Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs The spring stats read "one reception for 1 yard," but for Jay Hanley, that little blurb meant a lot more.
The 2008 Steamboat Springs High School graduate has had a trying and tiresome nine months at Kansas State University.
Originally given a preferred walk-on spot by former Wildcats coach Ron Prince, Hanley has found out just how much football has meant to him.
Prince was gone at the end of the season, and Hanley hadn't done any sort of football activities in almost a year. He had shoulder surgery, and it didn't recover quite the way he wanted to.
He was away from the game most of last year, trying to rehab the shoulder and get back his strength.
Hanley, who played at 220 to 240 pounds during high school, had ballooned up to 280.
Add in new coach Bill Snyder returning to the program with a new staff, and Hanley admitted it was a tense time in his life.
"I was worried what (the new coaching staff) thought of me," Hanley said Friday from Kansas. "I didn't feel like I was in a great place at the time. I was thinking how was I going to prove myself to play Division I when I was coming in weak and out of shape. I hadn't played the game in a while, and that was probably my first real concern."
But the time off helped Hanley.
It helped him refocus his efforts and realize that football was a big part of his life.
He called it a blessing in disguise, but it was something more than that.
It was necessary.
Hanley has been playing sports all his life. He often was the focal point of the offense and defense during his time at Steamboat. With that responsibility came expectations and critics from everywhere.
People wondered if he was tough enough to cut it in Division I football.
Judging by last year, that answer appears pretty obvious now.
Sure, Hanley, who had a 3.55 grade point average last year at Kansas State, could have quit and nobody would have blamed him.
He could have solely focused on his academics, but during the time off, Hanley found things were pretty boring without football.
He rededicated himself, got down to 235 pounds, strengthened his shoulders and said he is feeling as good and strong as he has since his junior year of high school when he burst onto the scene.
He even took some first team reps during spring ball and figures to be in a group of four fullbacks that are fighting for playing time come the fall.
The past nine months may have been tough, but Hanley was quick to admit they were, in fact, necessary.
"Thinking about it now, it's really I just learned to keep at it," he said. "I'm pretty happy to be in the place I'm at. I was going through some rough times, but I'm happy I didn't give up. I'm back to being at the top of my game. I'm back to fighting for it."