Freedom Semifinals Hatcher Touchdown Ref.jpg

Freedom's Umari Hatcher gets touchdown confirmation on this catch against Westfield on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.

A Quest Powell pass to Umari Hatcher doesn’t produce a touchdown every time. But it’s darn close when you consider eight of Hatcher’s 18 receptions this season have gone for scores.

“He can do it all,” Powell said of Hatcher. “He can make a lot of things happen. He’s an easy target.”

The 6-foot-3 junior is a big-play threat whether down field or across the middle, in long-yardage situations or short-yardage ones. It doesn’t matter. His speed, size and jumping ability makes him a match-up problem that Freedom looks to exploit any chance it gets.

Hatcher averages 27.3 yards per catch and has topped 100 receiving yards in three of unbeaten Freedom’s first four games. He recorded six touchdowns in the Eagles’ first two games.

“Last year we eased him in, but as coaches we realized we had to be more aggressive and throw to him more,” Eagles head coach Darryl Overton said. “He makes plays.”

Overton credits Powell in helping boost Hatcher’s numbers. Powell’s ability to read defenses through Freedom’s run-pass option scheme opens the offense up for players like Hatcher.

There’s no doubt the two work well together. Half of Powell’s 16 touchdown passes have gone to Hatcher. They connected first on the junior varsity, where Hatcher spent his freshman year and Powell his sophomore year.

Hatcher’s game-breaking abilities also creates opportunities for Freedom’s other receivers, Jason Hawkins, Nijhere Johnson and Jalen Hamlin.

“He demands a lot of attention and he should get it,” Overton said. “You can’t neglect the other guys.”

On occasions, Overton is asked how Hatcher stacks up against two standouts he coached at Colonial Forge, Tim Scott and Gary Jennings. Scott signed with North Carolina as a safety and spent time in the five NFL teams, but he caught passes in high school. Seattle selected Jennings in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft after starring as a West Virginia wide receiver.

Overton said Scott and Jennings were more physically imposing than Hatcher at a similar point in high school. But Hatcher is more athletic.

Last season, Hatcher showed signs of things to come by catching 24 passes for 449 yards and eight touchdowns as Freedom reached the Class 6 state final. He played wide receiver for two years at Graham Park Middle School, but he was a work in progress when he came to Freedom as he adjusted to the Eagles’ offensive schemes.

His biggest moment came in the region final when Hatcher caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Powell with 48 seconds remaining to lift Freedom past W.T. Woodson 21-16.

Recognizing Hatcher faced single-man coverage, Powell called an audible. Hatcher ran straight past his defender down the field and was wide open for the touchdown. The moment boosted Hatcher’s confidence.

After working out in the offseason with Freedom’s wide receivers coach and participating in 7-on-7 passing tournaments, Hatcher’s confidence soared more, something Powell attests to.

“We know what each other is thinking before we do it,” Powell said. “It helps us being on the same page.”

Hatcher, who also starts in the secondary, keeps finding ways to improve.

“Last year when I caught the ball, I wasn’t making any moves,” said Hatcher, who has offers from Liberty and Virginia. “This year I’m getting better at it.”

That’s what Overton likes most about Hatcher. He’s always pushing himself.

“Not a lot of diva in him,” Overton said. “He’s humble and does what he can to make himself successful.”

David Fawcett is the sports editor for InsideNoVa.com. Reach him at dfawcett@insidenova.com

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