FLORENCE, Ala. -- Chris Hatcher has graduated to the big table.

The third-year Valdosta State head football coach stood at the podium at Thursday's Division II football championship press conference. He took time to address the assembled media about his second-ranked Blazer team, which plays Saturday for the D-II football title.

He also took time to address the three young men to his left, sitting where he sat eight years ago as a Harlon Hill Trophy finalist.

Two -- C.W. Post running back Ian Smart and St. Cloud State quarterback Keith Heckendorf -- are here to be honored as Harlon Hill Trophy finalists. One -- Grand Valley State quarterback Curt Anes -- is trying to do a double not done in seven years; win the trophy as the nation's best Division II football player and a national team championship.

"After Friday, it'll sink in about what you've accomplished," Hatcher said to the Hill finalists, offering his expertise after having won the 1994 award and coached the 2000 and 2001 award winner, Dusty Bonner.

"He's an example of what it's like to be a success after football," said Anes, who'll go up against Hatcher's team Saturday.

Anes -- the overwhelming favorite to win the Hill this year -- was in agreement with Hatcher's advice.

"I haven't had time to think about (the weekend)," Anes said. "But when this is all over, maybe a couple of years from now, I'll say 'Holy cow. I had the time of my life.'"

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GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Thursday was the day to introduce the Blazers to a new group of media who haven't seen the three-time Gulf South Conference champions in action.

"I know a lot of people didn't have high expectations for our team because we lost so many good players off of last year's team," Hatcher said. "Our players have worked very hard and are looking forward to suiting up one more time this week.

"It's been a long time coming for our university. Everyone in our area is extremely excited about the opportunity."

And he promised a typical Blazer football game Saturday.

"We expected to be here as a football team. We're going out and playing 60 minutes of the hardest football we have left in us. Hopefully we can come home with a big-time win."

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CUT TO THE CHASE: This is only the second time in the 30-year history of the Division II championship game that the No. 1 team has played the No. 2 team in the finale.

For all the discussion about having a playoff system in Division I like the NCAA's other divisions, Hatcher turned those tables Thursday.

Taking a look at Grand Valley coach Brian Kelly, he joked, "If we had the Bowl Championship Series (in Division II), we could have played this game four weeks ago and gone on vacation."

Going to Wild Adventures, coach?



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