Saturday, July 23, 2005

SLV receivers sharing a lot more than position

by Max DelSignore, Times Sports Writer
First published: Saturday, July 23, 2005

St. Lawrence Valley trailblazers wide receiver Dan Staton floats a spiral about 30 yards into the air. Joe Hutchinson darts up the field, extending to make a one-handed grab, tip-toeing an imaginary sideline. He turns to Staton, both of them flashing smiles. A sign not just of camaraderie, but friendship.

Whether it's on or off the field, it's normal to see Staton and Hutchinson together. Their relationship goes much further than playing the same position on the football field.

"We're really close," Hutchinson said. "We hang out all the time, play video games. He's a cool guy."

"When I'm not in practice, we're hanging out," Staton said.

Staton moved to the area in 2000, living in Ogdensburg after being discharged from military duty in 1998. It had been 10 years since he played football. He met Hutchinson shortly after and they became instant friends.

Hutchinson, an Ogdensburg native, began playing wide receiver with St. Lawrence Valley in 2002 and planned on making an impact.

"I wanted to prove myself," Hutchinson said. "I wanted to play as hard as I could, and I wanted to start."

Trailblazers head coach Mike Britton was pleased with Hutchinson's ability.

"We knew he'd be an impact player for us," Britton said. "Because of his athleticism, and he could catch the ball. He hasn't failed for us as our primary receiver."

Hutchinson followed up on his personal expectations by being the Trailblazers' leading receiver in the inaugural 2002 season.

During the 2003 season, Hutchinson brought home a piece of hardware that made Staton realize how much he missed playing the game he loved.

"He was showing me a plaque from one of his games, and that sparked my interest," Staton said. "I missed it terribly. I wanted to find a place to play. I didn't know about the Trailblazers until I met Joe."

Hutchinson told Staton to play the following season, which was a decision Staton doesn't regret.

"This is what I've always wanted," Staton said. "I'm living my dream right now. I wouldn't have it any other way."

"He's a good all-around athlete," Hutchinson added.

Staton and Hutchinson prepared for the 2004 season together. They played pick-up football at Lincoln Park in Ogdensburg, played catch for hours, and helped each other with conditioning.

"Starting in the spring, I carried my football everywhere we went," Staton said.

Hutchinson was the team's leading receiver for the third straight season in 2004, grabbing 27 passes, seven for touchdowns. He was also named to the Empire Football League All-Northern Division second team.

Staton struggled, however, much to the chagrin of Britton. He started the season as a defensive back, but was switched to receiver at midseason. Unfortunately, Staton couldn't catch the football.

"We couldn't figure out why he wasn't picking up the ball," Britton said.

Staton declined to tell Britton that he needed contacts, afraid that he might lose playing time. "Without contacts, I couldn't see three feet in front of me," Staton said.

After making the optical investment, Britton has seen vast improvements in Staton's playing and blocking ability. Both receivers continue to improve in hopes of solidfying the position as a legitimate threat on the field.

"With them controlling the ball and being effective with the pass, we'll be able to keep the defense off the field," Britton said.

"We've got more talent, and we've got good speed," Hutchinson added. "We just got to get it together."

Staton believes it's possible, as long as his friend lines up with him.

"Our receiving unit, myself included, is a lot better than it was last year," Staton said. "Also, Joe's a real good friend of mine. I wouldn't want to play with any other guys right now."

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