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Passing of former BYU running back Bruce Hansen another tragedy for A.F. football family

Bruce Hansen was a prototypical physical specimen of the Hansen clan, true to his DNA strand. He was a talented and highly gifted athlete. Like his older brother, he passed before his time.

The former American Fork High star and BYU running back in the early '80s died this past week from natural causes at age 54. Funeral plans will be released Thursday.

Earlier this year, his mother LaVon preceded him in death. His oldest brother Randy, a former University of Utah football player, died shortly after getting married in his early 20s. Randy died during a fast-pitch recreation league softball game, collapsing while rounding second base on his way to third.

“As a high school athlete, Bruce probably stands out in the minds of coaches as one of the most talented all-around athletes,” said retired American Fork High football coach Davis Knight. “He was all-region, all-state in football and baseball and an all-region basketball player.”

That Bruce died at 54 is a tragedy, said his former coach. “That’s awfully young,” he said. According to his sister Carla Jones, Bruce was as happy as he'd been in years and had fun following his son Derrick who is playing at Montana. "He was in a good place," she said.

Knight said, “Bruce had one of the quickest first and second steps in basketball and football. I don’t know if his all-around speed was anything to write home about, but his first step was among the quickest,” said Knight.

His father Wendell also raised horses, the kind that have papers. I remember visiting Wendell and LaVon about 30 years ago when doing a story on Bruce and his older brother, BYU linebacker Brian. The Hansen home had a full weight room that got plenty of use. The takeaway was that this was where horses and football players were made.

Bruce's death is cause to salute this incredible family. Chase Hansen, Wendell’s grandson and son of Brian, is currently playing quarterback and defensive back at Utah. One look at Chase, and you see the Hansen genes.

“Those Hansen boys were all competitors,” said Knight. “Bruce just had that kind of bulldog competitiveness but when he was in the hallway or classroom, he was a great gentleman. He was a captain and a leader.

“It sounds like coach-speak but he was very coachable," Knight continued. "He was popular with other athletes and that says something about a young man. You heard about him at BYU that he had a fire and was competitive. That year the NFL had a labor dispute, he had a chance to play for the New England Patriots.”

After Randy, Brian and Bruce came Regan, who followed Brian and Bruce to BYU and played linebacker. BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall was a junior the year another Hansen brother, Troy, was a senior and played in the state semifinals. Troy (Dixie College football) was a running back and Mendenhall played tight end.

“You’d hear people say, ‘Oh, well, those Hansen boys, they play because of their name,'" said Knight. “But they earned every second. The are a big part of our history.”

Mendenhall remembers when his family moved to Alpine in the fifth grade. It didn’t take long to hear about the Hansen family and their athletic family line at American Fork High.

“The first one I knew of was Brian Hansen, a player at BYU who actually helped coach our defense at American Fork when I was playing,” said Mendenhall. “He might have been finishing his career at BYU and was volunteering at the high school. I was amazed at how big he was and I was so impressed.

“Bruce was a running back coming up, an amazing player, and like all of them they were chiseled and fit and excelled in everything they did.”

Mendenhall remembers after his playing career ended at Oregon State, he investigated an NFL career, which he says he quickly found out was not in his future. “I was looking for an agent and Bruce took me under his wing and hooked me up with the agent who was representing him. He showed me an act of kindness, which I will never forget.”

Mendenhall remembers another Bruce Hansen encounter, a collision on the field when he was playing safety at OSU and Bruce was a BYU ball carrier. "Even though he was years ahead of me, I remember how strange it was that I was playing and he was playing at the same time. It gave me a glimpse of what BYU really was.”

Bruce had served an LDS Church mission to Mississippi while at BYU. “He either ran over me or I got a hold of him for a tackle and I thought of how weird it was, it was a surreal experience,” said Mendenhall.

Regan was the same age as Mendenhall’s cousin Buck. “Regan was big and strong and a great athlete. Then there was Troy who was a year older than me and Travis who was a year younger than me. It just seemed everywhere I looked there was another Hansen doing something special on the field. For the community, the Hansen family kind of epitomizes what athletes are. Then, with the horses, there was a strong work ethic there. If you were to ask what family had the biggest contribution to athletics in American Fork, the Hansens would probably be the one that stands out,” said Mendenhall, who still runs into Travis in the horse business.

“Like a lot of families, the Hansens have had a lot of triumphs and a lot of challenges but they’ve kept their identity in the community,” concluded Mendenhall.

On Tuesday, Chase Hansen, a Parade All-American at Lone Peak, said he didn’t know his uncle Bruce well but knew he loved the game and he’d often ask him about Utah football. “He was a great athlete, from what I know, back in the day,” he said.

Chase added: “It’s a part of life, you know. I guess for me personally it’s part of my beliefs that it makes times like this a little bit easier getting through, knowing there’s a bigger plan. It really puts into perspective what really matters. I love football to death. I love it like nothing else, but there ‘s a lot more to it.”

Wendell was instrumental in starting a little league football program for Lehi, American Fork and Pleasant Grove communities four decades ago.

Knight puts it this way:

“There was something quite special about the family and their approach. Wendell was an inspirational man and a lot of people in the community benefited. Those boys came by it naturally. He was a perfectionist. He wanted things done the right way and he was pretty aggressive.”

Bruce, may you rest in peace.

You left before your time.

Prayers are with your family that mourns.

EMAIL: dharmon@deseretnews.com.

TWITTER: Harmonwrites