Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Hanson gives UM forceful play on D-line

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Massachusetts quarterback Liam Coen would hate to play against Michael Hanson.

The UMass signal-caller feels fortunate he only has to do so in practice. But the other quarterbacks in the Colonial Athletic Association don’t have that luxury.

Hanson, the starting left defensive end on the Minutemen, is making an unexpected impact this season – becoming a force with his relentless pass rushing skills. And with his versatility and athletic ability, teams are shying away from running the ball anywhere near him.

“He plays with that motor all game long and doesn’t stop,” Coen said. “That’s something, as a quarterback, you don’t like playing against a guy like that.”

Hanson has used that motor to help lead a talented UMass defense. He ranks second in the team in both sacks (3) and tackles for loss (7.5). More impressively, his 39 tackles are the third-most on the defense, a ranking that is typically filled by linebackers.

The linebacker spot is where Hanson originally wanted to be. He came to UMass as a linebacker, but was shifted to the defensive line after he redshirted in his freshman season. It was a move that he was reluctant to make.

“It wasn’t a good move at first,” Hanson said. “I mean, my freshman year they moved me and I didn’t really think I could do it. [UMass] coach [Don] Brown said stick with it, try it, and if you don’t like it we’ll move you back. But it worked out for the best.”

It’s a transition that many first-year players make under Brown in his complex defensive scheme. But it’s also a move that Hanson has handled well and thrived on.

“Sometimes guys in our system struggle at linebacker from the learning curve,” Brown said. “The minute you take some of those things off him it lets the guy be a football player and good things happen, so we’ve been fortunate there.

“He goes from being a solid linebacker to a fast, athletic defensive end.”

The 6-foot-2, 240-pound redshirt sophomore may be a tad undersized at the defensive end spot, but he makes up for that with his quickness, burst off the line of scrimmage and never-take-a-play-off attitude.

“It started right after last season,” Hanson said, referring to getting ready for a possible starting job entering training camp. “Right after the championship game, I knew I had to work hard and the job was for me to get. Hard work got it for me.”

Hanson’s relentlessness in the weight room in the offseason gave him the strength he needed to push the offensive line and get to the quarterback. And with his good acceleration, better understanding of game film and more repetitions, he’s been more of a run stuffer than was expected of him.

“Michael has done real well, and game by game he does better and better,” senior starting right defensive end David Burris said. “I think with my experience a lot of teams understand that I know what I’m doing out there, so they are more apt to maybe run to his side. And now with the way he’s playing, it kind of makes our defense really versatile.”

The Teaneck, N.J., native played sparingly last season, appearing in 13-of-15 games, all in a reserve role. His season highlight came in his first-career game, when he blocked a field goal in the third quarter of the season-opening victory over Colgate on Sept. 2. He finished the 2006 season with 11 tackles (one against Appalachian State in the national championship game), two tackles for a loss and one sack.

He either tied or topped all of those season totals just last Saturday against Villanova. Hanson was seemingly involved in every play against the Wildcats, recording 13 tackles (12 assisted), 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. He tied or set career-highs in all three categories in the 32-24, four overtime victory.

“In the starting role I get more reps out there, and it’s easier for me to read plays,” Hanson said. “I feel a lot more comfortable and last year coming in at the end of games I just worried about not messing up so much.”

Considering he’s only made six starts thus far in his collegiate career, Hanson probably should be making some rookie mistakes. Perhaps he is on occasion, but his athletic ability is helping counteract his relative inexperience, especially at the defensive end position.

“Michael is a growing player, very explosive and still learning the system,” Brown said. “He’s come up with some big plays when needed. From an athletic specimen standpoint and just from an explosive standpoint and being a competitive guy, I couldn’t be any more happy with how he’s competed on a day-to-day basis.”

“I knew he was going to be a real good pass rusher because in the spring he was a force,” Coen said. “Coming into camp all I heard was people questioning our defensive line, and who was going to fill a few positions up front. I think he’s done a great job.”

Coen’s just glad it hasn’t been against him.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]

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