PALM HARBOR — Palm Harbor University senior offensive tackle Mark Hansson is a heavily recruited athlete, but still has his critics.
"People always say, 'Colleges only want you because you're big,' " the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Hansson said.
A year ago, those naysayers might have been right.
When Hansson began his junior season, he admittedly wasn't that into football. Although he performed reasonably well, he never went full throttle, especially at practice.
"He'd show up and go through the motions," said Mark Haye, coach of the school's Hurricanes.
"He's not even the same person," Haye said. "He attacks practice and comes in with the desire to get better."
Hansson's attitude adjustment has paid off.
As a pass blocker, he's fundamentally sound and has excellent mobility. As a run blocker, he's flat-out devastating.
Colleges have taken notice.
At last check, Colorado State, Florida International and Indiana universities had offered him scholarships. Additionally, Hansson, who carries a 3.8 GPA while taking courses in his school's prestigious International Baccalaureate program, has invitations to play at academic heavyweights Harvard and Stanford.
Cincinnati, Connecticut, Mississippi State and even the University of South Florida are also interested.
"He's taken his game to another level," Haye said.
What triggered Hansson's surge? It wasn't something just on the field — it was last year's PHU homecoming, which took place the week the Hurricanes played Dixie Hollins.
"I remember getting all caught up in that," Hansson said. "It was a crazy week. It was really the first time we had really been good and everybody was hyped about football. That's when I realized this is what I want to do. It just clicked for me."
Up until then, Hansson did enough to get by.
After his revelation, he spent more time in the weight room, began pushing himself at practice and went all out more often during games. The big kid had become a football player.
"It was a whole new level of dedication," Hansson said.
The work is far from over.
At each practice, Hansson trains under the watchful eye of offensive line coach Chris Carothers, a former USF player who has no intention of letting him get complacent. Together, they focus intensely on Hansson's technique.
"It's been unbelievable working with him," Hansson said. "Basically, I credit him with everything happening recently with me. It's a blessing working with him. A lot of kids don't have this opportunity."
It's safe to say a lot don't have Hansson's skill, either. Or for that matter, his size.
"When people say that's why I'm recruited," Hansson said, "it just makes me work harder."
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4156.