Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

July 26, 2012

Hammer it out

TAHLEQUAH — Tahlequah-Sequoyah wide receiver Niko Hammer is used to being overlooked.

A season ago, he watched as teams overloaded coverages, retreated into soft zones, and generally locked in on the Indians’ “Two Towers,” Zac Robinson and Stuart Polk, along with All-Stater Sonny O’Field. Hammer benefited immensely, often coming open as a result of pre-occupied bracket coverage.

Now, Robinson and Polk are gone – to Corvallis, Ore., and Miami, Okla., respectively – and O’Field has moved on to the foot hills of the San Juan National Forest. For those scoring at home, that’s 78 receptions, 1,403 receiving yards, 18 touchdowns, and three-quarters of a secondary that must be replaced.

Sequoyah quarterback Brayden Scott is among the cream of the Sooner State crop, but he will need pass recipients in like-colored jerseys to emerge. The Indians’ former fifth-wheel of sorts has already done so.

Hammer (36 catches, 473 yards in ‘11) surfaced from relative offensive obscurity to lead the Indians in receptions last fall, and the 5-10 senior is back for more in 2012 – this time as the focal point of the passing game.

“When he’s on the field, you’re going to have to pay attention to where he’s lined up,” said head coach Brent Scott. “Last year, Zac, Stu, Sonny and Niko lined up in the same place every time. This year, we’re going to move Niko around a lot, so the defense has to figure out where he is.”

As the only returning starter at the position, he will no longer enjoy the luxury of opposing ambiguity. Still, the experience by association obtained last fall figures to balance the scale.

“They taught me quite a bit of stuff because they were older and they had been out there quite a bit,” said Hammer. “Zac was one of the better blockers that we had. He showed me how to better myself as a blocker.”

According to Scott, Hammer’s statistical spike was not simply a result of the talent-level that surrounded him.

“The thing about Niko is, he’s very smart, a very heady guy,” said Scott. “He’s a guy that came open a lot. What Niko is able to do is become an extension of a coach on the field. He understands the game schematically. He knows where the chess pieces go and how to take advantage of it. He’s also a disciplined player that gets where he’s supposed to be.”

Hammer’s alertness is not limited to one side of the football, either. The Sequoyah coaching staff struggles to find convenient moments to remove him from action.

“The problem with Niko is that we’re trying to get him off of the field to get him a break, but he just does so much so well that we haven’t been able to,” said Scott. “He also plays strong safety. He led the special teams in tackles, he’s our long snapper, there’s just not a lot that he can’t do.”

That’s a good problem to have, given the short bench that figures to handicap the Indians. Hammer’s days of flying beneath the radar are behind him.

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