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Jared Hassin Wanted To Play At Army All Along

The following feature story appeared in the New York Times on Saturday, Nov. 6, and was written by Brian Heyman.

WEST POINT, N.Y. —
Inside Army’s practice facility, a good punt away from Michie Stadium, Jared Hassin bolted out of his stance in the backfield and turned the right corner with an option pitch, leaving only a view of the No. 7 on the back of his black jersey.

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Hassin has been one of the biggest factors in Army’s success this year.

Hassin and that jersey have a history that dates to when he was 8 and growing up in Wisconsin. Ronnie McAda, the Black Knights’ quarterback in their last bowl game, in 1996, wore that number. So Don Hassin Jr., United States Military Academy class of 1971, huge Army football fan and Jared’s father, ordered a replica for his son and had “Hassin” emblazoned on the back. Jared struck a pose in it for his third-grade class picture. The fit? Not so great.

“They didn’t come in mighty-mite sizes,” Don Hassin said, laughing at the other end of the line from Wisconsin. “I think this was probably a men’s small. As I recall, it was at least down to his knees, untucked.”

Jared Hassin wanted to play for Army since he was 5. But somehow he ended up at Air Force before experiencing an epiphany in the woods with a rifle during basic training. He had gone to the wrong academy. But now the uniform fits in more ways than one. Hassin is happy and having a breakout season as a sophomore fullback. And he is ready to face Air Force on Saturday for the first time since leaving.

“I look forward to it just in the sense that it’s a rivalry and I’ll get to see those guys,” Hassin said. “But I’m not looking to go out there and prove anything to anybody because I already know that I made the right decision for me.”

The 1996 Army team was the program’s last to have a winning season. But this team, thanks in no small measure to Hassin, is trying to make a winning sequel 14 years later.

The Black Knights are 5-3 under the second-year Coach Rich Ellerson, with two losses by 3 points. They can become bowl eligible with one victory in the next three games.

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Hassin has been one of biggest factors in the success of their triple-option offense.

Army ranks No. 7 in rushing, and its own No. 7 is carrying a streak of three straight 100-yard games. He ran for a career-high 158 in last Saturday’s 29-7 victory against Virginia Military Institute. That gave him a team-high 669 yards. He averages 6.1 per carry and has run for 8 touchdowns.

He is also Army’s second-leading receiver with nine catches for 127 yards.

“He’s a load to bring down,” quarterback Trent Steelman said. “But not only is he a big fullback, he’s got the presence of a running back. He’s got the eyes and he’s got the feet of a running back. When he gets the ball, we expect to get 5 yards.”

The backup fullback Dan McGue, Hassin’s friend and road roommate, sees him as a leader, too.

“He’s kind of the same guy on the field as off the field,” McGue said. “He’s always there to talk to you if you need him, really caring. He’s one of those guys that you look to when you’re going through a hard time.”

The Army has become a Hassin family tradition. Don Hassin Sr. landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day as a second lieutenant with the 29th Infantry. Don Jr. was an Army Airborne Ranger and a captain who served in Vietnam before becoming a colonel in the Army National Guard and a trial judge in Wisconsin. His daughter, Kelsey, graduated from West Point in May.

Jared grew up in Delafield, Wis., and gave an oral commitment to play at Army in the spring of 2007, during his junior year at Kettle Moraine High School, where he also excelled in wrestling and track and field. His father brought him up on Black Knights football. They would watch or listen to the games together.

But Hassin became apprehensive over Army’s coaching change from Bobby Ross to Stan Brock after the 2006 season. Air Force Coach Troy Calhoun continued to recruit him, and he held Calhoun in high regard. After an official visit, Hassin backed out on Army in January 2008.

All of those Army football thoughts, all of that family history, and he goes to Air Force.

“I went out there and really liked the place,” Hassin said of the Air Force Academy. “I thought for the first time in my life I could do something where I could be just as successful but do something a little bit different than the rest of my family.”

His father obviously was disappointed.

“Was there a personal disappointment because of my background? Sure,” Don said. “But I understood. I did my best and hopefully I did a decent job of supporting him in his decision to go there.”

The stay lasted only about two months. One day that summer, about midway through basic training, Hassin was out in Jacks Valley, on the Air Force Academy grounds.

“We were doing the Army’s equivalent of a patrolling exercise,” he said. “We were out in the woods and laying in the mud and carrying around a big old M-16. I felt it then. I felt this was what I want to do, not necessarily in the literal term, but the idea itself, just boots on the ground, that kind of thing.”

After practicing with the team and two and a half weeks of classes, he left Air Force. That day, he called Tucker Waugh, the Army assistant who had recruited him. His spot was soon secure in West Point’s class of 2013. So he took classes at Wisconsin-Waukesha and coached at his high school before reporting for basic training in the summer of 2009.

The N.C.A.A. denied Army’s bid for Hassin to play last season, citing transfer regulations, so he practiced with the scout team, repeatedly catching Ellerson’s eye.

Now Hassin is not only living his father and grandfather’s dream for him, but his own. He got his cherished No. 7 for this season and is running toward his goal, and not just the one of serving his country and leading fellow soldiers, which he says would be an honor.

“I want what the rest of my teammates want,” he said. “We want to be remembered as the team that brought winning back to the academy.”

So, whatever happened to that replica No. 7 jersey? Well, his girlfriend now wears it proudly when she attends games. Her boyfriend is wearing his new one proudly as well, finally dressed in the real thing.
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