Cal receiver Chad Hansen has a reason to look forward to this week's tilt with San Diego State

From a no-offer, no-star, no-chance receiver at Idaho State to an international sensation, Cal receiver Chad Hansen looks on his newfound fame and remembers those who turned him aside.

Chad Hansen has just made an unbelievable catch, a catch that’s downright unconscionable, if you’re a defensive back.

It’s the kind of catch that makes you call ‘witchcraft,' had he not also done it just one day earlier.

For the second time in two practices during the second week of fall camp, he’s reached his arms around a defensive back – looking for all the world like the most awkward bear hug – and caught a ball behind the head of his defender. It’s a touchdown.

One reporter turns around, and deadpans: “Not bad for a guy they got off the waiver wire.”

Coming out of Moorpark (Calif.), Chad Hansen was like Steve Rogers, before the Super Soldier Serum. He had a lot of heart, but, he also had a lot of doors closed in his face. He had one scholarship offer -- from Football Championship Subdivision member Idaho State. He took a flier after his freshman season, and reached out to every Football Bowl Subdivision team he could think of. California was the only school to give him a chance, as a walk-on.

I’m glad,” Bears offensive coordinator Jake Spavital quipped, before Cal departed for Sydney, Australia, for the season opener.

After that opener – in which Hansen caught 14 passes on 16 targets for 160 yards and two touchdowns -- the state of Hawaii, much like Tony Stark, wants to punch Hansen right in his perfect teeth.

"He caught 11 in the first half, and it was a pretty quiet 11, honestly," said head coach Sonny Dykes. Someone said something at halftime, and I had no idea he caught that many."

Just over a week ago, Hansen flashed a winning smile and the Aussie Rules Football sign for a score, after he hauled in the first of two touchdowns from Webb at ANZ Stadium -- the former Olympic stadium -- half a world away from Moorpark, and a universe away from Pocatello, Idaho.

Between Hansen’s half-Fonzie and Webb’s best NSYNC impression, the Bears became the most meme-able team in college football, and Hansen became a household name.

"It is really surreal," said Hansen, who looks at his newfound fame with bemused attachment, a shy smile, and a nervous laugh.

“Chad doesn’t say a lot, but he kind of leads by example," Dykes said. "He’s the one guy who’s been consistent, has a great work ethic. I think the other guys look to him for some leadership and somebody who’s done it.”


29 months ago, Hansen was running track Idaho State, just to stay in shape. After pulling down 45 balls for 501 yards as a freshman, he got his release and set out to find a FBS home.

During his search, one of the schools he contacted was San Diego State -- Cal's opponent this coming Saturday.

"They said I wasn’t good enough to play at this level," Hansen said. "Them, and Arizona State. They said the same thing. It’s just sort of a thing that I like to play with, a chip on my shoulder, extra motivation.” the Aztecs wouldn't bite, Cal graduate assistant David Gru did. Of the 35 to 45 tapes Gru gets from hopeful recruits per week, Hansen's film stuck out. Then, he looked at Hansen's high school tape. He saw a first-team All-Marmonte League and Ventura County Choice in 2012, catching 49 balls for 882 yards and 12 touchdowns.

He saw an athlete who took home MVP honors in football and track, winning the Marmonte League title in the 100 meters (running a personal best 10.91 time at the CIF Southern Section Division 2 Prelims in 2013), and had a 4.47 40 time. That, Gru knew, he could work with. He took the film in to Dykes, and made his case. Gru got the go-ahead, and offered Hansen a walk-on spot. Hansen hasn't given the Bears any cause to regret that decision.

Last season, he was instrumental in Cal's 21-point comeback win against the same Sun Devils who turned him aside. During the second-half onslaught that saw the Bears score on each of their final seven possessions, he caught three passes for 85 yards, his final grab a 17-yarder to get Cal across midfield on their final drive of the game, which ended with a Matt Anderson game-winning field goal.

“I think Chad’s got the chance to be one of the elite receivers in the league," Dykes said. "I really do believe that. I think he’s one of the best pro prospects on our team. I think the kid’s got the size and strength and speed that you want to have as an outside receiver."

“He’s motivated," said starting quarterback Davis Webb. "A motivated man is hard to stop.”


