Not long after it was announced Saturday that Tyler Hansen had won the starting quarterback job for the Colorado Buffaloes this fall, Hansen began talking about wanting to be a point guard.
The junior managed to hold off senior Cody Hawkins through spring ball and fall camp, which concludes today with the selection of team captains, by taking the game and his position on the team more seriously. Now he has to make it stick by being a vocal leader when it is needed, making smart decisions and distributing the ball and allowing his teammates to make plays.
"I don't have to win the game," Hansen said. "I've just got to give the ball to (Toney Clemons), give the ball to Scotty (McKnight) and give the ball to Travon (Patterson) and let them win the game. I've just got to be a point guard out there."
Hansen took over as the starter in the sixth game last season and led the team to a 2-5 record. He was determined to get better during the offseason and hold on to the job knowing he would face a big push from Hawkins who would want to reclaim the role in his senior year.
Hansen changed how he handled himself and his schedule on a day-to-day basis to make it happen. He leaned heavily on his father, Rick Hansen, a one-time starting quarterback at San Diego State and current high school coach in southern California, for advice and encouragement.
"I think I changed my attitude and the way I was going towards football," Hansen said. "I concentrated more. I focused more. I watched a lot more film, I got in the play book a lot more. I just focused on stuff that I needed to gain a little edge, like Cody had on me."
His teammates began to notice changes on and off the field early last winter in offseason conditioning and in Hansen's demeanor. It carried over to spring ball when he began to improve his efficiency numbers in scrimmages.
"The biggest thing that no one would notice because it's hard to unless you're around the guy every day is that he was in here watching film every day, learning defenses," wide receiver Scotty McKnight said. "That's a huge part of the offense, grasping it and knowing where defenders are going to be given the circumstances. Just that and then also the leadership thing.
"Cody has always been a vocal guy. That's tough too sometimes when you have two quarterbacks that are both vocal. So Tyler stepped up his side of it and started talking to guys more and really established himself as a leader on the team."
Cody Hawkins is already assured of some opportunities to be on the field as a senior, and he will be rooting hard for the offense to score touchdowns or get into field-goal position. He is the first-team holder for field goals and extra points.
Hawkins is likely to see meaningful playing time at some point this fall beyond his special teams work. Coaches and Hansen noted that it's difficult for a starting quarterback to play every snap of a 12-game season at the BCS level.
Dan Hawkins said the program is fortunate to have two capable and experienced players at a key position. He said he is proud of the way each handled the process. Hawkins said he believes it will help Hansen to know he is the starter from the beginning this year as opposed to the past two seasons when he expected to redshirt but was called on to play.
"I think any time there is clarity, that is better for the kids," Hawkins said. "There is no question about that, but sometimes there isn't that."
Though the decision to name Hansen the starter didn't surprise many and was predicted throughout the offseason by reporters and fans, offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said it was a difficult decision that could easily have gone the other way. Kiesau noted that Hawkins actually produced better statistics and was slightly more efficient leading the team in the most recent scrimmage on Thursday than Hansen.
Kiesau backed up what coach Dan Hawkins has been saying all along, the competition between Hansen and his son was "razor thin."
"I think it was just time to let Tyler have the keys to the car so to speak and kind of run with it," Kiesau said. "He needs to go play and cut loose and have some fun. So it wasn't an easy decision, but I think it was the right decision for the team right now and where we're at. We'll let him run with it."
Hansen's running ability is one facet of the game that sets him apart. Even Cody Hawkins admitted as much after the scrimmage Thursday. The Buffs have some designed quarterback runs in the offense to make use of Hansen's athletic ability.
"If we need a little bit more help running the ball, then Tyler definitely has the edge there cause if you're mobile and they have to account for you, that will definitely open up things in the run game," Cody Hawkins said.
Hansen said he felt both relief and excitement when he learned coaches were sticking with him. He will play in a nonconference game and face Colorado State for the first time in his career in two weeks at Invesco Field in Denver. He spent the past nine months eagerly awaiting the opportunity and working hard to make it happen.
"It feels really good," Hansen said. "It's kind of getting the monkey off your back a little bit, kind of a big relief, a stress reliever. Now I've got a lot of work to do. I've got a job to lead this team to a lot of wins this year. I'm going to prepare myself the best to do it, and I'm looking forward to it."