JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL)- In our new digital series ‘High School Standouts,’ Digital Sports Reporter Michael Epps features local athletes with incredible talent, hoping to take that talent to the next level.
These are athletes that stand out both on and off the field.
This week’s High School Standout is Donta Hackler, a senior on the David Crockett football team.
The David Crockett football team made a statement last year.
“Yeah I think we fed off last year’s seniors a lot, they kinda set the tone for the new vision of the program,” head coach Hayden Chandley said
Head coach Hayden Chandley took over the program last year and quickly started to turn things around
“You speak on the kids buying in, I think they’ve bought in we could tell that from the summer and it really started last year with that group of seniors,” Chandley said.
The turnaround was clear. The Pioneers went undefeated in the regular season and made it to the state quarterfinals before falling to Knoxville Central. They went 12-1 in Chandley’s first year.
“Credit the seniors this year and our upperclassmen, they’ve kinda picked up where we left off last year and w’eve had a decent amount of success so far so hopefully we can keep on grinding and keep it going,” Chandley said.
A huge part of this team’s success is due to senior wide receiver Donta Hackler.
“I mean it’s been great we’ve been trying to continue what we did last year, but we can’t think about what we did last year we have to make our own name for ourselves,” Hackler said.
Donta had a breakthrough season last year, catching 71 balls for nearly 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“I feel like I’m more aggressive on both sides of the ball, offense and defense, I’m getting the ball more and just believing that I can do more things,” Hackler said
He’s trying to have more touchdowns than he did last year, but that’s getting to be a little difficult.
“He’s seen more double teams than he’d seen last year and so his production is not as good as it was this time last year, but he’s leading in other areas and that’s all we can ask him to do,” Chandley said.
That’s just what comes with the territory of being an all-state wide receiver.
“We take advantage when teams don’t play him double team coverage because he’s about as good as anybody around here so we can take advantage of that, so we ask Donta to be the best version of himself he can be and if he does that he’ll be in good shape,” Chandley said.
“Just being the best team out on the field on Friday night, that’s what coach Chandler says you know just play maximum effort, start getting in the weight room over the summer, so just giving it all you got for your teammates and the coaches,” Hackler said.
Hackler has sprouted up to 6’3″ and is one of the most athletic players in the state. But he says his transformation as a player came from his mindset.
“Just getting the extra yard, scoring that touchdown or catching a ball that’s out of my way you know just trying to do whatever you can to help the team,” Hackler said
And with that mindset, he’s become a leader on this team.
“Not like a verbal leader but just playing hard and doing what I know I can do, that’s how I help the team,” Hackler said.
“He leads by example, he does things the right way so whether that’s in practice being first in line or getting guys ready before a game you know that leadership quality and speaking up has been really good to see,” Chandley said.
These are all attributes universities look for, which is why Donta currently has multiple Division-I offers.
“I had a feeling that was gonna happen, college coaches asking me what’s my GPA and ACT score so I was thinking they were gonna hit me up after big games, but you can’t let that get to your head you just gotta keep doing what you need to do,”
“He’s got quite a few schools that he’s on their radar so to be able to have the opportunity to pick where you go to school and not just one or two options is really important,” Chandley said. “So we’re excited for him you know we wish him the best going forward but we’re gonna enjoy him while we got him these last few games.”
In his 2nd year Chandley has already changed the atmosphere in this program. They call it a family environment here.
But for Donta, his family really is here. His cousin, Caleb Hackler, is a senior on the team too.
“I guess just being out here, just coming here every day after school and just getting our grind on, sweating together, hitting, just everything really,” Caleb said when asked about what he enjoys about having his cousin on the team with him.
While Donta has become a household name around here for his spectacular catches on the field, his cousin is happy he’s still the same guy off the field.
“Occasionally I go to his house, we play a little bit of Madden, I smack him in Madden,” Caleb said. “It’s just like cousin and cousin, just love.”
Follow this series throughout the year as WJHL’s Michael Epps finds the High School Standout every week on WJHL.com.