Editor's note: This story is featured in the Daily Citizen-News' weekly high school football Touchdown! section. Grab an issue in papers on Fridays during football season, or stop by our office for a copy.
CHATSWORTH -- The hit remains in the back of Hayden Hulett's mind. But that's where it stays.
Hulett, a senior wide receiver/linebacker for North Murray High School, missed six games during his sophomore year after suffering a shattered jaw and other injuries from a blindside hit while playing on kick coverage against Calhoun on Sept. 22, 2017.
The Calhoun player's helmet went under Hulett's facemask and drove through his jaw. The result was a fracture of the left side of his jaw, a broken joint that connects the jawbone to the skull and major damage to the right side of his jaw. A seven-hour surgery in which 13 screws were inserted into his jaw followed. Hulett's jaw was wired shut as the injury healed. He lost 28 pounds and had to eat through a straw for four weeks. Despite the adversity, Hulett has made a full recovery.
"Definitely I'm a little more cautious running down the field now," Hulett said. "But I think it's only made me better as a player. It was really hard to overcome but now that I have I think it just made me better. I know there's not going to be a hit that's going to be much harder than that one. It was very surreal and a bad experience, but I think it's helped me for the better."
North Murray coach Preston Poag took over the team in 2016 when Hulett was a freshman, so the coach has seen the player progress. Poag said Hulett's transformation into a key contributor resulted from his hard work in the weight room. Versatility, along with his willingness to play any position, are Hulett's strongest attributes, Poag said.
"He's a valuable player," Poag said. "I'll tell you why. He can play a bunch of positions. He's played receiver, fullback, safety, we might play him at tight end. He just plays hard. In high school football if you have guys that can play a lot of positions and also they're really good players and they play hard, that's a really big benefit for your team."
Hulett has been a part of North Murray football history. Now, in his final season, he wants to make more.
He was a freshman on the 2016 team that made the playoffs for the first time in school history. With their first-round victory over Jackson County, the Mountaineers notched the school's first playoff victory as well.
Next on the list? A Region 6-3A championship. But the Mountaineers (0-1) will have to go through state powerhouse Calhoun to get it.
"We're always placing second in our region behind Calhoun each and every year," Hulett said. "We're shooting to win region this year. We have a really good shot at it. If we put our minds to it, I think we can really do it, and this is the year to do it. We're all in this year."
As Hulett prepares for the team's second game this season at home against Model tonight, he is excited about what's ahead for the Mountaineers and its group of 28 seniors.
"Four years ago we never made it to the playoffs," Hulett said. "With coach Poag and the help he's brought in, it's really helped our program and helped lift us to a higher standard, and now the standard is set high so we're trying to build on that and get as far as we can."