Although it didn’t take that long for quarterback Payton Nelson’s pass to safely arrive in Hayden Dunn’s arms Saturday afternoon, for the Midland University receiver it seemed like an eternity.
Dunn hauled in a 32-yard touchdown pass to start the scoring in the Warriors’ 32-24 win over Hastings at Heedum Field.
“They had their two safeties go with Mike Seawell on a post route,” Dunn said. “They double-covered him and left me running around in the end zone. I was just waiting for the ball to drop to me. It was basically like catching a punt back there.”
Dunn, a senior from Placentia, California, is hoping for more of those moments on Saturday afternoon.
The Warriors will host Doane at 1 at Heedum in the season finale.
“It doesn’t seem possible that this is my final game,” said Dunn, who is tied with Alec Von Alvensleben for second on the team in receptions with 20. “It feels like I’m only in my second week here. I remember driving out here and now I just have one game left. It is very bittersweet. I can’t image my life without practice or workouts.”
Dunn came to Midland from Santa Ana (California) junior college. He joined the Warriors as a sophomore in 2015, following the path of his brother, Brock, who played linebacker and safety.
“Brock and I are pretty close,” Dunn said. “We had never been able to play on the same team, though, so I decided to come out here my sophomore year in order to do that.”
Both Dunns were effective that fall. Brock led the Warriors with a 99 tackles and also intercepted two passes. Hayden was second on the team in catches (35) and touchdown receptions (four) while having a team-best 537 yards receiving.
The Warriors, though, struggled and went 1-10. Josh Gehring was fired after that season and Jeff Jamrog was hired in December of 2015.
“Everyone was held to a lot higher standard after Coach Jamrog got here,” Dunn recalls. “Coach Jamrog wants us to not only be the best person we can be on the field, but off the field as well. The coaching staff holds us to a very high standard in the community, school and everything we do. They care a lot about us.”
That change was noticeable last fall. The Warriors finished 7-4, including a forfeit win over Northwestern. Dunn led the Warriors with 27 receptions and was second to Javonte Williams in receiving yards (397).
This season, the Warriors started 4-0, then lost four before last week’s victory.
“We had high expectations this year and it is a little disappointing we lost those four games in a row,” Dunn said. “We were hoping to get into the playoffs and contend for a (Great Plains Athletic Conference) championship so it didn’t go as planned. But this is a young team and we’ve made progress in a lot of ways. In that way, it has been a successful season and it bodes well for the future.”
Dunn has been a veteran leader for a receiving group that includes Von Alvensleben, Seawell and Malik Dumetz.
The latter moved from tight end to receiver this year and leads MU with six touchdown catches.
“This is Alec’s second year here. I’ve helped him and he has helped me,” Dunn said. “We’ve leaned on each other a lot. Mike is a freak athlete who has taught me a lot about football. He has helped me become a better player and a better person.”
Dunn said the receivers hang out together away from the football field. There isn’t any jealousy among the group.
“We just have fun and we love competing with each other,” he said. “At the end of the day, none of us cares who scores or what our stats are or anything like that.”
Dunn, who has also rushed for 63 yards on 10 carries this season, has the added responsibility of being the holder for kicker Matt Stankoski.
If defenses don’t line up right during extra-points, the Warriors have had success running or passing for the two-point conversion.
“Coach Jamrog will signal to me from the sideline what he wants to do,” Hayden said. “Most of the time we do what we call ‘reload’ and just kick it, but if there is a mismatch where we have four guys on three we try to take advantage of it. I have some freedom to call it, but most of the time Coach Jamrog will call it. “
Dunn hopes to end his career on a high note against the Tigers.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve never beaten Doane so I would love to do that,” Dunn said. “But more importantly we’d like to (secure) our second winning season in a row. That would be huge for the young players and for the program.”
Dunn is a double major in business management and accounting. After graduating in May, he plans on returning to California and will work toward become a CPA. However, he will continue to keep a close eye on the Warriors.
“There is a lot of young talent here,” he said. “This program isn’t going to regress. With Coach Jamrog here and the way he recruits, they will be good for years to come. There is no doubt about that.”