Nobody wanted him out of high school, and Chad Hansen only got a scholarship to play football at Idaho State when a spot opened up after another prospect backed out.
What, Pocatello wasn’t good enough for the guy?
It was for Hansen, who snatched up the scholarship and liked it just fine up there among the potato fields. As a freshman, he caught 45 passes and received honorable mention on the 2013 All-Big Sky Conference team.
Not a bad outcome for Mr. Afterthought.
While happy for the chance at Idaho State and OK with the neighborhood, Hansen believed he could do better. In the offseason, he emailed his résumé and highlight reel to most major colleges in the West and to all programs in the Pacific-12 and Mountain West conferences. Anybody need a transfer wide receiver?
He got a taker in Cal.
Now look what’s happened.
Three weeks into his third season at Cal – he redshirted in 2014 after transferring – Hansen has emerged as the leading receiver in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He ranks first in catches (40) and first in receiving yardage (546) and is tied for first with five touchdown receptions.
The Pac-12 named him the Offensive Player of the Week for his huge game against No. 11 Texas last Saturday when he caught 12 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score in the Bears’ 50-43 victory. It was Cal’s first win over a ranked team in four years and probably its biggest since a 2003 triple-overtime defeat of No. 3 USC.
To cap Hansen’s week, the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation put him on its watch list for the Fred Biletnikoff Award. The club annually awards the best collegiate receiver in the country, minus the stickum. Biletnikoff loved the stuff when he starred for the Raiders.
“It’s just a whirlwind, honestly,” said Hansen.
Hansen might be college football’s top receiver right now, but they don’t love him so much down in the state that bleeds burnt orange.
If you saw Cal beat Texas, you know why. After the first of his two touchdown catches, Hansen flipped Texas something worse than the bird, at least in their eyes.
He smacked them by taking their trademark “Hook ’Em Horns” hand sign and flipping it upside down, with pinky pointed south.
Such an insult. Wherever he was watching, Bevo XV, the Texas mascot, must have been a very angry steer.
Plenty of the human-types who root for Texas expressed their displeasure with Hansen’s gesture in ways that Bevo couldn’t, because he doesn’t have any thumbs.
They ripped Hansen on Twitter.
“Social media was blowing up,” Hansen said. “Most of them weren’t very happy about that.”
Hansen said his Horns Down deal wasn’t meant to disrespect Texas.
No, Hansen said. He flashed the sign “in the moment,” to pump up his own people.
“It was more for the Cal fans at home. Let them know it might be Texas, it might be the No. 11 team in the nation, but that as a team, we’re not afraid, we’re not backing down,” Hansen explained after practice earlier this week.
Overlooked coming out of Moorpark High School in Ventura County, Hansen arrived in Berkeley via Pocatello with plenty of size – he has since filled out to 205 pounds loaded over a 6-foot-3 frame. He also brought in some speed with a 40-yard dash time in the 4.4 range, and he knew how to run routes.
Cal coach Sonny Dykes liked Hansen’s athleticism and potential. He watched him catch 19 passes for the Bears last year and came to believe Hansen could become better than good this season. He challenged him in the offseason to work harder, to toughen up.
Hansen accepted it.
“We kind of sat down, and I said, ‘You have a chance to be a really good player, but here’s what you’ve got to do,’ ” Dykes said. “And he’s done everything I’ve asked him and then some.”
It helped that quarterback Davis Webb transferred into the program this year from Texas Tech, just in time to replace Jared Goff, the NFL’s top draft pick. The Lubbock-to-Pocatello express heated up right away in Berkeley. In Cal’s season-opening win over Hawaii in Australia, Webb hit Hansen 14 times, twice for touchdowns. They burned it up again in a loss to San Diego State, a week before the Texas win.
“Right now, Davis and Chad are really on the same page,” Dykes said. “Davis certainly trusts Chad and that he’s where he wants him to be when he wants him to be there. And so they’ve just kind of developed a little bit of a connection right now.”
Next up for Cal is Arizona State (3-0) on Saturday night in Tempe, where Sun Devils fans like to flash a three-fingered pitchfork salute whenever they get happy.
Is Hansen planning to invert it in another late-night, nationally televised stunt?
“I don’t think so,” he laughed.
Let’s see if a moment presents itself for him to change his mind.