This was a life-changing opportunity. The joy as I picked him up from school and told him what he was able to do, he was just ecstatic, in tears. —Rachel Hansen, Bentley Hansen's mother
SALT LAKE CITY — Bentley Hansen didn’t really have the vocabulary to describe how it felt to have Utah’s fearsome defense embrace him Tuesday night.
As it turned out, the 9-year-old didn’t need to use any words to describe how he felt as one massive player after another knelt down, talked with him, signed his helmet and exchanged high-fives and fist bumps.
The grin on his face said it all.
“This was a life-changing opportunity,” said his mother Rachel Hansen, her voice cracking with emotion. “The joy as I picked him up from school and told him what he was able to do, he was just ecstatic, in tears.”
Bentley isn’t just a Utah football fan. He’s a Chase Hansen fan. So when the Utah safety found out the 9-year-old was being bullied, including a recent incident that left him with a concussion, the Lone Peak alum wanted to intervene.
“Chase heard about it and wanted to help out,” Rachel said, noting that Chase’s family referred her to head coach Kyle Whittingham’s assistant. “She said, ‘Why don’t you have Bentley come to practice.'”
Rachel’s voice quivers with emotion as she describes why her son was invited to Utah’s practice Tuesday, where Chase Hansen not only met with him, but most of the defense took a few minutes to hang with him and sign a helmet he cradled in his arms as he left the practice field.
“It was probably one of the highlights of the last couple of years,” Rachel said, struggling to hold back tears. “He’s gone through a lot with some kids at school. For the first little while, the first year, we tried to teach him, we’d say, ‘Go back and do this.’ Or ‘Go try that.’ We tried to teach him that there are hard things in life and that you have to deal with hard things.”
Bentley and his parents aren’t sure why the boys at his Sandy school have singled him out for harassment.
“He’s the biggest kid in the third grade, and he’s probably got the biggest heart of anybody,” Rachel said. “He’s just sweet. And he’s a big boy. I don’t know. I don’t know why he’s a target.”
She and her husband, Trevor, advised their son on how to talk to his friends, but once it turned into physical assaults, they met with school officials.
“We tried not to be helicopter parents,” Rachel said. “But as soon as it got physical, we tried to get the principal involved.”
Rachel and Trevor said Bentley has, so far, refused to fight back or defend himself.
“We’ve tried to teach him that you need to protect yourself, but he’s got the biggest heart,” she said. “And he’s afraid.”
Then, two weeks ago, he was tackled, his face smashed into the grass. It was a friend who pushed the attacker off of him.
As she was searching for ways to help her son, she received a text from Chase Hansen's mom, Pam, who is a distant relative by marriage. They'd discussed the issue a few months ago, and Pam said she just felt compelled to check on Bentley.
Pam said she’d recently read an article about former Utah lineman Isaac Asiata being bullied as a child, and wondered if there wasn’t a way her son could bring relief to Bentley and education to the other children at the school.
“I was telling him about it, and Chase said, ‘I feel like he’s my little buddy,'” Pam Hansen said. “Rachel and I were brainstorming about how to get the two connected. Chase has this strong bond with him.”
She wasn’t sure what could be arranged, as the NCAA's rules for college athletes are complicated, so Pam referred the family to Whittingham’s staff. That’s when the invitation was extended to Bentley and his parents.
Bentley wasn’t the only one moved by Tuesday’s experience.
“Chase called me and said, ‘Mom, will you do me a favor?’” Pam said. “He said, ‘Will you give my number to Bentley and tell him he can text me — good days and bad days. I want to hear from him.’”
Knowing how many demands her son has on his time, Pam Hansen understood the profound impact meeting Bentley had on Chase.
“I thought that was the sweetest thing,” she said. “Chase said, ‘I just want to be there for him.’ I think it’s wonderful that these players will use their 15 minutes of whatever to reach out to these kids and help them in their lives.”
Bentley posed for pictures with a few players, including half a dozen with Chase Hansen.
“It was awesome,” he said beaming. “Chase signed my helmet and talked to me. He said, 'Stay safe.'"
Trevor Hansen hopes there can still be an assembly addressing bullying. He’s not sure exactly what the answer is or why it’s so difficult to address. But like Pam Hansen, he thinks these players that young people look up to might hold the power to influence them to take care of one and other, rather than belittling and ostracizing certain students.
“I think they can bring awareness to the issue,” Trevor said. “A lot of times there is miscommunication between teachers and recess teachers. They do what they can, but it’s such a sensitive subject right now for everybody. I think sometimes they hesitate too long to make something happen or take action.”
Until they find a solution, both Hansen families were just grateful for a joyful memory.
“We really appreciated the opportunity,” Trevor said. “It means a lot to him, especially because he’s at an age where they like to play football. They really look up to these guys.”