Growing up, Aaron Hansford was used to seeing God up close. As the son of a former Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Area Representative, Hansford would attend Huddles during the school year, camps during the summer and year-end banquets. He and his family’s daily lives were embedded in the activity of sports ministry, and it became an integral part of his life and faith foundation.
“Being in FCA and growing up around a sports and faith environment has been a blessing in my life,” shared the Washington, D.C. native. “I would see everyone having fun, enjoying their time together and figuring out their faith at FCA and it was intriguing to me. It helped me grow as a person and athlete.”
This foundation transferred over to his football career. Injury and obedience swerved his course toward an unusual path to collegiate success and he saw God show up in unexpected places.
Though Hansford stepped away from football in his pee wee days, concentrating instead on baseball and track, he re-engaged with the sport his freshman year at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C. There, he played both sides of the ball and was heavily recruited by the nation’s top programs. As his athleticism developed, so did his faith. Hansford attended the St. John’s FCA Huddle and camps in the summer at places like Salisbury University in Maryland. Thanks to his strong, supportive family—dad Adam, mom Maudeva, sister Gabrielle and brother Emmanuel—Hansford flourished.
Excelling as a linebacker that earned him spots on the 2015 Under Armour All-American and Nike Opening teams and First Team All-USA Today rosters, Hansford had his pick of schools. After a visit to UCLA, Hansford locked in and prepared to announce his college decision on national recruiting day. But minutes before the scheduled live announcement, Hansford hesitated.
“I felt something in my heart change immediately,” he said. “I felt God say, ‘I know what you want to do, but I want Texas A&M for you.” Hansford had been recruited by the Aggies but hadn’t considered the Texas state school. Time was ticking, and in a split-second, Hansford announced he was heading to Texas A&M, trusting that still, small voice inside.
As he entered his collegiate career as the Aggies’ starting wide receiver, things looked promising. But early in the season, Hansford went down with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the year. He received redshirt status and returned to the field in 2017.
Hopes for health consistency deflated, however, when he suffered another season-ending knee injury sophomore year in 2018 that required surgery and a long rehabilitation. Hansford was devastated; it was one of the most despairing points of his life.
“This one sent me down a spiral of discouragement, mentally,” he admitted. “Doctors weren’t sure if I’d play again. It takes a toll. And mental health in college football is so important. School and sports are hard enough, then add an injury—there’s a lot. It was so hard, but I’m very thankful for God and my family. I had a good support system.”
Despite the seemingly impossible mountain of rehabilitation, Hansford had faith that all would be well. “I kept hearing so many stories of the impossible and miracles coming to pass, and I thought, ‘If that’s possible for others, why not me?’”
‘If that’s possible for others, why not me?’”Hansford made the most of his situation, spending the next year rehabbing, rebuilding his muscles and maintaining a positive perspective. When the 2019 football season camp began, Hansford, working his way back from the injured reserve, walked into new A&M Head Coach Jimbo Fisher’s office and asked to move to linebacker, honestly assessing where he had the greatest potential to help the team. He switched to defense and began to work his way into the lineup as a linebacker, seeing the sport with fresh eyes.
“Coming back showed me how much I really loved football,” Hansford recognized. “I wasn’t thinking about the NFL or how I needed to do well—all of the normal pressures that are there if you want to play at that level. I was just thinking about how good it felt to be on the field.”
Hansford committed to get back onto the gridiron. “I’d take special teams, third down packages, whatever I could to get into the rotation,” he said. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could play, that regardless of the outcome, I could get myself back to being the best player I could be.”
Since flying under the radar because of multiple injuries to dominating a position that wasn’t his original recruiting role, Hansford has led a storied career. He earned the team’s Special Teams Most Improved Award after the 2019 season. He also skyrocketed into one of the nation’s best linebackers, captured the attention of NFL scouts and he has been added to the 2021 Butkus Award Watch List.
But what may be perhaps the most impactful moment yet came earlier this year, after the peak of COVID-19 left many athletes’ seasons cut short. Hansford, set to graduate even though he had more redshirt eligibility left, wanted to stick around for his final year, but the pandemic’s destruction snatched any remaining possibility to stay an Aggie… or so he thought.
With a phone full of messages from agents, the NFL loomed before him. But, again, like years before, as he was about to commit to the Reece’s Senior Bowl and move his pen to the signing line of an NFL contract, Hansford hesitated. Something in his spirit told him to wait.
“It’s the pinnacle—to reach the NFL,” he said. “But life was moving so fast.”
Hansford paused and got honest with God.
“I told Him I wanted to play another season at Texas A&M, I wanted to graduate, I wanted to see myself grow as a player and as a man at A&M. It was crazy, because I legitimately had zero eligibility left so it was a pretty set thing that I would be leaving.”
Agents kept calling, and the pressure to sign mounted. Hansford was tempted, but had a different vision for his life. “Signing seems like the most logical thing to most people,” he shared, “but it’s about a lot more.”
Hansford held his ground, unwilling to jump into anything as he held onto the improbable hope that God would make a way for his heart’s desire. One day, the coaching staff got a call from the NCAA compliance board announcing athletes who were affected by COVID-19 could have another year of eligibility—as long as they graduated.
This was the answer he had been praying for.
“I saw God’s hand all over this. I’m so thankful to Him.”
Hansford graduated last summer and is now back for his final season at Texas A&M. He and the Aggies are having success, even toppling then-top-ranked Alabama for their first loss to an unranked team since 2007. The team’s momentum is moving forward; Hansford’s already matching season highs in his statistics, but he’s also been growing in areas outside of the game.
“I see God challenging me mentally,” Hansford said. “My body feels great this year, but God is wanting me to mature, to pay more attention. I’m still being molded; this season is the process.”
Currently, Hansford’s working on limiting distractions and dispelling outside noise. “In football we put in a lot of time every day; it’s easy to lose focus on your faith,” he admitted. “If you don’t say you’re spending time with God for 30 minutes, the day could go by before you really do.”
Making God a priority in a bustling season brings balance when it can be tempting for faith to sway, but Hansford has found a way to stay grounded.
“I want to let God know I appreciate Him; He’s given me all I could ask for. He’s with me every step of the way, and I fall back on Him every time.”
Looking back, what seemed like a few years riddled with slow and painful injuries ended up being a blip on his radar, and Hansford has been gifted with a blessed career and stronger faith.
The journey’s been long and strewn with unexpected moments, but Hansford’s forged a way forward with unchanging faith.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride of a journey, but God’s always going to take care of me.”
Photos courtesy of Adam Hansford and Texas A&M Athletics