TRINITY — Fittingly, the sleeper of the Class 2A state tournament is a somewhat of a Grip-and-Rip Van Winkle these days.
In compliance with a pact he made with some teammates, Durant senior Connor Hasson hasn’t shaved since Oct. 16 — three days before the district tournament. Until his surreal season ends, at next week’s state tournament, the rust-colored stubble will continue evolving into whiskers.
“It’s my playoff beard,” Hasson says.
Considering the literal rash of misfortune Hasson endured in 2009, Durant coach Dick Sheffield is likely to afford his lone state qualifier all the facial latitude he desires when Hasson tees off Tuesday at Dunnellon’s Juliette Falls.
He got to this point with some clutch effort. A 5-foot-9, 130-pound team captain, Hasson overcame some early jitters to win the District 11 tournament at Summerfield Crossings, finishing with 2-over-par 73.
That performance, in which Hasson went 2 under on his final six holes, was the best competitive round of his life. Six days later, on a windy morning at the Region 4 tournament at Fox Hollow, he notched three birdies for another 73, placing second overall and earning his first state berth.
“He’s very peaceful,” Sheffield said. “You can say he’s calm, relaxed. When you’re a good golfer and you combine those (other) two things, watch out.”
A year before, Hasson couldn’t swing without wincing. The year before that, he wasn’t swinging at all.
A golfer since age 10, Hasson, who lives in Buckhorn Springs and initially took up the game at his home course, played for Durant as a freshman before switching to football as a sophomore.
His only previous exposure to the sport: neighborhood pickup games, where he always seemed to play quarterback. “I really don’t know what caused me to try to start football,” he said. “A bunch of my friends tried to talk to me about it.”
He spent most of the season on the Cougars junior varsity before being promoted as a third-string varsity quarterback. Figuring his future appeared more promising in golf, and that his chances of supplanting classmate Je’Twan Smith as the starting QB were remote, Hasson resumed play in the Greater Tampa Junior Golf Association immediately after the season ended.
The next fall, he had earned one of the Cougars’ captain spots. Then, roughly a week before the 2009 district tournament, Hasson and his family were heading out to meet his dad’s Florida Southern fraternity brother for dinner when he noticed the rash that had originated around his navel starting to worsen.
“The pain was crazy, and I had to go to school like that, too,” he said.
During the day, any exertion beyond sitting at his desk and writing grew agonizing. Eventually, Hasson was diagnosed with shingles, the rash caused by the chickenpox virus. At districts, he withdrew at the turn when swinging — and even lifting his bag — became excruciating.
Just like that, his junior season was over.
“It was like a thousand needles going into your side,” he said. “Unfortunately, we caught it late.”
Now, at the twilight of his prep career, Hasson finally is encountering the type of luck befitting his conspicuous leprechaun club cover. Sheffield suggests he possesses the type of skill that could create rumblings on the leaderboard.
What’s more, the pressure’s off — even if the beard isn’t.
“It just feels awesome,” Hasson said. “I always considered myself a pretty good athlete. Switching sports and what happened to me last year was very, very frustrating.”
Class A boys
Where: Silver Springs Shores, The Country Club, Ocala
Team qualifiers: None
Individual qualifiers: Steinbrenner’s Jordan Debonis
Class 2A boys
Where: Juliette Falls, Dunnellon
Team qualifiers: Newsome, Wharton
Individual qualifiers: Durant’s Connor Hasson
Class A girls
Where: Ocala Golf Club, Ocala
Team qualifiers: Steinbrenner
Individual qualifiers: Blake’s Summer Moser, Holy Names’ Emmy Martin
Class 2A girls
Where: Golden Hills Golf & Turf Club, Ocala
Team qualifiers: Plant, Plant City
Individual qualifiers: Durant’s Madison Opfer
Photo courtesy of Mariana Rehacek