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August 15, 2008

Hatch ready for jump from Harvard to LSU

RELATED: Position battles worth watching | Key newcomers | Season preview: No. 10 LSU

Before this interview can take place, Bill Martin needs to set some ground rules.

"I've got Andrew Hatch here for you, but he's only got about 10 minutes," says Martin, LSU's Associate Sports Information Director. "Things are pretty busy for him right now."

Practices, film sessions, meetings and visits to the training room a hectic schedule, indeed.

Nothing, though, that Harvard man can't handle.

Technically, Hatch lost his Ivy League status long ago. But these days folks are bringing up Hatch's former school with each and every mention of his name.

Just one year after transferring to LSU from Harvard, Hatch is one of the top two candidates to start at quarterback when the defending national champion Tigers open their season against Appalachian State on Aug. 30.

"It's all a little crazy, a little unexpected," says Hatch, a sophomore. "I've got a tremendous opportunity in front of me. Hopefully I'll make the most of it."

As much as he's progressed during his 12 months in Baton Rouge, Hatch a former walk-on probably wouldn't have guessed that he'd be in a position to start for the Tigers this quickly.

If ever.

Instead the plan was for Ryan Perrilloux to take over for departing starter Matt Flynn. But coach Les Miles kicked Perrilloux off the team in May, leaving Hatch, redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee and incoming recruit Jordan Jefferson as the only scholarship quarterbacks on LSU roster.

Lee and Jefferson have never taken a collegiate snap, which gives the experience edge to Hatch, albeit slightly. Hatch played on the junior varsity squad at Harvard in 2005.

Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton says he looks at Hatch and sees a "blank canvas."

"He's developed so much since he's been here," Crowton says. "Hopefully he'll continue to develop and be ready to go."

Crowton is one of the main reasons Hatch ended up at LSU. As the head coach at Brigham Young, Crowton secured a verbal commitment from Hatch during the quarterback's senior season at Cimarron-Memorial High School in Henderson, Nevada.

Even though Hatch's team ran an offense that didn't feature much passing, Crowton saw things in Hatch that made him believe he could be a standout at the collegiate level.

Things couldn't have been any better for me last season. We won a national championship, and I had a chance to be around a great quarterback in Matt Flynn. He showed me how to lead a team and how to pull a team together. I'm excited to build off of that.
Andrew Hatch
"He took over the game," Crowton says. "He scrambled well, he executed the offense well, he took hits well, he directed traffic. He did all those intangibles that quarterbacks do. He didn't throw for a lot of yards, but he won and he won in a manner that made me believe there was an upside."

In some cases, literally.

Crowton took one look at Hatch's 5-foot-10 mother, Julie, and his father, Wendell (6-2), and predicted that Hatch then 6-1 and 180 pounds still had some growing to do. Three years later Hatch is 6-4 and 225.

As impressed as Crowton was with Hatch, he didn't get to coach him immediately.

Hatch backed out of his pledge to BYU after Crowton was fired in the fall of 2004 and instead chose Harvard, where he quarterbacked the JV squad as a freshman while eventual NFL draft pick Ryan Fitzpatrick led the varsity.

Then, after just one season, Hatch left school and embarked on what was supposed to be a two-year Mormon mission to Chile. The trip was cut short, however, when Hatch injured his knee playing soccer.

"It was a fluke thing," Hatch says. "I got undercut and hurt my knee, but I thought it was just a sprain. I stayed down there two more months and it didn't get any better."

An MRI revealed that Hatch had torn his meniscus. He returned to Nevada for surgery and three months of rehab all the while intending to return to Chile once he had healed. Luckily, he received a call from Crowton who was now at LSU before he ever boarded a plane back to South America last summer.

Crowton invited Hatch to join the Tigers squad as a preferred walk-on. In just a few quick months he catapulted to No. 2 on the depth chart when Perrilloux missed a pair of games and even got in for a handful of plays against Middle Tennessee State.

One year later, he's got a 50-50 chance at worst to start in LSU's 2008 season opener.

"Things couldn't have been any better for me last season," says Hatch, who received a medical redshirt in 2007. "We won a national championship, and I had a chance to be around a great quarterback in Matt Flynn. He showed me how to lead a team and how to pull a team together. I'm excited to build off of that."

Those who know Hatch the best are banking he'll do just that.

Hatch was a three-sport star in high school and the closer for the baseball team. Whenever the game was tight, the ball found its way into Hatch's hands. His former football coach said Hatch "thrives on pressure."

"Nothing seems to bother him," Ron Smeltzer says. "He's very even keel, very cerebral. He plays and lives at the same level. Even when he gets hit hard or throws an interception, he bounces right back. He's just not a guy that gets intimidated."

Those kinds of traits are imperative for a quarterback at LSU, where 92,000 fans flock to every home game.

At 22, Hatch carries himself with a maturity that's rare for a sophomore. Also helping Hatch's cause is the luxury of playing with one of college football's top supporting casts. Protecting Hatch will be an offensive line that features potential first-round draft picks in Herman Johnson and Ciron Black. LSU's receiving corps is also one of the nation's best with standouts such as Demetrius Byrd and Brandon LaFell.

"He knows it's an ideal situation for him," says Hatch's mother, Julie. "He doesn't have to do everything. He's got a lot of people on that team that can do great things. Andrew's role is to make good decisions and manage the offense well. That's his forte. He's good at making good decisions under pressure."

If anyone can dissect Hatch's game, it's Julie. She's been a mainstay in the stands since his little league days and one of his biggest sources of support off the field, too.

"I remember in high school, he went four-for-five in a baseball game," she says. "He lined out in his last at-bat and was like, 'Why couldn't I have gone five-for-five?'

"Andrew is a perfectionist. Our whole family used to pray that he'd have good games so we'd have a good weekend. He feels like he should do well every single time.

"That doesn't always make things easy on him or us but it's obviously served him well."

RELATED: Position battles worth watching | Key newcomers | Season preview: No. 10 LSU

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.



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