YOU KIND OF WANT TO FEEL SORRY FOR TYLER HANSEN, DON'T YOU? SINCE HE ARRIVED in Boulder in 2008, his career has been a series of false starts, marred by injury and a quarterback controversy unlike any other. But as he'll tell you, that was then, and this is now. "It's day and night," Hansen says, comparing 2011 with his first three seasons. "Being named the starter right after spring ball really helps your confidence." He adds, "This year ... is going to be a lot of fun."
It's still hard not to wonder what could have been for the 6' 1", 215-pound senior from Murrieta, Calif., who has thrown for 2,822 yards and 15 touchdowns in three helter-skelter seasons. As a freshman in '08, Hansen played sparingly as a backup to Cody Hawkins, son of then Colorado coach Dan Hawkins, thus forfeiting what should have been a redshirt season. Hansen started the last seven games of '09, though mostly under a cloud of doubt because Cody still played. And despite getting the nod as full-time starter before the 2010 season, Hansen never truly seemed to have the position secure—not as long as the coach's son still suited up. Hansen got Colorado off to a 3--1 mark, but was yanked mid-game in Week 5 against Missouri for, you guessed it, Cody. Hansen kept starting, but two weeks later against Texas Tech he suffered a ruptured spleen, which ended his season.
The quarterback shuffling wasn't easy on anyone, not least his teammates. "The last couple of years, half the guys would go to me, half the guys would go to Cody," he says. "You didn't always know if [a teammate] was choosing a guy because of [who Cody's father was]. I hate to say it, but it's true."
Now that Cody has graduated, there are other things that Hansen has to concern himself with. He will have to learn another new system while playing for his third offensive coordinator (former Colorado running back Eric Bieniemy) in four seasons. And he'll have to adapt quickly to new quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer's laid-back teaching style ("which I love," Hansen says). So far all seems fine. "I couldn't ask for a better response from a player than I have [gotten] from Tyler," says Scherer, who spent the last six seasons as a quarterbacks coach with the Cleveland Browns and the Carolina Panthers. "He has what we call in the NFL 'It.' He has a presence about him, a certain demeanor. You can't coach that." He says that Hansen could play at the next level with a standout senior season. "Tyler's too humble to say that himself," the coach says. "But I know deep down it's something he'd like to do."
In the off-season Hansen worked extensively on flexibility training while also learning the team's new West Coast offense. Hansen, Scherer says, needs to learn to trust his offensive line and throw from the pocket and not abandon it so quickly to pass on the run as he did in years past. In a way, with the Hawkinses gone, this almost seems like Hansen's first season as a starter, despite having the considerable experience he has had. He's thrown three touchdowns against Nebraska; he's beaten Colorado State; he's led a second-half comeback against Georgia.
First-year head coach John Embree noticed something early on about Hansen: "You can tell his teammates have a lot of respect for him," Embree says. "He's excited to be the leader."