Case Hatch, Arizona State running back: Facemask breaker, community service champion

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona State guard who hits opponents so hard he broke his face mask four times remembers the first time he hit him. Case Hatch was not yet 15 years old.

It was just a flash, that moment when something big clicks in a young person’s mind and that person’s years of teaching and demonstrating finally aligns as if to say, That is why. Throughout Hatch’s life, his family had been about service, about giving back. “This is who we are, this is what we do,” her parents told her. And like most of his age, Hatch had never embraced the message.

You know teenagers. Always inconvenienced. Always with more important things to do. And in fact, this day almost 10 years ago started out no different. Hatch remembers it being a Saturday morning. Christmas was coming. He was working with his family on a job, probably “picking up trash.” He was tired. He wanted to sleep. But as soon as they got home, his father said, “Let’s get in the truck.” We are going to help this family.

They went to Walmart. They bought toys and packed them. Then the Hatch family went to the family home. “Me and my brothers are a little bitter about it,” Hatch said. “But the moment we brought these gifts to this family, mom started tearing up like crazy.” Hatch had often done these generous acts but had rarely seen the impact. This time it was there, right in front of him: a mother’s tears.

“It was really a defining moment in my life where, ‘OK, service is actually very important,'” Hatch said. “And I’m going to take every opportunity I can to go out and help someone.”

Arizona State recently named its guard to the Allstate American Football Coaches Association’s Good Works team, which honors those who help others. Hatch deserves. Throughout his college years, and most recently with his wife Sammy, he helped prepare meals for Feed My Starving Children, collected toiletries and other items for Neighbors Who Care, and taught a class of Sunday school at his church in Gilbert, Arizona.

Is it hard sometimes? Yes. Is Case busy with football and school? Absolutely.

“You’re constantly fighting this battle of, man, I could be doing something more fun or something different right now instead of spending a few hours cleaning up an animal shelter,” Case said. “(But) it’s fairer, commit and respect this commitment. I remember at a young age my parents always trained us to do it and I just saw the importance of being of service. And if someone does, why can’t it just be me and Sammy? Why can’t we tell the difference?

Yes, the fullback who broke four masks is married. For college athletes, it’s different but not uncommon. Former Arizona State defensive tackle DJ Davidson, who was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft in April, married while in college. Around the Pac-12, Oregon State enters this season with five married players. USC has three. Oregon has one who’s engaged.

Case and Sammy Hatch were married on January 28 in Gilbert. About half of the Arizona State team attended the ceremony. Coach Herm Edwards excused Case for a few days and the couple honeymooned in Cancun. Case is 24, Sammy is 25. They live in an apartment with a young American Bully named “Dozer”, as in bulldozer. The bulldozer is a handful. In the right direction. Most of the time. When he doesn’t destroy everything.

“He’s so much fun, but when you’re done playing, he’s not done,” said Sammy, a vet tech.

Case and Sammy met a few years ago on a trip to Lake Saguaro. Case had a girlfriend at the time. Sammy had no idea who he was, but there was a maturity in him that she couldn’t help but notice. Returning the family boat at the end of the day, a man pulled up with a trailer alongside them, trying to pull his own boat out of the water. It was a tight fit, and the trailer was rocking, coming close to hitting the Hatches’ boat. People shouted. Tempers flared. Sammy could see the man was extremely stressed.

And Case defused the situation with no problem. “Hey, buddy, do you need any help?” he said. “Do you mind if I jump in your truck and just take it out for you?” Problem solved.

A shortened version of what happened next: Case and his girlfriend broke up. Sammy commented on a photo Case posted on Instagram. Case replied. They went out for ice cream. They talked all night beside a bonfire. Sammy learned that Case could fix just about anything. Case learned that Sammy knew next to nothing about football. “How don’t you know anything about football? It’s one of the most important sports in the world,” he said. Sammy only found out later that Case was a captain of the team. Arizona State.” “How can you not tell everyone?” she said.

Through their relationship, Case has achieved something significant.

“I noticed that every time I was with Sammy it brought out the best side of me,” he said. “It’s what I always wanted. The service side, the one that cares the most about people, the one that reaches out to those in need. When I’m with Sammy, that’s who I am. When we got together, it was just a piece of cake. We know what we want to do in life. We are on the same page and here we go.

Hatch speaking to his youth group on a recent Sunday. (Doug Haller)

The fullback who broke four face masks stands in room 105 of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Gilbert. Every Sunday, Case and Sammy lead a youth group. That day, they talk to 13 teenagers about charity and its many forms. They start with playing games, two teams trying to put a ping pong ball in small cups, a lesson in teamwork and support.

“So what are some ways, besides playing games and cheering on your team, to show charity to others?” Sammy asks after the games are over.

A boy says smiling at people when you pass them in the lobby.

“One hundred percent,” Case said, his voice hoarse from shouting during the team’s conditioning workouts a few days earlier. “I love it.”

A girl says she helps a neighbor with gardening.

“Awesome,” Case said.

Everyone in the room knows Case plays college football, but that’s not a big talking point here. Case brings it up to highlight how the platform can draw attention to areas important to him, like this church. And help others. The point: Acts of kindness stay with people much longer than anything that happens on a football pitch. (And as for face masks: At Arizona State, that usually happens a few times a season. Offensive lineman Christian Westerman broke it a few years ago. That case, listed at 6-1, 230 pounds, broke four says something about how powerful he plays.)

“God has given each of us special talents,” Case tells the teens. “Our talents may be different from those of our friends. They might be different from our family. But regardless, we each have a special talent that God wants us to use to see success in our lives. …to be really good at school. Be really good at sports. Be really good at your job. Anyway, God has given you a special talent in this life. The reason for this is to be successful and to dedicate your time, talent, and energy to help serve others and bring glory to His name.

(Top photo: Joe Camporeale/USA Today)

Norma P. Rex