Wade Hansen turned it on as a sophomore football player at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a Division III school in his hometown of Troy, N.Y.
His 45 tackles and 61?2 sacks earned him second-team All-Liberty League honors in 2012 despite ankle and elbow injuries - not bad playing in the one of the smallest classifications in New York state.
The 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive tackle wondered if there was more to accomplish football-wise than the D-III level, so he sent emails to bigger programs. His video got a "huge reaction" from Virginia Tech defensive line coach Charley Wiles and head coach Frank Beamer.
"They told me that they would love for me to be a preferred walk-on," Hansen said. "... It was a great feeling that I had such a big program talking to me about playing for them."
After sitting out 2013 because of his transfer, Hansen is battling for a spot on the two-deep. Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall seem safe bets in the first-team spots, but Hansen is battling three others for the top reserve role: Nigel Williams, Vinny Mihota and, when he returns from injury, Woody Baron.
"He's an intriguing guy from the standpoint that he's big, he's rugged, he's done some really good things," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "He hurt his thumb here a couple weeks ago and battled that. He showed some toughness battling through."
Hansen took the path less traveled to the Football Bowl Subdivision level. He described himself as a "frail, skinny" 6-foot-5, 215-pounder coming out of Tamarac High in Central New York playing on a team with only 17 members.
Hansen did a little of everything, playing offensive tackle, defensive end, long snapper and on every special teams unit possible. A local newspaper article dubbed him "Mr. Versatility."
It didn't earn him scholarship offers, though. He had 25 tackles as a freshman at the local Division III school and was the team's Rookie of the Year, then nearly doubled that total the next season, leading the team in tackles for a loss and sacks after packing on size.
"I wasn't a huge guy," Hansen said. "But I was just hard-nosed and tough and went after it every play."
That's when he began his email campaign. Some Football Championship Subdivision teams showed interest - Georgia Southern in particular - but then Virginia Tech called.
"We watched him on video, thought he was a guy that really showed some things," Foster said. "We figured if we're going to get him for free (as a walk-on), not a bad guy right here."
Hansen, whose transfer was put on hold in January 2013 when he contracted mono, Lyme disease and strep throat all at once, arrived in Blacksburg in time for last season, when he worked on the scout team during a redshirt year.
He has two years of eligibility left and is at a position of need for the Hokies, whose depth has taken a hit there after recent attrition and a few misses on big-name recruiting targets. Hansen is not a big name, but he's a big body - 6-6, 270 now, with hopes of hitting 290 - who puts in the work.
"Great effort, has made a lot of plays this spring, athletic," Beamer said. "He's been a pleasant guy to see out there."
"I think he'll be a factor for us as far as depth," Foster said. "And that's a position that gets dinged up and nicked up during the course of a season."
At the least, Hansen could be a factor on the field-goal block team with his 8-1/2-foot reach. The Hokies have put him next to the 6-5 Mihota to try to swat kicks.
"Us together is actually a pretty lethal combo on a field-goal block," Hansen said.
Hansen was credited with blocking one in Saturday's scrimmage, but said Mihota actually got it.
Hansen doesn't care about the credit. He's happy to play, whatever the role.
"It's another play that you can get another snap on the football field," he said. "I wouldn't be mad if they put me out there."