Word of Carson Hansen reached Lakeville South coach Ben Burk long before he ever saw him play.
"I've known who he was since he was in eighth or ninth grade," said Burk, an assistant four years ago before taking over in 2019. "We had a really good running back in Johnny Shabaz, but there was always the word on the street about this other guy coming up. That was Carson."
It didn't take long for Hansen to show what the buzz was about. It was pandemic-clouded 2020, with most football teams trying to cobble together a season with a sense of normalcy amid an ocean of uncertainty. In only his third varsity game, Hansen, a fleet and sturdy 6-1, 205-pound halfback, established himself as a cornerstone for the foundation of a program that would win 23 consecutive games and the 2021 Class 6A championship.
Against rough-and-ready Prior Lake, Hansen ran over and through the Lakers, picking up 182 yards and scoring four touchdowns in a 49-35 victory.
"We were down nine people due to quarantine," Burk recalled. "He wasn't a kid we were expecting to lead us, but he scored four touchdowns and helped us win a game we probably shouldn't have won. He was thrust into the limelight."
Which is exactly where he remained for three seasons, racking up 4,555 yards rushing and reaching the end zone a whopping 57 times. He added 351 yards and nine touchdowns through the air. In 2022, Hansen posted 1,908 total yards from scrimmage — 1,727 on the ground — and scored 15 times.
It's those numbers, alongside his unassuming, aw-shucks approach that not only makes Carson Hansen a star on the gridiron but also the 2022 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year.
What makes Hansen's career statistics so eye-popping is that few have played their entire career under a spotlight so glaring. Everything he does is magnified; when you're the top running back on a state championship team, you can't sneak in the back door.
"Other players know who he is," Burk said. "The best teams know who the best players are."
It helps that Hansen is humble to a fault. There's no chest-thumping or prideful boasting. When he crosses the goal line, opponents in his wake, there's no showboating and very little in the way of celebrations.
Hansen learned his unpretentious way from his family. Father Mark was a running back at North Dakota State, mother Shelly ran track at Minnesota State Moorhead and the family made Christian values a fundamental infrastructure to life and with them.
"In looking back, I think about all of the hard work I've put in to get to this point," Hansen said. "I could never have done any of this by myself. I just want to give my offensive line a big hug."
Growing up, he and his buddies were always playing something — backyard football, whiffle ball, basketball — stoking the fires of competition.
But it was his father's influence — endless hours of backyard catch (Hansen originally thought he was better suited as a wide receiver), being on the receiving end of his father's coaching or watching dad's college highlights — that ignited his passion for football.
"I remember one play — I think it was in a national championship game — where my dad dove for the pylon for a touchdown," Hansen said. "I think about hard he tried. I think about that every time I do that."
There's one more aspect to Hansen, who has made a commitment to play at Iowa State next year, that he deems as perhaps his most important responsibility: His legacy. He's well aware that he's a role model for younger players.
"I've been blessed with this great platform," Hansen said. "It's huge that kids look up to me. That's why I don't want to be cocky. That might be the thing that a kid remembers. The biggest thing is being a light for others."