Of course even in a normal game week it isn't easy for Hanrahan to keep all emotions under complete control. This, after all, is the fellow who without warning might grab a teammate in the pre-game locker room and bash hats whether Hanrahan has his helmet on or more likely not. He's tried to tone that down a bit in recent weeks and save wear-and-tear on his forehead, but...
"I don't even think about it sometimes, it just ends up whenever I feel the need and someone is there not into it as much as I think they should be, it just turns into a little head-butting to wake them up!" Nor is Hanrahan risk-adverse in post-game celebrating, such as a weekend ago after Anthony Dixon broke the Bulldog game rushing record at Kentucky. Who grabbed the 235-pound back and heave him up but the 225-pound lead blocker?
"At that point in time I was so happy it didn't matter if I broke my back! The first thing in my mind was just pick him up."
Naturally some would say Hanrahan has a back-breaking task in store Saturday evening when he tries to carve gaps for Dixon & Co. against a rushing defense allowing just 68 yards per game. Or, just over half of what Dixon averages for his typical weekend. It isn't enough that State will have to take on defensive ends that combine for some 600 pounds; between then stands 350-pound Derrick Cody. And if those hulks are first responsibility for MSU's offensive linemen, there will come a time when Hanrahan has to lower his head and stick it into such sizable sides of beef.
Is he worried? Who, Hanrahan? "Once you're out there you really don't look who it is or try to judge he's bigger or smaller, you just do your job and do it at your best."
Which is how Hanrahan has earned his position as blocking-back in particular State offensive sets. Coach Dan Mullen recognized the willingness to bash bodies with anyone, anywhere from Hanrahan's performance in other areas. "He's done a really good job on special teams. And as special teams coach I'm looking for guys that can perform. If they do, they're going to play a lot more on offense."
Hanrahan has had to mostly settle so far for blocking duty on offense, though he did get his first college carry in the Jackson State game. For loss of a yard, albeit, but still a real live rush. He says there are items yet to be utilized in the gameplan for his position. "They do, actually we have several plays and flat-routes and bellies, and certain handoffs and stuff like that. I'm just playing my role out and waiting for my time."
And waiting is something Hanrahan got good at, beginning with a ‘grayshirt' season for Alabama right out of high school. He joined the club in 2007—and thus got to watch State knock off the Tide 17-12 at Scott Field that fall—only to find there wasn't really a place for him under a new regime. Where Mike Shula's pro-style offenses needed fullbacks, Nick Saban didn't. "He just used a H-back or a tight end-motion back," Hanrahan said.
In high school Hanrahan had gotten an out-of-state offer from Mississippi State and Coach Sylvester Croom. "And he ran power-I and it fit into my type of fullback." So after spring '08 the Bama boy transferred, sat out the fall (he watched last year's Dog-Tide tilt from home with the family), and waited for the spring chance to jump into the lineup in a pro-scheme. Only to have Mississippi State also change coaches and approaches.
"It kind of worried me," Hanrahan admits. "I remember the first meeting, the first day when Coach Mullen was here. I asked him if there was going to be any fullbacks involved in this offense. He just smiled and said yeah, if you can prove to me you can play football you'll play, you'll play at fullback. He gave me the opportunity to prove myself and I took advantage of it."
So all is well that re-begins well, and by both delays and luck Hanrahan has found himself in the right place and right time after all. He says he has no ill-will to the prior program and "I have all the respect in the world for Coach Saban." But he's still found a home in Starkville with State.
"My time here, I've loved it, it's everything that I ever expected and more. So it's been a really, really good opportunity for me." One he's seized with both hands, just like he latches onto anyone he can reach on a kicking play. In coverage he's the wedge buster ("Surprise, surprise!" Hanrahan grins) and on punts he blasts directly into the ‘shield' as he did to get a big block at Auburn which turned into a State touchdown. It helps of course that Mullen really does give special treatment to his special teams standouts.
"It gives you a chance to show that you can make plays on the field and make a better role for offense and defense," says Hanrahan, who if given the chance would play defense too; at linebacker of course. Especially this game, this matchup, this reunion. "It's got a lot of different feelings, it's just going to be something special," he says. All the more so because the outcome can take Mississippi State far, fast, toward their 2009 goals of a winning season and bowl berth.
"Every game is important to us but trying to get to a good bowl game I think this is really important, really important for us. If we were able to pull this off it would make a lot better chance at a real good bowl."