Hansen shows potential with NFL Combine



Soccer


Gabby Hajduk

Characteristic



Receiving an NFL Combine invite was a long time coming for the former Illini linebacker Jake Hansen. For four straight years, Hansen has been the heart of Illinois’ defense, standing to the front of the line through all of his team’s ups and downs.

But Hansen’s trip to Indianapolis this past weekend was far from conventional. From injuries to coaching changes, Hansen has endured his fair share of adversity over the past few years. Most recently, Hansen suffered a season-ending injury after returning as a super-senior in 2021.

Following successful surgery in the fall, Hansen declared himself for the NFL Draft, hoping to continue pursuing his dream of playing professionally. While he knew he deserved to be at the combine, winning that invite in the winter confirmed that NFL scouts, coaches and media also recognized his potential.

“It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time and praying to be here and a lot of hard work,” Hansen said. “I’m blessed to be in this situation. Very, very excited to see what the future holds.”

Although Hansen did not participate in the combine field exercises due to his injury, he was able to do the bench press and completed 21 reps. Hansen was 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds. with an arm length of 32 3/8 inches.

Hansen’s primary focus at the combine was to highlight his intangibles during interviews with NFL teams. As a three-time captain at Illinois, Hansen’s leadership skills and football knowledge set him apart, along with his lengthy college experience.

“It’s (my) experience, it’s (my) instinct, my ability to make quick decisions on the pitch and be decisive,” Hansen said. “Because I think that’s a lot of what football is, sometimes you just have to get everybody in the right call and on the same page, and get the guys lined up. I think that’s is what separates me from being a communicator and a leader in the field.”

“Just really showing my level of footballing intelligence, my footballing IQ and showing them how good I am on the board and I can be that guy who wears the green dot for them and play a part at the start of their organization .”

This process with the NFL is not entirely new for Hansen, who previously declared himself for the 2021 NFL Draft after finishing his senior season in 2020.

But after long conversations with his family and coach Bret Bielema – whom Hansen had not yet met – he decided to return for his super senior season. While the mid-season injury derailed some of the plans Hansen had formed, he is still grateful to have returned to be coached by Bielema.

“It gave me the opportunity to learn a new, different defense, learn a bunch of different football terminologies, football awareness and situational things,” Hansen said. “And I was really able to take my game, in terms of IQ, to a whole new level. And then obviously, with Coach Wright Reservoir and their team, I was also able to grow athletically. So all of those things are what ultimately brought me here this week.”

Following the end of the 2021 season, Hansen returned home to Florida, where he was in rehab with Bommarito Performance. Hansen said the rehabilitation phase is coming to an end and is starting to go back to football training.

Hansen knows he’ll be ready to play for any NFL team when the time comes.

“I feel really good. I’m really happy with where I am,” Hansen said. “And I’m excited to be able to show that in a training camp, hopefully soon and maybe even a minicamp just depends on how we progress and things like that.”

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