WILLIAMSBURG — Gage Hazen-Fabor recalled meeting with Williamsburg Coach Curt Ritchie last spring.
Ritchie checks in with his players, discussing their goals and role. This conversation was expected and was a chance to confirm Hazen-Fabor’s promotion from secondary option to feature back for the next season.
“I definitely remember him pulling me out to the side and telling me the plan and what is going to go down,” Hazen-Fabor said. “I was excited, knowing that I was going to have more opportunity to run the ball and help our team out a lot.”
Hazen-Fabor has flourished with the added responsibility. The Raiders junior tailback leads Class 2A with 2,168 rushing yards and has helped lead Williamsburg to the state semifinals for the first time since 2013. Williamsburg (9-2) faces ninth-ranked Union Community (8-3) in the Class 2A state football semifinals Saturday at the UNI-Dome, starting at 7:06 p.m.
The Raiders actually lead all 2A teams in rushing heading into the semifinals.
“We’re doing great,” Hazen-Fabor said. “The thing is it all starts up front with the line. They’re doing great.
“They make my job look easy. They block the holes open for me. It’s up to me to jump through the holes and do a little magic when I have to.”
Hazen-Fabor was part of a solid rushing tandem with Jason Wardenburg, combining for more than 2,300 yards on the ground. Wardenburg graduated, but Hazen-Fabor returned and more than doubled his 1,048 total from a year ago.
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“He got some good experience without really having to be the guy,” Ritchie said. “It’s been a good challenge for him to carry the load and he’s done a good job of that.”
After last season, Hazen-Fabor anticipated he would inherit the lion’s share of carries. Hazen-Fabor received a bit of a boost when Ritchie gave him the official endorsement and started showing him film of how Wardenburg played as an every-down back.
“I kind of knew I would be the man or whatever,” Hazen-Fabor said. “I had to prepare more and mentally get ready. It wasn’t too big of a deal. The main thing is being the No. 1 guy gave me a little more confidence.”
He embraced the change and didn’t experience any pressure. Ritchie described Hazen-Fabor as a free spirit who doesn’t take things too seriously. Don’t be fooled by his relaxed attitude. Hazen-Fabor balances the chill with the thrill.
“I like to think of myself as a competitor, of course,” Hazen-Fabor said. “I am a pretty laid back guy. I like to go with the flow.”
The offseason was filled with lifting weights, conditioning drills and working on skills throughout the summer. Hazen-Fabor wrestles and runs track, noting that they bolster physicality, toughness, endurance and speed.
His running style is based on feel, finding the holes by the Williamsburg offensive line and finding ways to shake would-be tacklers.
“A lot of it does come down to instinct kind of plays where you have someone coming up on you, you’re one-on-one with the defender and you either have to put a spin move on him or a juke,” Hazen-Fabor said. “That’s not something you teach. You have to go by instinct.”
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In addition to the third-best rushing total among all classes, Hazen-Fabor is tied for the 2A lead with 22 touchdowns. He has shown he can catch the occasional pass, tallying 79 yards on seven catches.
Hazen-Fabor returned a punt for a 60-yard TD, averaging 17.7 yards per punt return and 20.5 per kickoff return. Ritchie said Hazen-Fabor is a threat to break a big play whenever he gets a crease.
“We like to have him in space,” Ritchie said. “He is about as explosive as any kid I’ve ever coached. He gets to full speed in about three steps. He accelerates really quickly and has always been that way.”
Hazen-Fabor pointed to the 24-14 quarterfinal victory over third-ranked Mount Vernon as a highlight, avenging a lopsided regular-season loss and last year’s quarterfinal loss to the Mustangs.
The Mount Vernon win punctuated the Raiders' turnaround after losing two of their last three regular-season games, dropping from atop of the rankings to out of the top 10.
“These guys have hung in there and fought through it,” Ritchie said. “They kept getting better.”
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