MOUNT VERNON — Isaak Hahn recalled a conversation with Cornell College Coach Vince Brautigam at the end of last season.
Brautigam explained the scenario for the Rams quarterback, who is just one of three signal callers on the roster and the only one with college experience.
“He said you’re going to be our only returning quarterback next season, so you’re going to have the chance to start, as well as the other quarterbacks that come in,” Hahn said. “He told me to continue to work hard and keep doing what I was doing.”
Hahn has emerged as the leader on the depth chart after preseason competition with freshman Kyle Claiborne. Both will see playing time, but the junior quarterback will make his first start in Saturday’s season opener against Iowa Wesleyan at Ash Park, beginning at 7 p.m.
“I’m really excited,” Hahn said. “All I can ask for is an opportunity and then after that it’s up to me on what I do with it.”
Hahn started preparing after that conversation. He dedicated his time during the summer to working on his game. He strengthened his arm and fine-tuned his mechanics.
“I was always trying to get stronger and faster,” Hahn said. “I tried to get as much throwing in as I could and work on my technique, ball placement and the little things that would help set me apart from the other players at my position.”
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Sometimes he would throw with family or teammates, who were around town. Even though coaches weren’t able to work out with him in the offseason, they noticed his efforts on the field from afar.
“Isaak has made great strides,” Brautigam said. “I can’t be around them in the summer, but I looked out my window and saw him working out with guys, throwing the ball. He looks like a completely different player. I think that’s awesome.”
Hahn, a former Marion prep, is the only returning player with a college pass attempt. He played in eight games last season, completing 9 of 13 passes for just 57 yards. He has only attempted 35 total passes in two seasons.
Hahn was limited to a reserve role. He decided to make the best out of the situation, gaining as much knowledge as possible and grasping the system and how Brautigam wanted it run.
“The last two years I’ve been able to expand my football IQ and knowledge,” Hahn said. “I’ve been able to make better pre-snap reads, better plays at the position by watching and learning.”
Claiborne is in a similar situation, observing and learning from the sidelines at times. The 6-foot-3, 193-pound freshman from Reno, Nev., has a good frame and athleticism. He will see action in certain situations and packages.
“He’s learning the offense,” Brautigam said. “We have options.”
Claiborne has embraced the competition with Hahn and former South Tama prep Drake Crawford for the No. 1 spot. He said it has been fun and everybody has played well early.
Both Hahn and Claiborne said they have had to a balance a team-first mindset with battling each other for one spot.
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“As a competitor, you want to be out there and involved in the game,” Claiborne said. “When you sit back and think about it, ultimately it is a team game and the success of the team is all that matters.”
Claiborne is coming off an injury-shortened season at North Valleys High School. He spent time knocking off a little rust, working out with his high school receivers before arriving on campus. The workouts helped him regain his feel throwing the ball.
He had another adjustment to make when he came to town, which was apparent in a preseason scrimmage.
“The change in speed,” Claiborne said. “In high school, you could get around it. You could throw passes a little late and still get them there. College is a lot different. I saw that, especially when we went to our scrimmage in Chicago. Even their defensive linemen were fast.”
Junior Blake Langhurst is the top returning target, tallying 302 yards and four touchdowns on 18 catches in just five games before injury prematurely ended his season. He said he doesn’t know who will be the leader in the long run.
“I think it’s going to be a great run,” Langhurst said during the team’s media day. “They are all different in different spots, so it’s going to be interesting to see who is going to be the one.”
They all have different skills and get along well off the field. Hahn said he has tried to share his experience, while picking up pointers from his freshmen counterparts. It has been a collaborative effort and the competition will continue.
“It’s been a good partnership with all three of us, learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses and then developing abilities we hadn’t had before,” Hahn said. “We’re really competitive on the field but we’re trying to make each other better.”
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