Cleveland Browns v Chicago Bears
Updated: December 24, 2011 8:19AM
This isn’t the first time an injury has forced Caleb Hanie into the starting lineup. He was a college freshman in 2004 the last time it happened.
At stake? The coveted Bronze Boot that goes to the winner of the annual “Border War” between Colorado State and Wyoming.
“We as coaches were confident just because of the way he prepared himself,” former Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick said. “He wasn’t going to fold on us. He wasn’t going to lose for us. We knew he would compete and find a way. He managed that game, completed passes here and there. He had a great ballgame for being thrown into a big game like that.
“If he could do that this week, everybody in Chicago would be happy.”
Granted, the stakes will be much higher when Hanie makes his first NFL start Sunday against the Raiders, but his college coaches believe what Hanie did the last time he was in this situation offers insight into how he will perform in Jay Cutler’s absence during the Bears’ playoff push.
Hanie came off the bench against San Diego State and helped his team to a 21-17 win when starter Justin Holland broke his leg. He completed 11 of 22 passes for 167 yards in his first start the next week in the highly emotional victory over Wyoming.
Colorado State assistant coach Dan Hammerschmidt knew his freshman quarterback was raw but didn’t realize how raw until practice a few days later.
“It started to rain,” Hammerschmidt said. “The balls looked like helicopters coming out of his hands. He couldn’t throw the ball. Our strength coach went over to take a look at him, and he said he doesn’t use the laces to grip the ball. It was true. The kid’s hands were so big, he grew up in the shotgun with those big mitts just grabbing and throwing.”
Most colleges wanted Hanie at tight end or linebacker after his senior year in Forney, Texas, a town of 15,000 located 23 miles east of Dallas. The Dallas Morning News rated him the area’s 42nd-best prospect, but he so impressed Lubick and Hammerschmidt while attending a camp at Colorado State that they offered him a scholarship on the spot. He moved to Fort Collins, Colo., at his own expense to prep for his freshman season.
“We didn’t have money at that time to bring our players in early,” Lubick said. “He did it on his own. He spent the entire summer before his freshman year in an apartment close to campus so he could study tape with coaches and come to our meetings. He wasn’t going to play that year, so he could’ve relaxed and taken it easy.”
It was during his freshman season that Hammerschmidt and Lubick learned that Hanie held himself to such a high standard in part because of his mother, Karen.
“After the Wyoming game, she was after me,” Hammerschmidt said, laughing. “We didn’t throw it much. Karen comes up after the game and says, ‘Coach, you’ve got to open this baby up a little bit.’ ”
Said Lubick: “We used to send her tape, and she’d see what he did right or wrong. She didn’t give him any slack, either. She critiqued him harder than we did.”
Forney High School coach Kevin Rush said nobody who saw Hanie play in high school was surprised when he replaced Cutler and led the Bears on two touchdown drives in the second half of last season’s NFC title game.
“He answered the call,” Rush said. “That’s how Caleb is. People say, ‘Can you believe he performed that way?’ I say, ‘Of course. He studies the game. He’s going to be a coach someday. He’s got a brilliant mind when it comes to football. He handles pressure extremely well. He prides himself on how he handles those pressure situations.’ ”
Anybody who expects Hanie to be Cutler, forget it. They are close friends but nothing alike.
“Caleb loves Cutler,” Hammerschmidt said. “Opposites attract. I asked Caleb if Cutler was tough to get along with. He said that Jay just doesn’t give a damn. He doesn’t care what anybody thinks of what he says or does. He has got talent and knows he’s good. He just doesn’t care. Caleb likes that because he was brought up to always do and say the right thing. He thinks it’s cool.”