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Longmont graduate Justin Hansen has developed into an integral part of the Colorado State defense (Photo courtesy Dan Byers/CSU athletics).
Longmont graduate Justin Hansen has developed into an integral part of the Colorado State defense (Photo courtesy Dan Byers/CSU athletics).

 

The ascent of the Colorado State football team under Jim McElwain was a glorious shock to Longmont High graduate Justin Hansen.

But for those who know the Rams’ junior defensive lineman and his work ethic, his personal progression into the starting lineup was something that could be seen from miles away.

Hansen made the trip to Las Vegas for Saturday’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, poised to be first out on the field when the Rams go on defense against the Pac-12’s Utah Utes — a former Mountain West Conference foe.

After sitting out the first two years of his collegiate career and finally playing sparingly in 2013, Hansen was a full-time starter along the defensive line this season. Entering Saturday’s nationally televised game (ABC, 1:30 p.m.), Hansen has started 10 of CSU’s 12 games.

It’s been quite a run for the Rams, and Hansen’s been there to see it all. One of Steve Fairchild’s recruits, Hansen redshirted his freshman season (2011), and then when McElwain took over in 2012, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Hansen did not find himself a part of the active roster the entire season.

He didn’t stop working, though, and made his way into six games in the Rams’ 8-6 campaign of 2013 before accumulating 23 total tackles (10 solo) in his reps for a team that snuck into the Top 25 rankings late in the 2014 season.

“I just figure I had to pay my dues,” Hansen said of missing action for two years. “We all want to play our first years, but sometimes we just might not be ready. In my case it took a little longer before I was ready to take that starting spot.

“I assumed nothing was going to be given to me coming into this season, and there was stiff competition among the linemen. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thankfully, through hard work and competition, things worked out for me.”

Right down the road from Fort Collins, Longmont coach Doug Johnson has been keeping up with Hansen and has been able to watch him on occasion, too. Johnson expressed his excitement for what Hansen has accomplished this season, though he knew right away his former all-area and all-state player would find his way into a big role with the team.

“He’s always been a kid who’s a fighter, just always fought for his position so it doesn’t surprise me,” Johnson said. “He was raised that way, and he’s just done a super job for them. That’s what he did for us, and he is just consistent in taking his game to the next level.”

Hansen, who said he kept up with Longmont’s run to the Class 4A state championship game from afar, really didn’t know what to expect when McElwain took over the CSU program in 2012. He definitely didn’t expect the process to accelerate the way it did, with CSU currently 10-2, its only losses to Boise State and Air Force.

“I really didn’t think we’d make such great gains in such a short amount of time,” Hansen said, adding the Rams’ win at Boston College this season really turned the tide. “I figured it was inevitable because under the great leadership of coach McElwain, we would reach new heights that the program hasn’t seen in many, many years.

“I’m pleased with how the season went. Surprised, but it’s a good surprise.”

Of course, with one year of eligibility remaining, he’ll be playing next year under another new system, as McElwain recently saw greener grass at the University of Florida.

Hansen said the team quickly moved past McElwain’s departure — which was made easier by the fact the episode was over in less than 48 hours — and the Rams are ready to cap off this season with a bowl win.

“I know that he wouldn’t want us to dwell on anything that happened, the politics of schools and contracts and all that,” Hansen added. “He would want us to go out and win this game.”

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