JJ Hatcher’s family and friends walk onto the field at the first home football game on Aug. 25. The game was dedicated to JJ, and the family was recognized on the field for a moment of silence.
JJ Hatcher’s family and friends walk onto the field at the first home football game on Aug. 25. The game was dedicated to JJ, and the family was recognized on the field for a moment of silence.
Peyton Kuschmeider

Continuing a legacy

The football team and family honor late student JJ Hatcher

December 18, 2022.

That was the day the Hatcher family lost their 15-year-old son, JJ, to a heart condition, the anomalous origin of a coronary artery.

December 21, 2022.

That was the day that JJ would have turned 16. The day he was supposed to get his driver’s license, which he had been working to get in the weeks leading up.

December 25, 2022.

It was the first Christmas the Hatcher family spent without their brother, son and a key component to their family.

JJ Hatcher passed away nearly nine months ago. This school year would have been JJ’s junior year, and his family and the school have been making efforts to keep JJ’s name alive and honor his memory.

“It does feel weird to see life go on without him,” JJ’s mother, Natasha Hatcher, said. “I could be driving down the street and see a teenager driving, and that’s something he didn’t get to experience. It is hard to see people his age, and especially his friends, but to me it proves that he was here, he was loved and he had an amazing life.” 

The first football game of this year’s season was dedicated to JJ. His family and friends walked onto the field and were honored during a moment of silence.They bought flowers and wore Hebron-related clothes in honor of JJ, as well as wearing shirts with the words “LLJJ” (long live JJ).

“It [was touching] to see all of his family out on the field, knowing that we’d rather him to be running out there to play than to be doing that,” head football coach John Towels said. “But, just to know how loved he was, [and see] all the people he touched and all of the people who showed up to honor him.”

JJ’s family and friends stand in the middle of the football field before the game on Aug. 25.
(Photo by Peyton Kuschmeider)

Junior Chase Harris met JJ while playing baseball as children. In high school, they would play the same baseball position and on the same football team in high school. Football coaches would tell Harris and JJ that they were going to be the two next big things.

“I’ve definitely grown into not taking stuff for granted as much because of how quickly it can be taken away,” Harris said. “I think of it as [knowing] he’s watching over me, and I know he’s wanting me to do better, so that’s what I force myself to do — just to be better and more like him every day. He always wanted to see people be better than he was and that’s what I look for.”

Junior Chase Harris watches JJ Hatcher’s family being recognized on the field. Harris and Hatcher were close friends, playing baseball together since they were kids and playing football together in high school. “[The game] makes me sad,” Harris said. “But it definitely feels really good because [JJ] will be there in spirit and with us, cheering us on and running alongside us.”(Photo by Peyton Kuschmeider)

JJ originally wanted to pursue a career in professional baseball. However, when he started playing football in high school, he changed his mind and wanted to go into the NFL. JJ was also starting to tour colleges — one of them being Texas Tech — and hoped to play football in college as well.

“He was such a freaky, great [and] amazing athlete that it is hard thinking about him not making it to that page and accomplishing those goals,” Natasha said. “I tell people all the time that JJ has been a professional athlete since he was a baby. He’s been dunking, flying and catching balls, and every single moment we had with him in sports, we were witnessing something so rare, pure and out of this world. Everything he did he was a professional.”

Natasha said she still feels JJ’s absence within their family. Although she has other children, she said the void left behind by JJ can’t quite be filled, but as a mother, she will always love taking care of her children and making memories with them.

“It will always feel weird without him,” Natasha said. “I look at it as if it’s like a life sentence. It’s not something that we won’t ever do. We’ll always miss him and we will never feel complete again without his presence and without him being here.”  

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