Mundelein’s Hansen getting early start with Illini

Mundelein offensive lineman Brandon Hansen gets comfortable in his new dorm room after moving in last month. Photo courtesy of the Hansen family
Brandon Hansen graduated from Mundelein High School after the first semester and moved into the dorms at Illinois in January to begin working with the football team. Photo courtesy of the Hansen family

Moving into the college dorm as a freshman is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

On your own for the first time, surrounded by strangers who may or may not become friends for life. It's both scary and exhilarating.

This is the alternate version.

Mundelein offensive lineman Brandon Hansen decided to early enroll at the University of Illinois and left high school a semester early to begin his college football career.

“Ever since I committed, it was in the back of my head,” Hansen said. “I knew it was something I wanted to do, just to kind of get the upper hand on the other freshmen coming in. Get that extra semester of weightlifting and conditioning, then spring football. Just kind of puts me ahead of the game.”

So on a winter day in January, Hansen and his parents loaded up the car and headed to Champaign. Rather than a dorm full of strangers, his roommates in the four-person suite are fellow football players he already knew from the recruiting process.

Hansen was one of the first commits in his class, so he tried to sell other recruits on playing for the Illini.

“I love talking to people, so I did my best to tell them what I thought of the school and I guess a lot of people liked what I was saying,” he said. “We were able to put together a nice looking class. Obviously, it's tough to meet the kids from out of state, but I'd say I know about 90 percent.”

Most of his Mundelein classmates are cruising through second semester of senior year, traditionally a time when the hard work of high school winds down. Hansen is taking college classes and attending daily workout sessions at 5:30 a.m., a mix of lifting and conditioning. Hansen's father, Scott, has received the early feedback.

“He feels comfortable as far as his strength and condition,” Scott Hansen said. “(Mundelein strength coach) Cody (Gokan) helped him out tremendously in the weight room, so I know he's holding his own. As far as conditioning, he's in good shape for being 330 pounds.”

Leaving his high school friends behind, well, it is easier to stay connected in modern times.

“Me and my buddies like to play video games, so I figure a screen is still going to be a screen,” Brandon said. “It's all good. Not being able to see them every day is obviously going to be kind of tough, but you've got to do what you've got to do.

“I'm trying to chase a dream. Sometimes you've got to make sacrifices for the better.”

The move-in process included an orientation session for students and parents, a welcome address from Illinois head coach Bret Bielema and attending the basketball game against Michigan State.

Of course, no one's quite ready for the last step in the process — when it's time for parents to say goodbye to your college freshman and drive away.

“Brandon's definitely where he wants to be,” Scott said. “If it was his choice, he would have been there earlier. Me, his stepmom and his mother, we were all comfortable with leaving him there.

“One nice thing about having an athlete in college, he already has brothers and mentors, his brothers being teammates and mentors being coaches. It was bittersweet leaving, but as a parent, I just have to keep reminding myself that. We're empty-nesters now.”

While Brandon was helping recruit players to the Illini Class of '24, the Hansens were also preparing for the future by getting to know parents of other future football players.

“We plan on going to every game,” Scott said. “If Brandon's not starting or not traveling, we still plan on going. Already made our hotel reservations. I think a lot of the parents are on the same train. We'll be sitting with them at games and tailgating with them prior.”

Sounds like the parents are going to be just fine.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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