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It was 32 years ago, but Jim Hansen remembers it like it was yesterday.

It was the second day of two-a-day preseason football drills, and Hansen was the new kid on the block, serving as the new defensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the high school football program at Lincoln Pius X.

Bubbling with excitement, Hansen approached head coach Tim Aylward and said with unbridled enthusiasm, “Hey, coach, we ought to win some state titles around here!”

Like a promising thoroughbred in the starting gate at Churchill Downs, Hansen couldn’t wait to start, exhibiting the unrestrained zeal that comes with love for the sport.

Turns out Hansen was more than a first-year coach brimming with optimism. He’s a pretty good prognosticator, too.

In 1987 – Hansen’s first year as the Bolts’ defensive coordinator and offensive line coach – Pius X made the state semifinals. By 1998, the eternal optimist had become the prophet: Pius X had become a football juggernaut, with three Class B state titles in a four-year span (1995, ’97 and ’98), and going 48-4 from 1995-’98. Pius X would add a fourth state title in 2004.

It’s been nearly 44 years since Jim Hansen was an impressionable seventh-grade boy witnessing his first high school football game. He immediately fell in love with the game.

In the fall of ’89, Hansen approached Aylward, the head coach who doubled as offensive coordinator, about installing the wishbone offense. Pius X responded favorably, making the state quarterfinals that year.

Mentors’ influence

Hansen is a proud high school alum of Omaha Creighton Prep (Class of ’81), whose trifecta of state championships (football, boys basketball and baseball) in the 1980-’81 school year continue to be Nebraska’s only Class A high school to hold that distinction.

Hansen credits the influence of Lynn Groff, venerable coach and teacher at Omaha Creighton Prep High School, for steering him to the field of education and coaching.

Hansen’s first teaching job out of college was in Bennington, Nebraska, where he taught English for one year. Having coached high school baseball for three years at Lincoln East (1983-1985) while pursuing his degree, Hansen aspired to land a teaching/coaching position at a metropolitan high school. The stars aligned when he saw a help-wanted ad in 1987 placed by Lincoln Pius X, which sought an English instructor who could also be the baseball team’s head coach and assist with the football program.

Hansen, a demonstrative figure on the sidelines, was ready to roll up his sleeves and go to work.

It’s in the genes

Hansen is the son of an Omaha couple, James Hansen Jr. and Gloria Hansen. His dad played fullback one year for the Huskers before transferring to the University of Iowa, where he played baseball and football for the Hawkeyes. The elder Hansen went on to play a decade of Minor League baseball, and was once a player-manager in Miami, Oklahoma, for a team whose roster included a young upstart by the name of Mickey Mantle.

In addition, Jim Hansen’s great-uncle Harry Williams played for the New York Yankees in the pre-Babe Ruth era.

An only child, Jim Hansen says he was one of those kids who was virtually born with a ball in his hands. “Two of my favorite Christmas gifts when I was growing up were a catcher’s mitt and an authentic Chicago Bears football helmet,” he said.

Career change

After a 32-year career teaching English at Pius X, Hansen is moving from the classroom. He announced in May that he resigned his teaching position and accepted a new position at Sandhills Publishing in northwest Lincoln. The career change takes effect July 15.

Hansen will continue to be a familiar face on the football sidelines, coaching at Pius X under head coach Ryan Kearney, an assistant coach who was elevated to the top job three years ago when Aylward retired from coaching. Aylward continues to be the school’s athletic director and teaches physical education.

Hansen, meanwhile, continues to work with Bill Fagler to run the Babe Ruth Baseball League program in Lincoln, a position he has held since 2006. He leaves the Pius X classroom with great memories and more than a tinge of regret.

“I can never give back what I’ve received from Pius,” he said.

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L Magazine editor

Mark Schwaninger is L magazine and Neighborhood Extra editor.

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