BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Tyler Hansen doesn’t have to glance over his shoulder anymore, and he sure isn’t looking back with any regrets.
The senior quarterback, who was constantly concerned about former coach Dan Hawkins pulling him in favor of son Cody Hawkins, leads Colorado and new coach Jon Embree into their Pac-12 debut this fall after the Buffaloes bolted the Big 12.
“New conference. New coach. It’s a lot of new,” Hansen said. “I feel like it’s Christmas morning. You get a present and that’s the best present in the world. We’re real excited to be going there. it’s going to take some getting used to, but they have to get used to us, too.”
For Hansen, it’s the first time he won’t be worried about Cody Hawkins taking his job.
“It feels good, it’s a big weight off my shoulders. It’s awesome,” Hansen said. “I can’t explain it. The last couple of years have been rough. It’s been tough. Now it’s finally my team and it feels good.”
Hansen twice burned redshirt years to rescue the Buffs’ offense only to get bumped back to the sideline.
“At the time I made the decision I was happy with it, so I still have to be happy with it,” Hansen said. “It made me mature and it made me grow as a player, so I don’t regret it.”
The Buffs may have bolted the Big 12 but they returned to their roots with the hiring of Embree, who left his post as the Washington Redskins’ tight ends coach to come back to the state where he starred in both high school and college.
Embree, who is the fourth black head football coach in Pac-12 history, was a four-year starter at Colorado from 1983-87 before a short stint in the NFL. After an elbow injury ended his playing career, Embree spent 18 seasons as an assistant coach, including a decade in Boulder serving under coaches Bill McCartney, Rick Neuheisel and Gary Barnett.
Since his hiring in December, Embree has been busy re-establishing relationships, reconnecting with former Buffs and restoring traditions at his alma mater. He has an open invitation for former players to attend practice and talk to players.
Embree also brought another former Buff, Eric Bieniemy, with him from the NFL coaching ranks to serve as his offensive coordinator and running backs coach so the Buffs can re-establish the kind of ground game that used to be their hallmark.
“It’s what we have to do,” Embree said. “We have to run the ball for a couple of reasons. One, that needs to be our identity. If you’re going to be a physical team, you have to run the ball and impose your will on the other team. The other thing is it helps our defense.”
Hansen will be handing off to diminutive tailbacks Rodney “Speedy” Stewart and Brian Lockridge, both seniors who are under 5-foot-7.
Yet, Hansen pledges to be prudent himself when it comes to running the ball.
He missed the final month last year after rupturing his spleen on an option play against Texas Tech, and he’ll be careful not to take off and run too much with the Buffs playing 13 straight weeks without a weekend off. He’s also glad defenses won’t be able to just rush the passer all the time.
“It’s my senior season, I’ve got to stay healthy, I’ve got to get through it all,” Hansen said.
Hansen will wear extra padding, but the first contact he’ll have since surgeons removed one-fourth of his spleen will be at Hawaii on Sept. 3.
“You want to get that hit out of the way so you can say, ‘OK, I’m fine, I can take a hit’. It kind of helps the mind out more,” Hansen said. “It’s been a while, it’s been since October. That first hit, I think is going to feel good. So I’m looking forward to it.’
Hansen has plenty of threats at wide receiver, led by seniors Toney Clemons and Kyle Cefalo and sophomore Paul Richardson.
“Our offense can be explosive, real good,” Hansen said. “Our defense can be just as good. We’ve got to figure out our secondary situation, but we can surprise people, for sure. There’s a lot of uncertainty for us coming to the Pac-12. We don’t know what they’re going to be like, but they don’t know what we’re going to be like. It’s a two-way street and we can use that to our advantage, especially playing at Folsom Field, it’s a hard place to play.”
Along with a senior-heavy roster, Embree inherited a brutal schedule.
The first month includes games at Hawaii and Ohio State, the annual game in Denver against Colorado State and a visit from Cal that won’t count in the Pac-12 standings. Then, they play five of their nine league games on the road.
They do get Washington State and Oregon in October and USC and Arizona at home in the cold and altitude.
The Buffs lost their chief rival in Nebraska. The Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten, and neither school is eager to schedule a non-conference game against each other in September.
Embree said there’s no replacing the Cornhuskers but he’s sure another rivalry will blossom over time.
“We were at ESPN and they had me and (Utah coach) Kyle Whittingham together like we were the new rivals. And I said, ‘This is not the old world marriage when you give two goats and a cow and this is your wife and this is your husband,”‘ Embree said. “We don’t do that. So, I know something will happen on the field that will make a rivalry for us.”
Bieniemy hasn’t given up hope of seeing the Huskers again.
“Hopefully one day we’ll all meet in the Rose Bowl,” he said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)