By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Will Hastings had options. Scholarship offers from three Division II schools in Arkansas, his home state.
As a high school senior, he filled up the stat sheet, becoming only the second player in state history with more than 2,000 receiving yards in a season.
“No one else gave me an opportunity,” Hastings says. “My family really believed in me. My friends believed in me. My whole high school believed in me.”
Hastings, who also handled kicking duties for his high school, Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, had attended Auburn’s kicking camp.
A few days before signing day, in 2015, Hastings called Auburn and received good news. An invitation to be a preferred walk-on kicker.
Success did not occur overnight.
“When I first came here, I didn’t make fall camp my freshman year,” he says.
One player’s misfortune was another player’s opportunity.
“And then they called me when Duke (Williams) got in trouble, and said, ‘Hey, we need you to be another body for fall camp.’ And so I came in. Didn’t really do too well. And then, the rest of my freshman year, I was a kicker,” Hastings says.
As a freshman, Hastings played in two games. His only statistic: one 29-yard kickoff against LSU.
“Winter came. I did all of the agility drills. I think that’s where it took off,” he says. “And in the spring, I did some good things at receiver. They moved me there.”
In preseason camp, Hastings found a home as a slot receiver.
“At that moment, when they moved me to 3, I started getting confidence, and started thinking, ‘I might get some playing time.’”
Against Clemson, Hastings delivered three clutch catches, two on third down, and one on fourth, each moving the chains.
Fans turned to their programs to investigate just who was this No. 33.
“It was a ton of fun being out there again,” he says. “I haven’t played real football since my senior year of high school. And it meant the world to me to finally go out there and catch a collegiate pass. That was really cool.”
A pregame tip from receivers coach Kodi Burns was helpful.
“Coach Burns said, ‘Imagine it back in high school,” Hastings says. “That’s exactly what I did. I just tuned everything out.”
Like Burns, Hastings is an Arkansas native who found success at Auburn as a receiver after a position change.
“Kodi’s definitely the man,” Hastings says. “He truly believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He loves us all, and we love him. He just gets us better every day.”
Listed at 5-10, Hastings wants to add 12 pounds to get to 190, without sacrificing his speed and quickness.
“Will’s got some natural abilities,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “He had some big third-down catches, a fourth-down catch. For a new guy, you worry if the moment is too big, but obviously it wasn’t for him. He did well in pressure moments, and I thought that was encouraging. He’s a quick guy, a fast guy, and I thought he did a solid job.”
Several family members are making the 7-hour drive to watch Will play Saturday against Arkansas State.
“I believed in myself. A lot of people believed in me. Definitely my family. I couldn’t have done it without them,” Hastings says. “It was definitely hard, but I definitely made the right decision.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer