireless
How did you get involved in football?
Freshman year I decided to try football instead of continuing to play soccer. I had never played football before, and I wasn’t good, but I quickly grew a love for the game.
What are your goals this season?
My goals for this season include: Our team to have a winning record, get to state and win it, become a leader for our team on and off the field, and continue to grow and learn more about the game.
Do you guys have a shot to make a run this year?
I highly believe we have the players and coaches in place, to come together as a team, and reach our goals.
What makes you such a force as a player?
I believe my work ethic on and off the field, never give up attitude, and willingness to learn have given me the tools to become the player I am. I am such a force as a player because of my speed/strength combination along with my determination. I never give up on the play.
What’s the atmosphere like to play football on Friday night for your school and town?
It’s a special feeling. The crowd can get super loud and really bring hype to the team. But between the lines I am focused and hungry each play.
For anyone that hasn’t seen one of your games, why come to one?
I feel I am a special talent and player. My speed/strength/determination is unmatched, along with my never give up attitude, makes for a good show. I give 110% each and every play.
Who are other key players on your team?
We have a lot of great players on the team and it takes a team to win. We certainly have some special players in Gavin Meyers, Gavin Nutting (making the 3G), Roy Moroni, Jaren Kanak, and many more. We have some great players on both sides of the ball.
Favorite thing about football?
I love the battle between the lines. Working with my team to stop the offense and get ours back on the field. That and sacks/TFL! My favorite thing about football is that I can hit someone over and over again as hard as I can, and the adrenaline rush every play its something you wouldn’t understand unless you have played.
Do you play any other sports, tell us about that, what other positions do you play?
I do track. I run the 100 meter the 4x100 meter, Javelin and was going to try shotput this year. I also compete in powerlifting.
What is it like to play for your coach?
I love playing for Coach Crough. He is a super great guy, but he will be sure to help keep your head on straight. I love all my coaches. I have special appreciation for each and everyone of them. Including my defensive coaches, Coach Harris and Coach Hickel. They challenge me every day to be the best and I trust in them to help get me to the next level. Together, they have all taught me so much in my short football career and I look forward to my Senior year.
What did you and the team do in the off-season to become better?
This has been a tough offseason with all going on in the world, but I continue to put my time in at the gym 7 days a week, and I have also brought the defense together to train. I look forward to getting together this summer for more off season workouts.
What interest are you seeing at the next level and what are your plans?
I have seen some interest, but with the pandemic it has limited my participation in Junior days and summer camps. My goal is to play at the next level and continue to grow and become the best player I can be and with hopes of playing at the professional level.
Favorite thing to do when you aren’t playing sports?
I really enjoy lifting weights, spending time with my friends, and going to the lake with my family.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, my goal would be to turn my passion for football into my profession, having a beautiful family, and opening an animal refuge.
Favorite subject in school, what type of student are you, GPA?
My favorite subject in school is math. I am the type of student to make everyone’s day but still get my work done. My GPA was a 3.357
Who is your role model?
My grandpa is my role model. I have so much respect for him because he is very intelligent and hardworking. He taught me that if you want something you have to work hard for it, harder than the guy next to you.
Best place to eat in your town or the surrounding area?
Thirsty’s, plus they have tons of big screens to catch some games on.
One thing the average person wouldn’t know about you?
That every single day of my life I’m working to get better and to get where I want to go. I wake up trying to be better than the day before, both physically and mentally.
Anything else to add that we won’t want to miss in this story?
I would like to take time to thank my family, especially my mother and grandparents, along with coaches, teammates, and friends for being supportive and patient with my growth into the football player and man I am today. I strive to make everyone proud.
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