Joe Hansbury already had a college scholarship locked up, but he wanted something more.
The All-Catholic offensive lineman from Archbishop Ryan wanted to continue his athletic career at the highest level. He wanted to serve his country. And he wanted to plan his future.
Hansbury will have the opportunity to do all of that now that he has been invited to play football at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., next fall. Previously, the Somerton resident had committed to attend Division II Mercyhurst University in Erie. But he never gave up on his dream to play for Army. On May 27, the academy notified him that he had qualified to enroll in its on-campus preparatory program, commonly known as West Point Prep.
“I’m going to learn the military life, get my academics better and get bigger and stronger,” said Hansbury, who already stands 6 feet 3 inches and weighs about 250 pounds.
The Prep’s football team plays a 10-game schedule against college JV teams. Yet, unlike non-military junior colleges, athletes don’t lose a year of NCAA eligibility by playing. If all goes well, Hansbury will graduate to the senior academy in one year, where he will contend for a spot on the Cadets’ offensive line.
“I’ll probably be one of the bigger guys on the offensive line,” he said. “They told me to put on the weight. They’re going to [run] the Army triple-option probably. The linemen have to be big and quick.”
Hansbury relishes the thought of facing opponents such as Stanford, Boston College, Air Force, Hawaii, Temple and, of course, Navy someday soon. He’s spent most of his life preparing for it, although the recognition he’s received hasn’t always matched his accomplishments.
He first played organized football with the Somerton Youth Organization’s team for 5- and 6-year-olds. He was 4 at the time — a very strong 4-year-old in fact.
“At first, the coach said, ‘We’re not babysitting here.’ But after the first practice, he was on the team,” said Hansbury’s father, Joe.
After a few years, the younger Hansbury grew too big to qualify for the Somerton weight-limit teams, so he joined the CYO program at Assumption B.V.M. in Bucks County. His home parish, St. Christopher’s, didn’t field a football team.
Hansbury next played one year for the Little Quakers, an all-star program of sorts featuring many of the top youth players in the city. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is one of the more-notable recent alumni of the program.
At Ryan, Hansbury helped transform a team that hadn’t recorded a winning season in 13 years into a 2012 Catholic League playoff qualifier. In 2013, Coach Frank McArdle’s Raiders went 8-3, their best record in 15 years, and defeated eventual state champions St. Joseph’s Prep and Archbishop Wood in the regular season.
Hansbury, a tackle, earned first-team All-Catholic recognition along with fellow Ryan linemen Andrew Voroscak and Nick Werez, who paved the way for Samir Bullock’s 2,055-yard rushing campaign. Bullock became just the 10th player in city league history to surpass 2,000 yards in a season.
Yet, Hansbury and his linemates were shut out of most all-region and all-state teams. A couple of Catholic League juniors occupied two of the five O-line spots on one prominent All-Southeastern Pa. team, while one of those players — St. Joe’s Jon Daniel Runyan, son of former Eagle and current Congressman Jon Runyan — made the Associated Press’ All-State team.
“[Hansbury] lined up against Mr. All-World and handled him,” the elder Joe Hansbury said of his son.
The younger Hansbury also wrestled and played baseball as a youth. He gave up baseball early in his high school career to focus on football, but when Ryan started a wrestling program last winter, he signed on. As a heavyweight, Hansbury became the school’s first Catholic League and city champion. He placed third in the PIAA regional meet and won a match in the state meet.
His athletic versatility and competitiveness had long attracted recruiters from Army.
“I always thought about the military life after high school. When the football recruiter came to talk [to me], I saw it as an opportunity to play football, go to school and get involved in the military. He said he liked my attitude on the field as a nasty player that always finishes everything, my blocks and tackles.”
Other colleges also were interested, namely UConn and James Madison, but both programs changed coaches and slipped out of the picture. Sacred Heart, a Football Championship Subdivision team (the old I-AA) from Connecticut, offered a scholarship. Army also changed head coaches after the 2013 season, leaving new top man Jeff Monken to start recruiting from scratch and leaving Hansbury with a tough decision to make.
He opted for the sure thing, Mercyhurst, but didn’t give up on his top choice. The process took months. Another coach from a Division III school had seen Hansbury’s game films and recommended to Monken that Army should take another look at the player. Monken’s staff seemed convinced. But at Army, that’s just the first hurdle. Hansbury had to prove himself to the school in other ways.
“They have high academic standards. They do background checks and extensive physical tests. They check your medical history and you have to go to one of their doctors,” Hansbury said. “I believe they have an eleven percent acceptance rate. I was expecting to make it.”
He never took an official visit, but attended a football camp at West Point last August, as well as the team’s recent spring intra-squad game.
“It’s a beautiful campus, very overwhelming,” Hansbury said. “They have Trophy Point. It’s a pillar, the largest single-spun piece of granite in the Western Hemisphere.”
Cadets must remain on point at all times. The campus hosts regular public tours and parades with Cadets marching and drilling in dress attire. After one year in the prep school and four in the academy, Hansbury would graduate as a second lieutenant, then begin serving his five-year commitment in the Regular Army. His parents, Joe and Cathy, have mixed feelings about that.
“Any parents hate to see their kids in the military because at the end of the day, they could go to war,” the elder Hansbury said. “But this is what he wanted and strived for and he got it. I’m highly proud of him. I was telling him that if my dad was still around, he’d be moving up from Florida to West Point and would be there watching practice every day.”
As if the younger Hansbury needed any more motivation, there’s the adrenaline-pumping prospect of returning to Philadelphia one day to play in front of 70,000 fans in the annual Army-Navy game.
“I feel it’s the biggest game in football every year, bigger than the Super Bowl,” Hansbury said. “It’s such a prestigious game, such a classic rivalry and the Cadets and Midshipmen really get into it when you’re there.” ••