AUBURN — The 8-year-old hated the game.

Gavin Hettinger only turned out for pee-wee football because his father forced him to.

“I wanted to quit after the first day,” he said.

But dad would have none of that, and for that Gavin is thankful. By the time he reached Auburn Riverside High School, Hettinger had found his own passion for the game. He played football the way his dad always knew he could.

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“I just wanted to show him he picked the right sport for me to play,” Hettinger said.

As a junior last season, he showed opposing coaches as well. He helped the Ravens enjoy their best campaign in school history — although he missed nearly half of it with a broken ankle. Through the first four games, Hettinger was the team’s leading receiver, averaging nearly 18 yards per catch. He was also their best cornerback.

Then came the awkward hit that doctors said would end his season. Hettinger thought otherwise.

“I told them I wasn’t going to be done,” he said.

Hettinger returned to catch a touchdown pass against rival Auburn and helped the Ravens clinch a share of the SPSL 4A North title — the school’s first.

It was a rare turnaround for a team that finished 1-9 the year before. But Hettinger and his teammates believed in new coach Bryant Thomas and his staff.

“I bought in to everything they said; everyone did,” he said. “We worked very hard and we were very determined to be a successful team and show people we had the talent and we were a good team.”

The Ravens’ plans for a deep playoff run ended on a last-second field goal by Cascade of Everett in the preliminary round of 32. And now they enter another season full of changes after losing 22 seniors and dropping to Class 3A.

But Hettinger, who was voted an all-league second-team receiver despite the injury, still has high hopes.

“I’m excited to see what we’ll do this season,” he said. “I have the utmost confidence in this team.”

And Thomas is confident Hettinger will continue to make a name for himself on both sides of the football. His role will expand on offense, even taking some snaps in the wildcat formation.

“He’s a guy a lot of people don’t know about, but he’s going to play a vital role in our success this year,” Thomas said. “He’s without a doubt our best cornerback, one of the better ones I’ve ever had. … People are going to see him in a variety of ways. He’s going to be our Mr. Do Everything.”

Hettinger prides himself on running crisp routes and playing fearlessly.

“He’ll go get the ball anywhere,” Thomas said.

He put in extra time in the weight room during the offseason and attended several camps, all for the love of a game he once couldn’t stand.

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