SIOUX FALLS, SD - The Augustana football team is off to its best start in more than 50 years. A huge reason for their success this season has been the play of first-year starting quarterback Josh Hanson. The Watertown-native has led the Vikings to an undefeated 6-0 record so far. But despite all the wins, it's a loss that could be playing the biggest role in Hanson's performance.
After just missing the postseason in the previous two years, hopes for the Augustana College football team were pretty high heading into the 2010 season. Yet no one knew quite what to expect with a brand new head coach and a new man under center.
"You feel the pressure, of course you do. Coming in, new quarterback, after a very good one left, you want to make sure when you come in it's a seamless transition. You don't want to come in and be the weak link and make the team lose some games and force the team out of the playoffs," Hanson said.
Once recruited out of high school to be a Division I kicker, Hanson chose Augie because he wanted to be a QB.
"When he was a red-shirt freshman, he was our scout team quarterback. I kept yelling at him because I didn't think he was very tough," Aldrich said.
That notion has since been put to rest. Through six games this year, No. 11 has tossed 15 touchdowns, run for three, and been named an NSIC player of the week; accomplishments that have made him and his family proud.
"I knew he'd succeed. He's a smart kid. He works hard. I really hoped he'd do this well but it's just been great to watch him grow on the field and come into his own," brother Dan Hanson said.
Putting his grit on the gridiron aside, it may be Josh's off the field growth you find most courageous. Growth that was accelerated during this past off-season.
Four years ago, Josh's father, Rick, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Doctors told the Hanson family Rick had the heart of an 80-year old. Knowing that he wasn't expected to live very long in that condition, Rick made it a point to work out an hour and half each day, which kept him healthy enough to keep doing some of his favorite things. On the top of that list was watching Josh and the Augustana Vikings play football. Sadly, heart problems took Rick's life last November.
"It wasn't so much we saw it coming. It was something like, you kind of have a feeling that some day something like that is going to happen. You hope it doesn't but at the same time you know every once in a while you'll try to prepare yourself for a tragedy like that," Josh said.
A red-shirt freshman at the time, Josh was living in Sioux Falls as a student away from home.
"The low moment definitely comes the following days after it happened when you really go through it and you wonder how you can continue to lead the life you live. You wonder how you can go back to college and act like nothing happened and that's when it gets hard," Josh said.
Surrounded by teammates and coaches, he had no shortage of support.
"I felt bad for him. I've been down the same road. My dad passed away when I was 21. It's a tough thing to have to deal with. Everybody deals with it in their own way," head coach Mike Aldrich said. "As long as he knows you're there for whenever, I think that's the most important part."
"We've had a lot of close people around us. A lot of great friends, family. He's got a lot of great teammates that have been there for him and we've all kind of helped each other through all that has happened. So, it's been tough, but it's worked," Dan said. "We just try to live a normal life and we remember all the good times we had with him and we'll always have those and we just are so thankful that we had the time with him that we did."
You can only imagine the good times they'd be having if Rick was around to watch his son this year. After winning six-straight to start the season, Augustana is in a great position to make the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time since 1989.
"You always want your dad or your mom to be there. My mom's here and you wish more than anything that your dad could be here. But for me to go out and play and be playing well so far this season, you feel like you're almost honoring him a little bit and making him proud and just carrying on everything he's ever taught you," Josh said.
And even though he may not have his dad there to watch him in person, there's no doubt in his mind, his father is there in spirit.
"I truly believe it is. It's a dream start for me and it's a great start for the team and it's hard to think that he doesn't have something to do with it, personally," Josh said.
***Follow Matt Holsen on Twitter
© 2010 KELOLAND TV. All Rights Reserved.