Worth the work: How Gaven Haselhorst transformed into a Division I-caliber athlete and K-State signee

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
Hays High Gaven Haselhorst signs his letter of intent with Kansas State University as his mother, Amy Haselhorst, looks on during Wednesday's signing ceremony at Hays High.

In a three-year span, Hays High’s Gaven Haselhorst transformed from an undersized football player without a true position into one of the top defensive players in the state. 

Wednesday was a day to celebrate the meteoric rise of Haselhorst, who inked a letter of intent to play football at Kansas State University during a signing ceremony at Hays High. 

It wasn’t until last summer when the 6-foot-1, 230-pound defensive end started gaining attention as a Division-I caliber athlete. 

Third-year Hays High coach Tony Crough said it's amazing to think about how Haselhorst evolved from an underclassman who wasn’t yet sold on football into an all-time great for the Indians. 

“He was a skinny little guy that was saying he wanted to be a track kid,” Crough said of his early impression of Haselhorst. “He hadn’t really played much football. He was on the freshman/JV combined football team; he didn’t really play much. He was talking about not playing football his sophomore year, and we talked him into going out. 

“He’s just been an absolute work in progress on how he built himself to get to where he got to.”

Haselhorst said he wasn't always as passionate about football as he is today.

“It definitely developed,” Haselhorst said. “I loved track. (A love for) football came to me. I love hitting people.”

Haselhorst began realizing his potential as a junior, enjoying a breakthrough season.  He earned first-team All-Western Athletic Conference honors that year after logging 113 tackles and 22 tackles for loss.

“I was just working to be amazing at football,” Haselhorst said. “My junior year I had a crazy season. I just kept working after that.”

At that point, Crough knew that Haselhost was going to land college offers. But it wasn’t until last summer that Haselhorst’s recruitment really started to blow up.

“It was kind of a crazy fast rise in how he took off,” Crough said. 

A strong showing at the Sharp Performance Showcase in July at Salina caught the attention of Kansas State coaches. 

“When I stood out there, I really got noticed after that," Haselhorst said of the Sharp Showcase. “I came in with the mindset that I have to be noticed.”

Haselhorst soon received an offer from Kansas State. Days later, he committed to the Wildcats. 

“It’s a whole family there,” Haselhorst said of K-State. “I love the environment. I love everyone there. I love Taylor Braet (K-State director of football recruiting). I just can’t wait.”

Hays High football coach Tony Crough, left, reflects on the career of Gaven Haselhorst, right, before Haselhorst signed with Kansas State on Wednesday at Hays High.

Over the last two years, Crough watched Haselhorst turn his weaknesses into strengths, culminating in a monster senior season. 

“He was always a good speed guy, a pass rusher and a tackle-for loss-guy in the backfield,” Crough said. “His weaknesses before were you could run at him because he was light and not as strong. He worked really hard on being better at the point of attack, and that’s where he was great this year.

“I think that’s what colleges saw — this isn’t just a one-trick pony; this is a guy that can really play.”

Haselhorst logged a staggering 32 tackles for loss in just eight game this past season. He was a Top-11 All-State pick by the Kansas Football Coaches Association and was the WAC Defensive Player of the Year. 

He’s preparing for a position change at the next level. The Wildcats plan on using him at linebacker. 

“I have a lot (to learn),” Haselhorst said. “I’m playing linebacker next year and I’ve never played that position in my life. I can’t wait.

“It’s going to be a pretty big change but I think I’ll be able to handle it. I’m asking for the playbook as soon as they can get it to me.”

Crough said he believes Haselhorst is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential, noting he won’t turn 18 until after he graduates high school. 

“I think we’re all going to be looking back someday and saying, ‘Wow, that kid when he was a freshman, compared to where he is now, it’s just an amazing thing,' " Crough said. “Pretty awesome what he’s built himself into.”

Haselhorst, who plans on majoring in sports medicine at K-State, looks for the Hays High football program to continue strides made during the last two seasons. The Indians were 5-3 last year and captured the Western Athletic Conference title. 

“I think our program here is on the come-up,” Haselhorst said. “They’re going to be eventually really good.”

His advice to returning players for the Indians?

“Just never quit working.”