WITH HIS shirt off, Casey Hansen would tend to get noticed anywhere. A 6-5, thin, strawberry blond guy with a huge tattoo across his back - a pair of six guns framing a skull wearing a cowboy hat, with smoke from the guns curling up to where it spells out "HANSEN" across his shoulders?
That's a bit different, even without the large right-shoulder tattoo of a crown-wearing Jesus.
But Hansen, signed last month by the Eagles as a rookie free-agent quarterback, is used to standing out because of his looks, even fully clothed. To get on the field in college, to create the opportunity he's now pursuing in rookie camp, Hansen played his final two seasons at historically black Norfolk State University. The Spartans' Web site estimates that 86 percent of the school's 6,238 students are African-American, 7 percent are caucasian.
Only one was a pale, freckled kid from Norco, Calif., by way of Colorado State and California's Chaffey Community College.
"I had a great time there," said Hansen, who recently graduated from Norfolk State with a degree in interdisciplinary studies. "It was an experience. It took me out of my norm, and showed me different cultures, different ways of life. I'm better today from doing that."
Hansen was a big-time high school recruit who canceled planned visits to Arizona and San Diego State after he visited Colorado State. But after a redshirt year and a year riding the bench, he didn't think he was ever going to play for the Rams, so he left for Chaffey, and spent a year as a juco starter.
Hansen then found that big-time programs aren't crazy about juco quarterbacks, especially the ones with only 2 years of eligibility left. Big programs like to develop their own QBs, within their systems. And guys with baggage - washouts from other programs - are always viewed a bit skeptically.
Suddenly, although he was still 6-5, and still had a very strong arm, Hansen was no longer a big-time recruit.
"I questioned myself a couple of times," he acknowledged yesterday. "A player doesn't question himself at least a couple times in his career, I don't know if he's human. It was tough. It's been a long road for me. Now that I'm here, it kind of shows me I took the right steps, and I feel like I should be here."
Hansen threw for 4,277 yards in two seasons with the Spartans, ranking him second all-time among Norfolk State passers. The team went 8-3 last season, enjoying its first winning record in 11 years with the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (what used to be I-AA).
Even so, the NFL was unimpressed. The draft came and went, and then teams signed the undrafted free agents, in the day or two afterward. Hansen was looking at working for his brother, who had started a fiber-optic cable company.
Then the Eagles called. They had just three quarterbacks: Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb and A.J. Feeley. Kolb would be the only one eligible for the rookie and select (read, unestablished) veterans workouts this week and next. The Birds needed another minicamp QB, and really, one for training camp, as well.
Hansen was offered a tryout at the minicamp the weekend after the draft. He seemed to throw the ball well, but no one rushed over to stop him from packing his bags when the weekend was over.
"I was at the airport when they offered me a contract," he recalled.
Fiber-optic cable is back on hold. Hansen's lifelong dream is alive, and never mind that his chances of making the Eagles are extraordinarily slim. You work out, people remember you, if you last long enough to get into a preseason game, there's film. You're in the mix, along with all the other guys scrambling for footholds on the game's fringes.
Hansen was out there on the field yesterday, getting lots of reps, firing bullets to receivers such as second-round rookie DeSean Jackson, conferring with Kolb, with quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur, and with head coach Andy Reid. Truthfully, Hansen looked a lot more like an NFL QB than some other guys the Birds have brought into camps over the years (say, Timmy Chang).
Kolb, the second-round pick a year ago who seems in line to back up the starter in '08, was complimentary.
"I hadn't heard of him, but there are a lot of guys out there you haven't heard of," Kolb said yesterday. "He's obviously a very physical guy, good arm."
Kolb said Hansen complained that his head was spinning, as he tries to learn Reid's West Coast offense on the fly.
"I went through the same thing last year," Kolb said. "I just told him to slow it down, do what you can, focus on the reads and complete the ball."
Hansen said, given his odyssey, practicing an offense he doesn't know very well is really oddly familiar.
"I've been through three different offenses in 4 years . . . it's actually helping me to transform, and adapt," he said. "It's a little tough to get the lingo, but it's coming fairly easy." *