Big Shoes? Eagles’ Hanna Fills Them

NEW MARTINSVILLE – It would probably be safe to assume that nobody envied the spot Magnolia quarterback Tanner Hanna stepped into last season as a junior. You know, replacing not only a Blue Eagles legend, but an all-time OVAC great in Justin Fox, who just so happened to win a Kennedy Award and a state championship during his final campaign.

More often than not, the guy who follows the guy ends up being forgotten. But not Hanna, who has turned himself into quite the steady leader himself.

”Those were big shoes to fill, honestly,” Hanna said Saturday night after the Blue Eagles advanced to the West Virginia Class A semifinals with a 19-14 victory against East Hardy at Alumni Field. ”My junior year it took me a while to get used to it. It was the first time starting, especially after a state championship year.

”I didn’t know what I had to do, but I tried my best.

”This year I feel a lot more confident and I’ve been playing my game.”

Fox was a do-it-all – passing, rushing, punting, kicking, defensive back – and so is Hanna, whose biggest play Saturday night was a late punt that pinned the Cougars at their 1-yard line with 2:26 remaining.

”There’s how smart Tanner is,” Blue Eagles coach Mark Batton said. ”We were going to punt it out of bounds but Tanner saw nobody was back so (he) knew then just to pooch it down there.

”That’s stuff that you can’t coach. He’s just a tremendous player, a tremendous athlete.”

And he’s got the ability to extend a play like another, more famous No. 7. Hanna, like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, is at his best when moving around and getting out of the pocket. That gives guys like Stephen Rogalski, Ryan Walton and others extra time to get open.

”Tanner has especially done that the last couple weeks, keeping the play alive and maybe checking down to another receiver if Stephen’s covered,” Batton pointed out. ”Those guys work very hard.

”That’s a great combination and if Tanner doesn’t like what he sees, he tucks it and runs.”

He ran for 27 yards Saturday and scored on a pair of 1-yard sneaks. Not only that, by he completed nine passes for another 90 yards. Those aren’t eye-popping, but they are winning numbers.

”Tanner does a tremendous job running this offense, and Coach (Dave) Champman throws a lot at him,” Batton said. ”He tucked it an ran, didn’t force it and make any bad decisions with it. Then he had to turn around and play defense and cover one of their wide receivers.”

Typically, Hanna did that pretty well also. He was responsible for one of two interceptions by the Magnolia defense, which harassed East Hardy QB Shawn Skovron all night.

”Tanner feels it’s an honor when guys say things to him about Justin Fox,” Batton said. ”He really looked up to Justin and worked with him every day.

”Tanner’s handled that well.”

Two more victories and Hanna will also leave with a state championship.

”I feel like I have a lot of leadership on this team and I try every day to motivate everybody,” he said. ”It’s a great feeling.”