Colorado State lineman Justin Hansen was about to play his final game as a senior and I couldn't help but think back to the time I first met him when he was a high school junior. The challenges he overcame with Asperger's were remarkable and I wanted the world to know this young man's story. This story was published nationally in USA Today.
CSU football player with Asperger's did the 'impossible'
Justin Hansen is 16 years old and doesn’t want to say a word. He won’t make eye contact.
We’re at Hughes Stadium. It’s the middle of July. The Colorado sun has been shining down on us for hours and I want to be done covering this CSU football camp and go home. But I can’t. Because I promised Justin Hansen’s dad I’d meet his son. And he doesn’t want to look me in the eye.
He was a big kid then. Nearly 6-foot-5 heading into his junior year at Longmont High School. Other than size, little stood out compared to the other defensive linemen trying to earn a scholarship to Colorado State University that day. So I’m tolerating this sunburn as a courtesy to a polite parent who hopes my connection to Steve Fairchild’s coaching staff will help pay for his son’s college education.
Justin doesn’t remember this story. He apologized when I brought it up last week during our first conversation in seven years. But he had no recollection.
“Tunnel vision,” his mother, Kara, calls it.
Human interaction has always been difficult for him. If his dad hadn’t dragged him out of the house and to the football field in grade school, Justin would be in his parents' basement playing video games. Strategy games. Grand strategy allowing him to study logistics and take time to consider his actions and their consequences. This kind of pro-con analysis spills into reality and makes him hesitant to conduct our interview.
The hesitancy comes with Asperger's, a syndrome on the autism spectrum that impedes empathy, communication and motor skills. But as we talked about his maturation over the past five years at CSU, he looks directly at me and shakes my hand, tells me he’s excited about the snow in the forecast and didn’t need a cue to laugh at my jokes.
This is the kid with Asperger's?