A proud salute

Archbishop Ryan’s Joe Hansbury is bound for Army.

West Point bound: Ry­an of­fens­ive line­man Joe Hans­bury (cen­ter) is all smiles as he signs his com­mit­ment to at­tend the U.S. Mil­it­ary Academy. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

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.” ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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