Joe Hansley spent this off-season as Colorado State’s forgotten man.
There was almost no buzz surrounding the true sophomore out of Highlands Ranch, Colorado’s 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year, and one of head coach Jim McElwain’s top incoming recruits a year ago.
He didn’t grab headlines as a part of the Ram’s three-headed quarterback race or stable of talented running backs or supposedly dynamic pass-catching tight ends. And all the talk about the receiving corps swirled around the newcomers like redshirt freshman Jordon Vaden and true freshman "Hollywood" Rashard Higgins.
Though Hansley had shown some flashes last season, catching 21 balls for 274 yards and three touchdowns, including a 32-yarder against Colorado last year, you wouldn’t expect him to be a big part of the Rams’ plans moving forward if you paid attention to the coverage.
But with senior Charles Lovett sidelined Sunday against the Colorado Buffaloes, Hansley proved to be the most important -- and sometimes only -- Rams weapon in this year's Rocky Mountain Showdown, reminding fans and coaches that if Colorado State is to improve in Jim McElwain’s second season, they’d do well to get him the ball.
Hansley showed his value on Colorado State’s first scoring drive early in the second quarter, catching a 40-yard bomb from Garrett Grayson for an offense that had seemed incapable of big plays until that point, and setting up a 39-yard Jared Roberts field goal for the Rams’ first points.
Later in the quarter, he proved instrumental in the Rams’ lone touchdown drive of the half. After receiving the ball on their own 26, Grayson hooked up with Hansley for a 21-yard gain to start the drive, and when it was on the verge of dying at the Buffs’ 28 -- with the Rams offense seemingly allergic to third-down conversions -- Hansley came through in a big way, gaining 16 yards on third and three and extending the drive. Two Kapri Bibbs runs later, and the Rams had their first touchdown.
Then, early in the third quarter, with Colorado State down 20-10 and the offense failing to produce any kind of sustained success, Hansley came up with the biggest play of the day. After the Ram’s defense forced a Colorado punt, Hansley went back for the return. With Buffaloes surrounding him, he didn't call for a fair catch, which seemed ill-advised until he darted past the defenders and broke into the open for a 74-yard touchdown. It was a huge momentum-swinging play that woke up the Colorado State supporters and put the Buffs’ special teams on notice.
Though he was dinged up with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter, Hansley finished with eight catches for 91 yards, and along with Bibbs proved to be the Ram’s only consistent weapons.
The Colorado State offense didn’t play as advertised Sunday. The line didn’t open many holes for the potentially dominant run game of Donnell Alexander, Chris Nwoke and Bibbs, and while the newcomers at receiver showed some potential, key drops -- especially from Higgins -- overshadowed their performance.
With Lovett’s return, the offense should add another potentially dynamic player to the mix moving forward, but McElwain needs to remember Hansley’s big play ability and get him involved when at all possible.
Because if the Rams want to win some games this season, Hansley can’t be the forgotten man again.