The playmaking ability of Simley’s Cody Hazelett (13) wasn’t recognized until he switched to the “monster” position on defense. Submitted photo
Cody Hazelett was a three-year starter for the Simley football team. It wasn't until the third game of his senior season when it all began to make sense.
Coach Rex King inserted Hazelett into the "monster," a middle linebacker- type position in his hybrid defensive system, during a game against Henry Sibley. It requires an aggressive, mobile athlete to run from sideline to sideline and hunt down the ball.
Aware of the opposing quarterback's athleticism, King gave Hazelett the green light to pursue him if he ever bootlegged. Sure enough, the quarterback did. Hazelett closed in on him fast and finished with a highlight-reel hit.
"I didn't think he was going to get up after that hit, but he was fine," Hazelett said. "Then I sacked him again the play after that."
Simley shut out Henry Sibley 21-0. And as if he were the missing piece to a puzzle, Simley had found its monster.
"Us coaches must have watched it 50 times that night, just to see how fast he could catch up to him," King said of Hazelett's punishing sack. "We said, 'OK, this kid's found his home.'"
By the end of the season, the 6-3, 220-pound Hazelett had compiled enough material for a five-minute highlight tape, which was sent to numerous colleges in hopes of getting him a football scholarship.
Hazelett slipped under the radar for two reasons: He was a late bloomer, and there was coaching turnover at Simley. The linebacker could have walked on at a Big Ten school, including Minnesota, but with a little help, Northern Illinois gave him a more serious look and eventually made him a scholarship offer.
After the Spartans beat Richfield in their last game of the regular season, Richfield coach Todd Olson made sure Northern Illinois would check out Hazelett more closely. Todd's son, Trevor Olson, was just finishing up his senior season at Northern Illinois. The coaching staff did its due diligence, and ultimately brought him on campus.
"Everything just felt right," said Hazelett, also a three-year starter for the five-time defending state champion Simley wrestling team.
Speed and physicality are Hazelett's biggest assets. His long strides give him effective closing speed, but his size and strength didn't come easily.
He weighed only 170 pounds as a junior linebacker. After wrestling season that year, he gained 40 pounds over the spring and summer. That's when he knew college football was a goal within his grasp.
Now Hazelett is living his dream. He got to campus two Saturdays ago, where he's taking part in captain's practices and classes. He'll most likely redshirt his freshman season while trying once again to get his weight up, this time to the 240-pound range. He hopes to see playing time the following year.
This is no surprise to King, a coach Hazelett lauded.
"I knew Cody was something special," King said. "I just knew we had something on our hands here. We just needed to find it."