COLUMBIA — Matt Hazel was an All-State receiver during his high school football career at North Augusta.
Then, he went to Coastal Carolina, and he improved each of his first three seasons with the Chanticleers.
But coming into this, his senior year, Hazel wanted to get even better. So he went to Atlanta in the offseason and trained to get faster and stronger.
So far, so good.
“All that work, it turned out great this season,” Hazel said after Coastal Carolina played South Carolina on Saturday. “The team’s having a great year.”
While Hazel and the Chanticleers came up on the losing end of a 70-10 result against the Gamecocks, the North Augusta product has nothing to be ashamed of.
He caught a 25-yard pass on Coastal Carolina’s first play from scrimmage and he went on to catch six passes for 83 yards.
“I was a little pumped up,” Hazel said of his opening catch. “To come out and play against an SEC school was a great experience.”
Hazel is Coastal Carolina’s all-time leader in receptions with 168 receptions in his career. For the season, Hazel has 55 catches for 817 yards and six touchdowns.
Before Saturday’s game, Hazel received praise from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.
“Matt Hazel could play for anyone in the SEC,” Spurrier said at his weekly news conference. “Real good player.”
Spurrier’s words quickly found Hazel, but he remained focused on the task at hand.
“I also had to remain humble about the situation, couldn’t get too big-headed about the situation,” Hazel said.
Hazel’s regular season is over, but Coastal Carolina will begin play in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs by hosting Bethune-Cookman in the first round, and Hazel hopes his team can make a deep run in the postseason.
“We’re going to have to see what happens and get ready for the week,” he said.
After this season, Hazel will see if NFL teams are interested. The school’s previous leader in receptions, Jerome Simpson, is now playing for the Minnesota Vikings.
“I appreciate coach Spurrier’s comments, but I’ve got to continue to work,” said Hazel, who is being touted for All-America honors.
“I’m at Coastal, so I’ve enjoyed my experience here and I won’t look back.”