Coach Rob Oram predicted great things for the 2012 Hanford Falcons football team before most of them were old enough to drive.
A good chunk of this year’s senior class started or saw considerable playing time as sophomores, and Oram’s plan was to get them ready for the future.
One thing he didn’t predict in 2010, however, was the emergence of Joe Douglas, a former tight end who had yet to live up to his lofty potential.
“He was a project, an average player,” Oram said. “We didn’t even play him on defense. He was just another kid on the freshman team.
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“But he worked hard for a year, and I thought, ‘You know what, we can play him at some tackle,’ ” Oram said. “Now he’s just grown exponentially.
“I call him a self-made player.”
Today, Douglas is the top returning offensive linemen in the Mid Columbia Conference. What’s even more exciting to the 6-foot-4, 236-pound senior is the chance to play on the other side of the ball this season.
“I’m really excited to play both ways. I’m a defensive-minded player, and I think I can be a great defensive end in this league,” Douglas said.
All reports so far indicate that Douglas is as good a defensive lineman Hanford has ever had.
He has augmented his natural strength and size with a dedicated weight-training regimen, and he’s watching what he eats. Since last football season, Douglas has lost nearly 20 pounds but continued to enhance his speed and agility.
That’s made him a prime target of college recruiters hoping to find the next great pass rusher.
“Only one school has seen him play defensive end. We went up to (Eastern Washington University) one day and he was scholarshipped by the time we left,” Oram said. “He’s the best (offensive) tackle in our league, but he’s a defensive recruit because of his agility, footwork and hands.”
Along with Eastern, Washington State, Wyoming and SMU have also shown interest in the former Gary, Indiana native.
Douglas credits his time on the basketball court with developing better endurance and hand-eye coordination that can only help him on the gridiron.
“By posting up, I’ve learned some spin moves that have helped me so much getting outside of tackles,” Douglas said. “The tackles in this league aren’t as fast as me. I know that. I’m going to take advantage of that with my footwork.”Douglas still has a heart for basketball — a sport he’s played since the third grade — and he will return to the court this winter as the area’s best big man.
As a junior, Douglas averaged 16.7 points and over 10 rebounds a game for the Falcons, including a 24-point, 14-rebound effort in an early-season home win over Richland.
The question was put to Hanford hoops coach Paul Mayer: Is Douglas a basketball player who plays football or a football player who plays basketball?
“I see him as a basketball player for sure. I know he’s a good football player. It’s a compliment to him he’s good at both,” Mayer said. “I certainly believe he could play (basketball) at the next level. I’ve had (college) coaches talk to me about him already.
”He’s got the ability to play both sports.”
Douglas isn’t sure both sports in the cards, but he said he’s still mulling over the exciting possibilities in his future.
“(Playing both sports) has crossed my mind. I’d be blessed if I could. It would be tough, though,” he said.
The laid-back Douglas admits he needs a push from time to time, something his teammates are more than happy to help him with.
“My teammates keep me in gear. They don’t let me slack off when I want to. That inspires me to be a better player,” he said.
Plus, if Douglas needs any more inspiration than that, he doesn’t have to look any further than his mother Leah, a single mom who raised three children under tough circumstances.
“Seeing her struggle wasn’t easy. I did as much as I could to help her when I was a kid. Seeing how strong she was in taking care of me and my two sisters, she made it through a lot of adversity,” he said.
He knows there are plenty of challenges ahead for him in the next few years as his college career takes flight.
But Oram is confident that with enough good people around him, the sky is the limit for Douglas.
“If you want to get Joe to play at a high level, you challenge him,” Oram said. “Joe will find that little bit of extra energy. He loves competition. That’s what motivates him.”