G enerally a single word can`t be used to capture the essence of a college athlete`s career, but in the case of Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen one word might be best in summing up his experiences through his first three seasons.


Hansen has had doubts since the middle of his freshman season in 2008 whether he was being treated fairly by former coach Dan Hawkins who opted to burn Hansen`s redshirt that season and again in 2009 for partial playing time, partial responsibility and partial leadership of the team, along with Hawkins` son, Cody.

Fans and even Hansen`s teammates have doubted whether the best quarterback was on the field at times or whether the coach was playing favorites.

When all is said and done and his career in Boulder comes to an end at the conclusion of the 2011 season, Hansen hopes to leave no doubt that he was the man for the job all along and his decision to play for CU was the right one.

He`s off to a good start.

Hansen was named the starting quarterback for the 2011 season earlier this week following 15 practices in spring ball under a new coaching staff led by Jon Embree. And for the first time in years, there was really no doubt whom the coach would select when Embree told reporters an announcement was coming.

It is the first time since the offseason between 2007 and 2008 that everyone associated with the CU program knows going into the summer who the starter will be.


And the reality is it is probably the first time since the offseason between 2004 and 2005 when Joel Klatt was under center that a consensus has been achieved this early as to whom the starter should be.

When Hansen takes hisfirst snap Sept. 3 at Hawaii, he will join a club of seven other quarterbacks who have logged playing time in all four years of eligibility at CU.

"It`s definitely a big weight lifted off my back," Hansen said of not having to contend with competing with the coach`s son this year.

 Coach Dan Hawkins has some love for Tyler Hansen after his TD run during a scrimmage last fall.
Coach Dan Hawkins has some love for Tyler Hansen after his TD run during a scrimmage last fall. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )
"There was a lot of awkward situations the last couple years that at most schools they don`t have just because they don`t have that situation. I don`t regret coming here. I don`t regret the decision of pulling my redshirt twice. I don`t regret that at all. It`s been a learning experience for me. Even though at times it was difficult to be at the University of Colorado playing quarterback, I have nothing but love for the university and for what we`ve all had to go through."

Eyes wide open

To be fair, Hansen knew what he was getting into when he came to Colorado from Chaparral High School in Murrieta, Calif., in 2008. The Hawkins family had two seasons under its belt in Boulder at that point.

There were no misconceptions about whom he would be competing with if he opted to play for the Buffs.

In some ways it was very surprising that Hansen made the choice to play in Boulder in the first place. When he was 15 and about to be a freshman in high school, he had a similar decision to make and went a different direction.

Hansen`s father, Rick, is a high school football coach in California and a former college quarterback at San Diego State who had a cup of coffee in the NFL with the Chicago Bears. He taught the game to his sons, Kyle and Tyler, over the years. Sometimes it was purposeful in the form of nighttime film sessions where he would describe why plays worked or failed as the boys stared at the TV screen. Other times, his sons were learning the game just by being around their dad.

Hansen was a ball boy for his father`s team "since he could pretty much walk," Rick Hansen said.

"He`s pretty savvy on football. He`s been around my team and different things we`ve done over the years. He`s one of those kids that is just kind of a sponge. As a little kid, you just didn`t realize he`s sitting there listening to everything that you`re saying. Sometimes you`re apologizing for using foul language. He has a pretty good understanding of offensive football."

Rick Hansen coached his older son through four years in high school and probably understands all sides of what Tyler Hansen has endured in Boulder better than anyone because of that experience.

Tyler Hansen throws against Hawaii.
Tyler Hansen throws against Hawaii. ( Cliff Grassmick )
 When Tyler graduated from middle school, he sat him down and told him what he might face as the quarterback playing for his father`s team.

Rick Hansen gave Tyler the option to play for him or go to a different school and Tyler opted to play for a program at Chaparral that has since become one of his father`s biggest rivals.

"I didn`t want to deal with all the stuff like, 'Oh he plays because he`s the coach`s son,` " Tyler Hansen said.

Four years later, dealing with the same situation from a different perspective he chose to dive in, hoping for the best.

It didn`t always work out that way. Hansen admits there were times he left the practice field or team meetings or the stadiums on Saturday wondering about coaches` decisions regarding playing time at quarterback.

