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Grizzlies count on Hansen in trenches

almost anyone's standards, Ryan Hansen had a productive football season for the Ashland Grizzlies a year ago.

Hansen finished second on the team in sacks, he was among the leaders in tackles and he was named first-team all-conference and third-team all-state.

He was one of the best players on a team that went 14-0 and won the Class 4A state championship.

And yet Hansen knows he could have dominated the line of scrimmage with even more tenacity had he not been shackled with a pinched nerve in his left shoulder.

The nagging injury caused Hansen to miss two games and parts of several others.

My whole left arm would go numb, Hansen says. It felt like someone was pricking me with a bunch of needles.

But Hansen hasn't felt any discomfort since taking on a new regimen in the weight room, undergoing physical therapy and donning a new pair of shoulder pads that protects his vulnerable area. And that's a scary thought for anyone who lines up against the 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior this fall.

Ashland opens its season at 7:30 tonight against the Japanese all-stars in a noncounting game at Walter A. Phillips Field.

He's about 15 pounds heavier and every bit as quick as he was last year, Ashland defensive line coach Tim Brown says of Hansen.

Hansen is being moved from defensive tackle to defensive end, where his catlike quickness is expected to produce more sacks and contain running backs on the perimeter.

That's a critical spot in our defense, says Brown. That guy is responsible for the perimeter, he's the guy who has to take on the trap, and he's the one who often gets freed up to chase the quarterback.

Defensive end is probably Ryan's more natural position. He's going to cause a lot of havoc there this season.

Hansen welcomes the switch.

You don't get double-teamed too often when you're lined up on the outside, he says. And you're in position to get more sacks. It should be fun.

Brown says Hansen is the best player he's ever coached at using his hands to free himself of blockers. Hansen does it with such deftness that he often appears to go unblocked.

He extends them so quickly that the blocker rarely gets a good shot on him, Brown says. And then he just uses his speed and quickness to get to the ball.

Ryan's a very fundamental player and also a quick learner. He's very conscious about what he's supposed to be doing out there.

Hansen, a three-year starter on defense, will also play offense on a full-time basis this fall, lining up at tackle.

I'm looking forward to going both ways and staying on the field, he says. I've been running and lifting (weights) all summer. I'm in the best shape of my life.

Hansen has been doing a series of lifts that work his rotator cuff and shoulder area. His shoulder got a good test at a football camp in Gold Beach this summer when full contact drills were held.

I didn't feel any pain, Hansen says. It was a big relief.

A number of Pac-10 schools are showing interest in the Ashland ace, including Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Stanford and UCLA. Hansen is a tad short and 20 to 30 pounds lighter than the prototypical major college defensive lineman, but he's got the physique to put on more weight.

Just based on his size I would say he's a little marginal, as far as the major colleges go, Brown says. But if he has a terrific season and the team does well, then he might end up at a Pac-10 school.

The Grizzlies are favored to win the SOC championship for the third straight year and will be ranked among the top teams in the state when the first poll comes out.

Hansen says one of the reasons the Grizzlies won the state championship last year was their relaxed approach to the game.

Two years ago we had great talent but everyone got so hyped up that it hurt us, he says. Everyone was saying we have to win the state championship.

Last year the expectations weren't nearly as high and we were a lot looser as a team. Last year we just had fun.

Freed from the pain that dogged him much of last season, Hansen should have as much fun as he does sacks and tackles this season.