Four years ago, JT Haddan was playing running back and linebacker at the Bulldogs Proving Grounds for the Moffat County High School varsity football team.
On Dec. 14, Haddan, now in his fourth year at Colorado State University-Pueblo, could be playing for a national championship.
Haddan made the move to offensive guard and has been part of a dominate Thunderwolves offensive line unit that has led CSU-Pueblo to an 11-0 record, a No. 1 ranking in the American Football Coaches’ Association NCAA Division II poll and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
“We just all bought into playing one game at a time,” Haddan said Thursday of his team. “We have to play hard on every play and focus on the details.”
While making the change to guard took some adjustments, Haddan said he is able to read defenses effectively now.
The hardest adjustment moving from high school to collegiate football is the speed of the game, he said.
“Everybody is so good and at the top of their game every time,” he said. “The speed of the game is just so much different than what it was in high school.”
At MCHS, when football ended Haddan competed for the Bulldogs on the boys basketball team and the track team.
Haddan is only playing football in Pueblo, but said one sport is more than enough to keep him busy.
“Our practices don’t have a lot of conditioning but they are very high tempo, and I am in better shape now,” he said. “In the offseason, from January to August, that is when we do our conditioning, so we all come into the season not having to worry about not being in shape. We are in the weight room, running and doing circuits.
“Doing one sport lets me focus more and give all my attention to football.”
Still, Haddan has to balance football and school, where he is majoring in exercise science.
But, for a student who graduated from MCHS with a 3.6 grade point average, Haddan has managed.
“Balancing sports and academics can be pretty difficult,” he said. “Football takes up about 8 hours a day, so it is like a full-time job, so you really have to learn to manage your time well. Once I did that, it was pretty easy.”
Haddan said he plans to graduate in May 2012, but he may still be at CSU-Pueblo for another semester.
Because of an injury in his freshman year, Haddan will apply to be eligible for another season.
Haddan did admit, however, that this year wouldn’t be a bad one to go out on.
The Thunderwolves played a rare nationally televised game Oct. 6 against Colorado School of Mines in Pueblo and scored a 23-6 victory.
Haddan said coming into the season, the team’s goal was to win the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
The Thunderwolves went 9-0 in conference play and their narrowest victory was a nine-point win over Adams State College.
“Every week, we focused on the details and made sure we learned each week,” he said. “We knew we had the players to go undefeated and we just had to play hard.”
Being on the offensive line, Haddan said it was every lineman’s responsibility to work as one unit.
The philosophy paid off in more than just victories — Haddan and fellow linemen Ryan Jensen and Jonathan Jones were named to the RMAC first-team all-conference team Wednesday.
Several of Haddan’s other teammates also brought home some RMAC hardware.
In total, CSU-Pueblo had 20 RMAC all-conference selections, the defensive player of the year, the special teams player of the year, the offensive freshman of the year and the coach of the year in head coach John Wristen
Even with the awards, Haddan said the team’s job is not done.
The Thunderwolves will host the winner of today’s first-round playoff match-up between Minnesota-Duluth and Saginaw Valley at noon Nov. 26.
In front of an expected crowd of almost 7,000 fans, Haddan said winning is the only thing on his mind.
“It is a lot of fun to be on the field during big games, but I really just focus on what I have to do and not all the fans,” he said. “I try to experience every game, and it just makes it that much better.”
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