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DAVIS, Calif. - For the first time in 18 seasons, the Jacksonville Jaguars are enjoying a playoff run for the ages by advancing to Sunday’s AFC Championship game at New England. With another victory, the Jaguars will compete in the Super Bowl for the first time in the team’s history — a realistic situation with Jacksonville finishing the regular season at 10-6 and coming off an attention-grabbing victory last weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers, on their home turf.
Playing a key role in the team’s resurgence is Nathaniel Hackett, a former Aggie student-athlete and coach who is the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator. Sunday’s championship showdown in New England is the latest highlight of a successful coaching career that began on the same fields that UC Davis football uses for training, conditioning and practices today.
As was the case with his father, Paul, Nathaniel was a football student-athlete throughout his undergraduate career at UC Davis. During his four years as an Aggie, the younger Hackett played linebacker, handled long snapping duties, and competed in the postseason in each of his four years on campus. When he graduated, his teams finished with a collective 41-9 record.
The recipient of the George Belenis Award in 1998 as the team’s Most Outstanding Redshirt, N. Hackett capped his outstanding college career by earning the Aggie Pride Award as a senior in 2002.
And just like his father, who began his coaching career at his alma mater, N. Hackett helped UC Davis football continue to succeed, and dominate on the field, shortly after he graduated by becoming the Aggies’ assistant linebackers coach. With Nathaniel on the sideline, UC Davis posted another winning record in 2003, under legendary Aggie head coach Bob Biggs, in the program’s final season as a Division II independent.
Following an outstanding playing career of his own from 1966-68, P. Hackett joined the staff of another Aggie coaching legend, Jim Sochor, and helped guide the program until 1971 when he became Cal’s football graduate assistant. Throughout the next 36 years, he coached at USC and held positions with eight NFL teams.
In his first post-UC Davis position, Nathaniel also headed to the Bay Area where he became Stanford’s coordinators assistant for the next three years. Following his stint with the Cardinal, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him as its offensive quality control from 2006-07.
Starting in 2008, Hackett spent six years in New York; after moving to the state for the Buffalo Bills’ offensive quality control position, one he held until 2010, he returned to the college ranks as Syracuse’s quarterback/passing game and tight ends coach. Elevated to offensive coordinator during his last two seasons with the Orange, he returned to the Bills in 2013 and served as the team’s offensive coordinator for the next two seasons.
Under his direction, the Bills finished with the highest passer rating in 12 seasons and tallied 33 big plays (25 yards or more) in 2014 — the sixth-highest total in the league that year and the most by a Buffalo team since 2000. In that same season, Bills quarterbacks combined for only 13 interceptions, the third-fewest in franchise history.
It was Nathaniel’s success with wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who set numerous rookie team records in ’04, and quarterback Kyle Orton, who posted a slew of career-best marks, which led to an opportunity to join Jacksonville as its quarterbacks coach to help develop then-second-year QB Blake Bortles.
Under Hackett’s tutelage in his first year with the Jaguars, Bortles set single-season team records in passing touchdowns (35), passing yards (4,428), completions (335) and attempts (606). In addition to throwing for a touchdown in 15 straight games, Bortles joined Dan Marino (48, 1984) and Matthew Stafford (41, 2011) as the only NFL quarterbacks age 23-or-younger to throw 35 TDs or more in a single season.
In 2016, Bortles continued to thrive working alongside his second-year QB coach by completing 368 passes (58.9 pct. of his 625 attempts) for 3,905 yards and 23 touchdowns. Combined with his three rushing TDs, and 359 rushing yards on 58 carries, Bortles joined Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers as the only players in the league’s history to throw for 3,900 yards or more, record 20 or more passing TDs and rush for at least 300 yards in consecutive seasons.
This success led Jaguars officials to elevate N. Hackett as its offensive coordinator, which started on Week 9 of the 2016 season. As Jacksonville’s play caller, the team improved its rankings in a number of offensive categories, including time of possession (30th to 13th), goal-to-go efficiency (15th to fourth) and red zone efficiency (16th to fifth). The Jaguars’ rushing attack also experienced an impressive level of success, improving from 30th (72.6) to fifth (124.8), in rushing yards per game, 26th (3.79) to 13th (4.35) in yards per rush and from 32nd (38) to first (112) in rushes of four-plus yards.
Whoever Nathaniel coached, his teams became successful within a brief period of time, which is why he has become one of the most well-respected names in professional football. Under his leadership, Bortles now has his team on the cusp of accomplishing something no Jaguar signal caller before him can boast: Super Bowl participant.
With Jacksonville’s offense peaking at the right time, thanks to N. Hackett, football fans are prepping for an exciting AFC championship matchup, with a vast majority of fans rooting for the Jaguars.
This year, Bortles threw for more than 3,500 yards for the third straight season, and amassed 14,928 pass yards since entering the league — the fourth-highest total by any QB in NFL history throughout his first four seasons. Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns last week at Pittsburgh, is the only rookie in the league’s history to rush for 100+ yards and score three TDs on the ground. That performance is the latest by the standout running back who leads all rookies with nine rushing TDs, and is No. 2 with 1,040 rushing yards. Wide receivers Marquise Lee leads the team with 56 receptions, and Keelan Cole is ranked No. 4 among NFL rookies with 748 receiving yards.
Jacksonville’s worst-to-first scenario should come as no surprise to anyone who followed N. Hackett’s coaching journey since he has enjoyed nothing but success throughout his career. Aggie Pride led to proven results with each team since graduating from UC Davis. For Jaguars fans, the lessons and principles originally learned in a college city ideally located between Lake Tahoe and San Francisco, continue to influence the sport (at all levels) today, and may ultimately lead to a berth in the NFL’s biggest game.
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