As a sophomore in 2009, he made his first start in the sixth game of the year against No. 17 Kansas. He led the Buffs to a win but coaches refused to say he would be the only quarterback used the following week at Kansas State.

Sure enough, Cody Hawkins returned to action and ended up throwing nine more passes in the game than Hansen. The reason given was Hawkins` knowing the 2-minute offense better than Hansen. Other members of the team were baffled by the flip-flop.

"The old situation caused a lot of problems because we didn`t know if it was because one guy was playing better than the other or if it was because Hawk just wanted it that way," tight end Ryan Deehan said.

Deehan and Hansen have become good friends during their time together at CU. They are roommates and their chemistry has been evolving on the field over the past year. It was hampered when Hansen suffered a ruptured spleen in the seventh game last fall and his season was cut short, but it reappeared early during spring ball.

Deehan said it is good for the entire team to have a clear-cut leader decided this early in the year and he is happy that person is Hansen.

"I think it`s best for Tyler of all because, really, if you think about it, he lost three years. More like two cause the third year was an injury. But he lost two years because of that crap," Deehan said. "The kid is not going to get those back. That is time he could have used to develop and help our team even more because he was playing well when he was in, but he just didn`t get the time."

How Hansen truly felt about the possibility of nepotism from Dan Hawkins is probably summed up with this quote when he was asked this week to reflect on it all.

"One day if I have kids and they play football, I`ll coach them up in youth league, but if they want to go play college football and there is a coach`s son, I`ll let them know about my experience and see what they have to say about it," he said.

Rip factor

There is a line of thinking that not having to contend with nepotism, real or imagined, has led to improvement in Hansen`s play. There is no doubt he adapted well to the West Coast system installed this spring. It is similar to the offense he directed in high school.

But Hansen says it`s more about the coach he works with on a daily basis.

Hansen began working with his third offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in the offseason when the new CU coaching staff was hired. For this first time during his tenure in Boulder, two men man those jobs instead of one.

Hansen said he remains close with former positions coaches Mark Helfrich and Eric Kiesau and speaks with them often, but he said new quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer has been integral in bringing some confidence to his game.

"He`s been awesome," Hansen said. "I love that guy. He`s been perfect for me. He`s worked with a lot of great quarterbacks. He brings a great level of knowledge and understanding of the game that I needed. As a senior, you expect to know a lot, but he has helped me out a lot. It`s been night and day."

The Buffs pro-style offense demands the quarterback make quick, accurate reads and deliver the ball on time. Hansen will no longer be asked to be another running back at times as he has been in the past.

Embree said it took Hansen a few difficult practices to get comfortable, but once he did, he played very well this spring. He completed 39 of 53 passes for 531 yards and five touchdowns without throwing an interception in the three main spring scrimmages.

"Tyler did a great job all spring," Embree said. "He has command of everything you need to have at quarterback and has also developed into a team leader. This was a goal of his heading into the spring and I`m happy that he was able to attain that goal."

Hansen said he came into spring practices focused on taking care of the ball and limiting sacks by throwing it away when under pressure instead of always trying to make something happen. During the past two years in which he served as the starting quarterback for half of each season, Hansen`s touchdown-to-interception-ratio was 14-13 and he has been sacked 49 times.

Those numbers must improve if the Buffs are going to achieve a team goal of playing in the postseason for the first time since 2007 and winning a bowl game for the first time since 2004.

Hansen doesn`t have to worry about an August quarterback battle for the first time since his true freshman season, but that doesn`t mean he doesn`t have room for improvement before the season starts. Scherer related Hansen`s new situation to NFL quarterbacks who are clearly the starter and don`t have anyone pushing them for playing time. At that point in order to improve and remain sharp, they must compete with themselves. It is the mission Scherer has given Hansen for the next 4½ months.

"My No. 1 goal is to beat Hawaii," Hansen said. "When we break it down as a team, we don`t even say Pac-12 champs. We say, beat Hawaii because that`s the first game on our schedule. The other big goal as a senior class is we want to go to a bowl game and we want to win the bowl game. I think that`s our No. 1 goal as a team. Whether that`s the Rose Bowl or some other bowl, we just want to go to a bowl game, play in the postseason and win that game."