Play fast and smile.”
That’s the motto created by Linfield defensive backs coach Neil Fendall this fall, and for Christian Hanna, neither has ever been a problem.
Entering his final season, Hanna helps anchor a Linfield defense that held Northwest Conference foes to just 72 points a year ago while posting an undefeated conference record. This year, the 'Cats look to clinch their third straight NWC title.
Hanna, voted by his teammates at the 2010 Special Teams Player of the Year, is competing for a starting position in a potent secondary that includes eight seniors. Though statistics show Hanna not starting any of last season’s 11 games, the crafty veteran has proven himself a vital member not only of the defense, but the Linfield football program as a whole.
“Christian is an amazing young man. Rarely do you run across a person who excels in seemingly most everything he does,” says Wildcats coach Joseph Smith. “He is very diverse as a football player and his versatility has been a great asset to our team. He is dominant on special teams as well.”
Hanna had more than Linfield on his mind when the former standout at Lake City High School in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, was considering where to play his college football. With top programs such as Boise State, Eastern Washington, and Carroll College of Montana holding his interest, one thing was clear: He wanted to play for a championship-contending team.
Then Hanna began receiving interest from Linfield defensive backs coach Neil Fendall.
“Coach Fendall really wanted me to come play here,” recalls Hanna. “After I visited, I knew I wanted to be a Wildcat.”
Hanna prepared for 2008 fall camp as an excited recruit. Strong and athletic as a freshman, he was already physically capable of competing at the college level.
A broken thumb suffered in a high school all-star game that summer put him in a cast entering the fall.
Working hard to overcome the setback, Hanna eventually worked his way into the No. 2 slot on the depth chart at the monsterback position, along with teammate Kalae’ Parish. The two competed heatedly for a spot.
“We both had our strengths. Kalae’ was a great run-stopper, and I took pride in my coverage ability,” says Hanna.
When the ‘Cats came back in the fall of 2009, Hanna had gained new confidence at his position. But as he and Parish again battled for a starting position, yet another injury would set him back again. A dislocated kneecap forced him to watch for an extended time.
By the time he could return, he had stepped into the reserve role again, seeing limited action.
“It was hard for me at first,” says Hanna. “But as the season went on it became easier to accept my role.”
Hanna did much more than that.
By the end of his sophomore season, Hanna had made 21 tackles and three interceptions. And to cap it all off, he turned a fumble recovery into an 84-yard scramble into the end zone in a playoff game against Mary Hardin-Baylor. That set the record for the longest fumble recovery in Linfield football history.
During his junior season, Hanna proved why he is so respected among teammates and coaches.
Injuries to teammates forced him to make the move to an uncomfortable position at cornerback. But the humble Hanna proved his athleticism in the biggest moments, and put the team first when it mattered. If someone was going to come up with a big play, it would likely be Hanna.
Aside from his physical ability however, it was Hanna's sense for the game that was most impressive to his coaches.
“Christian is one of the most conscientious players I've ever seen,” says Fendall. “Very cerebral.”
That would never be more evident than in the 'Cats 2010 playoff game against St. Thomas of Minnesota.
With Linfield trailing 10-0 and St. Thomas knocking on the door in Wildcat territory, Hanna intercepted a pass and ran it back 50 yards into Tommies' territory. The key turnover set up a touchdown just before halftime that kept the Wildcats in the game.
Even in his moment of glory, Hanna displayed trademark modesty.
“I wasn't concerned about scoring,” says Hanna of when he intercepted the pass. “I just wanted to protect the ball.”
Though the Wildcats would eventually lose the game in double-overtime, Hanna sparked a hunger for redemption in 2011, and it has been evident to his teammates.
“His adaptability and leadership are key components, not only to us as a secondary, but to the team in general,” says fellow senior Drew Fisher. “He's just a Linfield guy.”
And like many other Linfield student-athletes, Hanna's talents extend far beyond the football field.
“First and foremost he is a man of character,” says Smith, “but he also is a terrific student, a tremendous football player, a consummate teammate, and from what I have observed quite the dancer.”
Fendall agrees, “Christian has great acceleration and is an impressive dancer. He once strained a hamstring winning a dance competition.”
Dance and football injuries aside, Hanna lays everything on the line for his Linfield teammates, doing whatever it takes to ensure a Linfield victory. His integrity and grit combine to make a fierce and respected player.
And when an opposing wide receiver drops a pass in a collision with a Wildcats defensive back, look closely and it’s probably Hanna who was in on the play.
Chances are you will see a smile under that helmet.
-- Jordan Harlow ‘13