EUGENE, Ore—“Oh, Jake Hanson? That guys an animal already. Hands down… I’m really excited for him as well this year.” Those were 5-Star sophomore defensive lineman Canton Kaumatule's words when asked about the Ducks new heir apparent at center. Pretty high praise from someone who’s been touted as a possibly better version of recent, number seven overall pick of the NFL Draft, DeForest Buckner. If anyone is going to have a better look at the redshirt freshman center it’s going to be a guy that he faces head on every day at practice in the trenches.
Jake Hanson hails from Eureka, California where he played his high school ball for the Eureka High Loggers. Standing 6’5,” weighing in at an athletic 288 pounds and sporting a tight buzz cut he looks like an Army drill sergeant’s dream pupil. In his senior year of high school the Loggers didn’t experience much success going only 4-6 on the year and 2-2 in conference play, but despite the teams lack of success Hanson was a huge bright spot for the team, earning his conference’s lineman of the year award in both 2013 and 2014. His individual success earned him a three-star rating by both scout.com and rivals.com—a fairly average rating for a recruit by most accounts. A rating that Ducks offensive coordinator, Matt Lubick says isn’t reflective of just how impressive Hanson has been thus far into his career at Oregon. “Recruiting is such an inexact science, I don’t know if he had all the national offers that some guys have. When he got here he was even better than we thought he was.”
Most redshirt freshmen spend their first year learning the playbook and team concepts from afar on the confines of the sideline of the practice field or in the film room. A lot of redshirts find themselves exiled to the scout team to execute upcoming opponent’s plays more than their own in order to help the starting units better prepare for the week’s game. Because of what the top brass saw out of him early on, Hanson bypassed the scout team and spent his entire first season rotating in with the top two offensive line units. “It was a good experience, since I was able to redshirt and still practice with the two deep and not be on the scout team I was still able to prepare with the other guys as if I was going into a game playing,” Hanson said, “so it just allowed me to kind of get a feel of what was coming this year when I actually would be playing on the field.”
What makes Hanson’s rise all the more impressive is that he is not playing the position he grew up playing, tackle, and made the switch to center the second week of the fall 2015 camp. “I was playing tackle and guard and coach Wood (Oline coach Steve Greatwood) tried me out at center… I never played any center up until they switched me there. Coach [Greatwood] just asked me to snap before practice one day this last fall and then I started taking some center reps,” Hanson explained how his position change came about. When asked if he liked the transition, Hanson replied, “Yeah, I like it… I like directing things and getting up and telling the other offensive lineman what they need to do.”
Hanson isn’t just enjoying directing traffic for the offensive line; he’s excelling at it as well. “We’ve thrown him into the fire because he’s a redshirt freshman and we’re having him take reps at the one center and that’s a big deal at center because he‘s gotta make a lot of our calls that gets the play started, then he’s gotta get the snap back, and then execute, and he’s showing that he can handle that really well,” Coach Lubick said. The center position is widely viewed throughout football as the quarterback of the offensive line. While the quarterback is usually in charge of scanning the secondary to identify coverages, it is the center’s job to identify tells and trends in the defensive front seven and make sure that the entire offensive line knows where they need to be once the ball is snapped. This is a process that takes most years to master and for a redshirt freshman that has just one season at center under his belt makes it all the more notable. “I think what’s separating him, that has actually surprised me, is just his confidence and he’s playing like a senior right now. The way he’s taking charge and usually you think as a freshman, you’re a little tentative, and kinda feeling your way through; he has not been like that at all. He’s been aggressive, he’s been a good example to the rest of the guys that ‘this is what we expect of you, this is how you practice, and this is how you play’—usually you don’t use a freshman for an example in those types of things.”
Another aspect that is expected out of the center position is built in leadership. Which is hard to build even as a senior let alone a freshman with no game experience under his belt. "Matt [Hegarty] was just a natural born leader… he came in and started like he’d been here for four years.” Hanson said about the now graduated Ducks center. “I’ve already started to grow a lot since I was put into more of a leadership role already and I think I can get to that position where those older guys were.” In regards to his leadership, Coach Lubick even went as far as to compare him to former four-year starting center Hroniss Grasu who came up through the ranks with Marcus Mariota during their time at Oregon. “No question. I was here for Hroniss’ last year and he was already an established leader and he’d been starting as a freshman and now he’s starting in the NFL so I think that would be a good guy to compare him to.”
During the summer months and moving into fall camp, Hanson has a couple things to check off his to-do list before he plays in his first game. The first is to put on more weight and size. “About 290-295,” Hanson said as to where he wants to be at the start of the 2016 season. Right now Hanson is at 288 and adding seven pounds of muscle in three months will be no easy task. His final goal is simple, “Get better every day that’s all there is to it… going into the season I wanna start. That’s my ultimate goal.”