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British Columbia Football Conference
British Columbia Football Conference

Sun running back becomes difference maker

By Larry Fisher-Kelowna Daily Courier, 08/14/16, 10:00AM PDT

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Brendan Hansen is making a name for himself in the B.C. Football Conference.

Through three weeks of the season and heading into last night’s home game against the Vancouver Island Raiders, Hansen has emerged as an impact player for the Okanagan Sun’s offence.

The 19-year-old running back from Okotoks, Alta., by way of the University of Calgary, arrived with little fanfare despite his CIS credentials as a backup behind CFL-bound Mercer Timmis last season. Down the depth chart with the Dinos, Hansen decided to take a year off school and experience junior football outside of his home province.

“The first place I looked at was the Okanagan,” Hansen said. “I looked at the national final (from 2015) and I had heard only great things about the organization, so I decided to check this place out and it was a perfect fit for me.”

Calgary’s loss has been Okanagan’s gain, especially with projected feature back Abdi-Nasir Abdi suffering a lower-body injury in the Sun’s season-opening 56-14 blowout of the Valley Huskers in Chilliwack.

That put the ball in Hansen’s hands and he’s run with it.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity — that’s something you’ve got to take hold of,” Hansen said following that Week 1 win, which saw him lead all Sun rushers with 41 yards on seven carries, including a 22-yard gain. “When people go down, you’ve got to be able to step up and fill the same role and continue putting up the statistics.

“You don’t like see your teammates get hurt, and we had a pretty good system with the rotation. It just means I’m going to be taking a heavier load, but as soon as he comes back, it’s going to be great — we’ll be working together and really stepping up those rushing yards.”

Hansen essentially doubled his production in Okanagan’s Week 2 win at Kamloops, rushing for 72 yards on 14 carries amid a torrential downpour that made for a slippery track and little traction.

Then, with better footing on a sunny night in Kelowna, Hansen stepped it up another notch in Abdi’s absence for last Saturday’s first-place showdown against the Westshore Rebels from Victoria. Hansen keyed that 27-21 victory in Okanagan’s home opener at the Apple Bowl by racking up 156 all-purpose yards and opening the scoring with his first touchdown of the season — a 13-yard reception out of the backfield to finish off the Sun’s first offensive possession.

“Brendan was great because he just knew to get north and south and take what was given to him,” Sun head coach Ben Macauley said. “He makes one cut and he goes. He’s not faster than everyone, I don’t think he’s stronger than everyone, but he’s really smooth and he showed a little bit of the evasiveness that he’s got.

“He’s very quick and shifty. He’s not the power back that Abdi is, but he’s pretty versatile. He can run between the tackles pretty well, hits the hole hard.”

“I like to think I’m a speed back and more of a skill-set guy who you can throw the ball to,” Hansen added, “but I really do like contact as well. My strength would be in my speed, but I like to get gritty and lay the hammer a lot as well.”

That was a breakout performance for Hansen, who probably deserved BCFC offensive player-of-the-week honours for his stat-line, which included 18 carries for 99 yards and five catches for 57 yards. His ability to run the ball repeatedly in the second half against Westshore’s defence — prolonging drives and taking valuable time off the clock — was the deciding factor.

“We were able to be pretty consistent and not have any worries putting the ball in his hands,” Macauley said. “He takes care of the football, he doesn’t put it on the ground — he hasn’t fumbled yet (on 39 carries and 44 total touches).

“The best quality he’s got is he’s smart, he always knows what to do and he doesn’t miss assignments,” the coach added.

Of course, Hansen couldn’t have done it without his friends on the offensive line, led by CFL draft pick Quinn Horton and local All-Canadian Michele Vecchio.

“We feel like we’ve got the best offensive line in the country and they were able to move guys around,” Macauley said. “Hansen was the ball carrier but, really, the offensive line was pushing guys around too. Kasey Russell was in at fullback and blowing holes wide open too. So it’s hard not to be successful when you’re doing those things right.

“We were happy with five-, six-, seven-yard carries, and at the end of the day, that’s what moves the chains and keeps the other teams’ offensive weapons off the field,” Macauley added.

It was certainly a collective effort and has been to date. Hansen is the beneficiary on paper, ranking third among BCFC rushers with 212 yards on the ground — and 269 all-purpose yards — through Week 3.

Truth be told, things are going so well that Hansen might not be going back to the University of Calgary next season.

“That was kind of the plan when I was leaving, that I’d take a year off and then come back,” Hansen said. “I absolutely love my coaches there, love my team there, but I’m falling in love with the Okanagan Sun and I couldn’t be happier to be out here.

“I’m kind of building a life out here and I could see myself being here for the long run.”

The on-field success, albeit still early in the season, has Hansen leaning toward staying, but the off-field atmosphere has won him over too.

“Coming out here, I didn’t know anybody on the team, but it’s an instant kind of family vibe and I’ve been extremely comfortable,” Hansen said. “The moment you’re out here, it feels like you’ve known them all for ages.”