Just a few nights before the Bears departed for Australia, Hansen sat in the common room of the house he shares with Malik McMorrisChase ForrestAddison OomsRay HudsonMatthew Rockett and Patrick Laird, and came across a game they had never seen. 36 players on a modified cricket pitch, moving the ball by kicking it, running it, bouncing it or outright punching it. It was downright insanity, and the group loved it.

"It was the craziest game I’d ever seen," Hansen said. "It was so much fun to watch. The funniest thing was, when they would score or kick it through the uprights, the referee would get in the middle and do this signal.”

Hansen demonstrated, tucking his elbows in tight to his body, lifting his forearms to a 90-degree angle and flicking out his thumbs and forefingers. He added a wink.

“They’re like, if you score, you’ve got to do that," Hansen said. During the stay in Australia, Hansen made sure to watch as much rugby and Aussie Rules football as he could, every night, with Webb. 

"I didn’t really think too much of it, but he obviously took a mental note of it," Webb said.

After Hansen caught that 17-yard quick tunnel screen for the Bears' second touchdown of the day against Hawaii, he dropped the ball, circled behind the goalpost, and flicked out his thumbs and forefingers.

"I was surprised I remembered it," Hansen said. "I just think it was so funny, because it was something so simple, but they loved it.

"I look over, at all the big men coming at me, and I just want to celebrate with them, because they took that drive all the way down the field, and they were handing it to Hawaii. We were watching film, and they were blowing holes through for the running backs. They were protecting Davis, and I say I have the easy job – just run around and get open. They’re the ones back there getting hit every play. All the credit goes to them, really.”


Before the Bears left for Australia, Hansen and offensive guard Chris Borrayo sat down for a pre-trip conversation with the media. Borrayo had been a bit dinged up, according to line coach Brandon Jones, so, the question was: Could White Lightning take on the third-year starting bulldozer everyone calls Oso?

“No," Hansen said, flatly.

Borrayo, looking dejected, was just about to put his elbow on the table.

"Aw, man, I wanted to try right now.” “No way," Hansen blinked, shaking his head. "There is now way. You see these hands?”

Borrayo raised the two sides of ham attached to his wrists.

“Those are bear paws, right there,” he said proudly.

Hansen, again, shook his head: “There’s no way.”

There are hard feelings, on Borrayo's part.

“Understanding that football has always been a game where you earn your spot, and you earn every chance you’re given, Chad’s always been the kind of person to take up the honor of working hard and using his efforts to get into that position," Borrayo said.


The day that Webb arrived on campus, Hansen said, he sent out a text to his new receivers: "We're going to smell Roses." Webb remembers that day a little differently.

"I think the first thing I told him was, ‘Let’s throw at 4:00,'" Webb said.

Since that first day, the two have become a single unit.

"As soon as Davis got here in May, we've just had a connection," Hansen said. "I think it's sort of blossomed over fall camp, us being together day in day out from 7 am to 9 pm, it really helps a quarterback and wide-receiver connection, so that sort of helped us."

Webb's first impression after that throwing session? "He's really good."

"Everyone was talking about how good a football player he was, and I didn’t really want to hear anything," said Webb, who had his ear filled with exhortations about this receiving corps from Ray Hudson, during his official visit. "I just wanted to see for myself. Our first throw I think was a slant, and he did a little release at the line, and I was like, ‘Damn. That was pretty good.’ Then, he did a post-curl, eventually, and that was a really good route, and I was like, ‘OK, this guy’s got some wiggle to him, he’s got some stuff to him,’ and we got in our first workout and I saw how hard he worked. That continued the whole summer. That wasn’t a one-time thing. That was an every-time thing. That’s one thing I really respect about Chad. He’s a hard worker, a great guy, and I’m excited to become his friend."

Freshman receiver Jordan Duncan calls him something else: A mentor. "Chad is an outstanding person," Duncan said. "That’s one person who doesn’t talk, but his actions speak for themselves. He don’t even have to say anything. His actions are going to talk. He’s going to go out there, he’s going to work, do his best, and he’s a very fierce competitor. When I came in, that’s one guy I knew I had to go under his wing. You don’t find guys like that. He’s one of those few. One day, that’s what I’m trying to be. I want to be a leader, so I see things that he does, and that’s what I take on. He’s been a great role model.”

