November 3, 2010

For Jared Hassin it was always Army !

Jared Hassintook a more circuitous route, but arriving at his final destination has proven to be well worth enduring the long and winding road.

Hassin, who turns 21 in December, will be on the football field Saturday afternoon when Army hosts the Air Force Academy at Michie Stadium.

Hassin knows about the USAFA. After all, he spent the summer of 2008 in Colorado Springs going through basic training. He attended classes. He became buddies with some of his football teammates.

He is at West Point now. The starting fullback. He is where he belongs, he is where he wants to be. He is where he always wanted to be.

On the football field that is quite evident. Having sat out last season due to NCAA rules, Hassin started off strong and in the last few weeks has been nothing short of outstanding.

Last week against VMI he gained a career-high 158 yards rushing, scored a touchdown on a 34-yard run and set Army up for another score with a 54-yard run.

In the past three games he has rushed for 100 yards. He has eight rushing touchdowns and is the top receiver out of the backfield with nine catches for 127 yards.

In the season opener at Eastern Michigan he scored three touchdowns.
While Hassin's accomplishments out of the triple option aren't really unusual, the steps he took to be in this position certainly are.

Someone once said that the worse thing that can happen is to have the cook out in the field leading the battle and the general in the kitchen cooking the food. The morale? You have to know who you are, to know where you are going.

Identity = Destiny

After committing to West Point as a high school junior in Wisconsin, Hassin, then 17, changed his mind after a visit to Colorado and wound up enrolling at the Air Force Academy.

"I had been completely set on going to West Point,'' he said this week. "Something I always wanted to do was go to West Point.''

So what happened? "I took an official visit (to Air Force), saw the place and really liked it. I thought it was an opportunity where I could do something similar to my family and be just as successful and just a little bit different.''

His father Donald, who retired from the National Guard about 12 years ago, graduated from West Point in 1971. He was an Airborne Ranger and reached the rank of Colonel. Jared's sister Kelsey graduated from West Point this past spring.

But there was Jared, for some reason, going through the rigors of basic for nearly eight weeks, then sitting in class rooms before going to football practice.

In my heart I just knew it (Air Force) wasn't the right place for me. Being in the Army was the branch I wanted to serve my country in.

- Fullback, Jared Hassin

Something didn't feel right. He was gone not long after Labor Day. "Nothing bad happened. It wasn't a bad experience,'' he offered. "In my heart I just knew it wasn't the right place for me. Being in the Army was the branch I wanted to serve my country in, so my decision to try and go there was mine. I didn't have any influence from my father or my sister at that point.''

His father, now a judge, was in his son's corner from the start. Whether it was the Air Force or the Army, he remained supportive. "He was not happy with his decision to go to the Air Force Academy,'' his father said, "and sort of returned back to the concept that he probably should have gone to West Point.

"The process that led to the Air Force Academy was a long, thoughtful process that he went through over a matter of several months. Air Force did a great job and I supported his decision to go there because of the way he was feeling at the time, and frankly I have a great respect for those folks out there as well and I think he does too.

"His story to me was, 'I'm out here dad and I think this isn't what I thought it ought to be. I think Army is a more accurate portrayal of what my vision of military life is all about.' And that's how it went.''

The father told the son that he couldn't leave the academy without a plan, and the plan turned out to be enrolling at a community college in Wabasha, Wis., for a year, where he would take classes similar to those he would have taken as a cadet.

To say that Hassin eventually transferred to West Point, the father said, is a misnomer. "He had to resign from the Air Force Academy and go through the admissions process to West Point for an entire second time, from beginning to end. So he wasn't really confirmed as an admission to West Point until the late spring of when he was in the community college.''

Plan B for Hassin was to accept a football/track scholarship to the University of Wisconsin. In high school Hassin was a state champion in the shot put, placed third in the discus, and took second as part of the 4x100 relay team for Kettle Moraine High.

"I wasn't sure Army still wanted me,'' he said. "But I really love it. The decision is everything I hoped for. I'm coming into my own here, and the Academy is certainly the right place for me.''

Especially in football.

Although coach Rich Ellerson says that Hassin is clearly being productive, he quickly added that there is still more to learn and more to improve upon.

"We're excited about him, but you have to remember that he's played only eight games in the last few years and only eight college games in his life. He's an explosive, athletic guy that's a very physical runner, and he can catch the ball and run with it.''

"When it comes to matters of hard work,'' the father said, "no one applies themselves harder physically to the task of playing football. He's very dedicated to that process. Am I ecstatic that he's had this great success? Yeah. Absolutely overwhelmed. Am I totally surprised, to the extent of what he's done the last few games? That's been a surprise.

"I think he's someone who has envisioned and lived this opportunity in his mind for a long time, if that makes sense. He had a vision, and given the opportunity he spent two years thinking about the mental part of what this was going to be like. So he's had a lot of mental preparation. And Army's given him every opportunity and he's taken advantage of those opportunities.''

Hassin, 6-3, 235, said he had no idea what would transpire this fall, that all he could do was prepare himself as best he could to have a positive impact on the team.

Clearly he's had that, and he would like nothing more than to continue his positive streak against his former team. "I'm certainly looking forward to this,'' he said. "I certainly don't need this game to affirm my decision. But at the same time there's just some great people out at the Air Force Academy that I'm looking forward to seeing. Players and coaches,'' he said. They're a classy group of people, just like at West Point.''

He still stays in touch with some of his former teammates. One, junior linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole, will likely have a few up close and personal encounters with the fullback.

"If we don't meet I think there's a problem,'' Hassin said with a laugh. "I'm looking forward to competing against him. I assume we'll be knocking heads a little bit. I'm looking forward to this game more than any other.''

Donald and Kathryn Hassin have not missed a game and will be in their end zone seats on Saturday. They are proud parents, of course. So proud that, for the father, it is somewhat difficult to put into words.

"We try and drop back and consider that very question, my wife and I. We can't overstate how proud we are of him. And we're also struck by not only his physical maturity, but his emotional maturity over the last two years. To be able to accept the responsibilities given to him, not just as a cadet but on the football field as well. I'm very proud of him in that growth.

"He seems to accept every day in the context of what's he's going to do, not what somebody else can do for him. So in that sense,'' the Colonel said, "at 20 years of age, he's a fairly well-thought out young man. And that's probably the thing we're most proud of.''

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