April 13, 2024

As a junior, Cornell Hatcher Jr. of Corona Centennial High said he played with two sprained ankles most of the season. He didn’t see a doctor because he felt the team needed him on the field and he was afraid he’d have to miss a game.

Finally healthy as a senior, he showed off his speed, toughness and strength by rushing for 2,257 yards and scoring 42 touchdowns. He has been selected The Times’ back of the year.

In Hatcher’s final game in a Husky uniform, he carried the ball 45 times for 221 yards and five touchdowns in a 43-42 loss to St. John Bosco in the Southern Section Division 1 semifinals.

“Skill wise, what really improved was being able to get a lot bigger, a lot stronger and get healthy,” said the 6-foot, 205-pound senior. “All those things added together helped me put up the numbers I did this year.”

With a 4.3 grade-point average, Hatcher kept progressing under coach Matt Logan to become the latest prolific running back from Centennial, joining the likes of JJ Taylor, Tre Watson and Ryan Bass.

If there was a turning point for Hatcher this season, it occurred Sept. 22 against Liberty. The Huskies needed three touchdowns late and Hatcher delivered each time, finishing with 305 yards rushing and four touchdowns.

“The Liberty game I started thinking I set myself apart,” he said.

No Husky fan will forget his performance against St. John Bosco. He kept getting the ball again and again. He never got tired. He never stopped grinding.

“My body was fine,” he said afterward. “A few bruises.”

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