In July, when Hansen was accompanying his younger sister to a club volleyball tournament at the Misty May-Treanor Training Center in Anaheim, Calif., he met another incoming freshman receiver, Logan Gamble, who was accompanying his sister, Sage.

"I recognized him, and I went over and introduced myself," Gamble said. "Coming in as a freshman, he knew who I was. I told hm I knew who he was, and I saw him catch a touchdown against UCLA last year."

Since the end of the season, Hansen had been put on scholarship, and Gamble congratulated him. "To know that he earned a scholarship, that was enough for me to respect him already, enough to know that this is somebody I should listen to," Gamble said.

It's a bit tough to listen to Hansen, insofar as he doesn't say much. "I've always been quiet," he said, sheepishly.

Even the scholarship meeting was a staid affair.

"It wasn’t really a big scene or anything," Hansen said. "Coach Dykes called me, told me to come into his office, and the operations manager, Andrew McGraw, sort of just let me know. It wasn’t really a big scene, which is better. I’m not really big on that.”

***** After the 2015 season, Cal lost its six most productive receivers. With just on Pac-12 season under his belt, with 19 catches for 249 yards, Hansen went from rookie to old man in a single offseason.

“Chad Hansen’s a guy that we’re going to rely on," Hudson prophesied at the Bay Area College Football Media Day, a month before Hansen's extravaganza in Sydney. "He’s quick. You look at the guy, and he’s just a freak of nature. I know he spent his last couple years looking at guys like Trevor Davis, Kenny Lawler, and you’re sitting there, and you have the best teachers in the world, right there, guys that are performing each day.”

Hansen was used to being a sponge. "I've never been a vocal leader," said Hansen, who's much more comfortable quietly talking shop than he is carrying the banner and leading a charge.

In his first workouts this spring, Duncan marveled at the sharpness and quickness of Hansen's release. He tried to mimic it, but couldn't quite get it. Finally, Duncan approached him.

"I really, really asked him, when it counted, to see how he got it," Duncan said. "He gets up there, and he just knows which way to go. I admired that, so I had to ask him. He’s one of the best that we’ve got, just off the release. Some things, I’ll go up to him and ask him things – how did you do this and that? – and he’ll show me, without any problem."

Five-star freshman Demetris Robertson, with his effortless speed, has taken after Hansen, the no-offer, no-star former walk-on.

“Really, [I'm] just looking at everything he does," said Robertson. "Coach is telling me to model myself after him. That’s what I’m trying to do – how he runs his routes, how he comes off the line of scrimmage, how tough he is with the defender – I’m trying to base my game off of his.”

Hansen, too, was an eager learner. Watching the physicality of Lawler and Harris, the way Davis used his speed, he cribbed bits and pieces of each of their styles. Instead of purely speaking with his speed, Hansen now speaks with his body. He's gained 10 pounds this offseason, and at 6-foot-2, 205, he's become strong enough to finish catches over the middle, where last year, he couldn't quite compete with bulkier linebackers.

“I think that’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, and now I can do it," he said. "I’ve always seen the big guys here – like Kenny or Maurice – be able to use their speed and quickness, but also their strength and size. I wanted to get a little bit bigger, stronger, but try to keep my speed, as well.” Lawler and Harris were the two teachers Hansen most closely followed, and the two from whom he most frequently pilfered. That's how Hansen has cobbled together his style -- fast but physical, sure-handed but quick, disciplined yet explosive -- he's taken bits and pieces from every receiver he's encountered, even the young ones.

“I take stuff from [Gamble], he takes stuff from me," Hansen said. "I see something that works for them, I’m going to try it out, try to steal what they’ve got.”

Hansen has also encouraged the young receivers to do the same, and he's found eager students, just as he was, two years ago.

“I’ve always seen him as composed, holding himself together," Gamble said. "I’ve never seen him change his persona. He’s always himself. I respect that. He’s Chad Hansen. He’s not trying to change himself. He just is who he is.”

“I’m just trying to do what they did for me," Hansen said. "They took me under their wing, so I’m just trying to help all the younger guys, just like they helped me. That’s my job. I’ve never had this position before, so I’m just trying to embrace it.”

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