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Gridiron stars get ready to bring it

Donta Hackler finds a way past two Seymour defenders. Hackler made a 45-yard touchdown to put the Pioneers up 15-7 in the first half.


H&T Correspondent

Junior achievement appears to be paving the way for bright college futures at David Crockett and Daniel Boone.

The Pioneers’ Donta Hackler and Cade Larkins and fellow junior Charlie Cole of Daniel Boone are all generating Division I college interest.

Cole, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound running back-defensive end, said he has heard from the likes of Texas A&M, Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia Tech, South Carolina, Western Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky and Purdue. He visited Georgia Tech on Saturday after visiting South Carolina on Oct. 6, and could potentially visit Tennessee the day after the Musket Bowl.

The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Hackler, a receiver-defensive back, hears regularly from Cincinnati and Kentucky. And Larkins, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound quarterback, visited Miami (Ohio) on Saturday and has invitations to visit Memphis and Tusculum. He also hears from former Daniel Boone quarterback Ben Fox, the offensive coordinator at Centre College.

Boone’s Charlie Cole has also been drawing attention, especially for his role in defeating Science Hill.

Cole became Daniel Boone’s first freshman to rush for 1,000-plus yards in 2016. He was slowed by a hamstring last season that he later attributed to an imbalanced weightlifting regimen, and has bounced back to rush for 1,423 yards and 20 touchdowns during Boone’s 7-1 start this season.

Cole is a mixture of speed and strength that’s often overwhelming, particularly in the latter stages of games. He was a force in the fourth quarter of Boone’s 14-10 win at Crockett in 2016, going over 1,000 yards during a 191-yard, two-TD performance. His second score was a 42-yarder that gave Boone a 14-3 lead in the third quarter.

“Every time I watch it I get chill bumps,” Cole said, “because I knew that was the game-winning touchdown and I was so happy and grateful for that.”

Cole rushed for 141 yards and two TDs in the Trailblazers’ 28-21 victory against the Pioneers last year.

“The thing I like about Charlie is he runs the ball hard,” Hackler said. “It takes more than one person to bring him down.”

Cole rushed for 322 yards this season in a win at Science Hill.

“Charlie does a good job of finding space,” Crockett Coach Hayden Chandley said. “And when there’s not space, he does a good job of making space. …  And something that not a lot of people may realize about him – a lot of times he’s the fastest kid on the field.”

Boone coach Jeremy Jenkins noted Cole’s speed.

“When you see him, his size jumps out at you,” Jenkins said. “And he is a really physical specimen looking at him. But the big key to him is his speed. Nobody really realizes how fast he is until you see him in person. He’s done a great job of working at that this year. His speed has really picked up and I think that’s what’s taken him to the next level.”

Cole and Hackler are blessed with similar 4.5 speed. The long-armed Hackler is also a good leaper.

“I remember in the eighth grade, we high-jumped against each other,” Cole said. “I beat him by one inch and I went over and talked to him and I said, ‘Dude, you should’ve won.’ He was like, ‘Why do you think I should’ve won?’ And I said, ‘Because you didn’t have any form. You jumped straight up over the bar.’

“And I think that’s what makes him really, really deadly to various teams, because he’s really tall, he’s got the hands, he can jump and he’s fast. I think him and Cade are a good match together.”

Crockett’s Cade Larkins is known for his speed and agility.

Indeed, Hackler is on pace for 1,000-yard season as a receiver. He has 10 TD catches and is tied for the team lead with Micah Robinson with three interceptions. And Larkins has already passed for 2,394 yards and 29 TDs this season.

“It’s great when you have a quarterback like Cade,” Hackler said. “You can run the route and even if it’s not the best route, he’s gonna put the ball in the best spot for you, where the DB can’t make a play on it.”

And Hackler has also made catches on throws it appears no one would reach.

“I think the ceiling for Donta is extremely high,” Chandley said. “As far as athletic ability goes, I don’t know that there have been many to walk the halls of Davy Crockett more athletic than Donta. He’s a very gifted athlete and just an incredible kid as well. He’s a pleasure to coach and does whatever we ask him to do. … The recruiting will really pick up for him, I suspect, here when the spring rolls around.

“Cade is a 4.0 (GPA) kid and has a high ACT score. He does anything you ask him to do as well – a ‘yes sir, no sir’ kid and a great pleasure to be around. He’s a leader for us on and off the field. He’s one of our captains as a junior. It makes our job a lot easier as coaches when we’ve got people like Cade running the show on offense.”

Larkins enjoyed the visit to Miami.

“It was cool to see how Ben Roethlisberger and other guys that the program has sent to the league (NFL) have bettered the program and left tradition there,” Larkins said.

For Larkins and Hackler, who are seeking their first triumph against the Trailblazers, the future is now.

“The atmosphere that the Musket Bowl brings has to be as good as any other high school football game out there,” Larkins said. “And games like these are the ones we live for and will remember the rest of our lives. Just knowing that makes us even more hungry for the Musket.”