CEDAR FALLS — A proud University of Northern Iowa Panther graduate is leaving his paw prints on the Loyola University Chicago Ramblers’ march to the Final Four in men’s basketball.
Austin Hansen, a 2012 graduate of Cedar Falls High School and a 2016 UNI alum, is Loyola’s director of video for athletics and has been chronicling a storybook season in which the Ramblers reached the Final Four for the first time since a national championship in 1963.
The Loyola job is as much a “Cinderella” story for Hansen as is the Ramblers’ sojourn deep into the Big Dance. After graduating from UNI with a degree in digital media leadership, he followed former Panther athletic director Troy Dannen to the University of New Orleans and worked there for a year before starting at Loyola last summer.
“I saw this video position opened up at Loyola, and that’s my real passion. I started in June, and ever since it’s been amazing,” Hansen said. “We don’t have football here, so basketball’s really been our big sport. I work with all the sports teams and travel with the basketball team.”
Loyola offered a chance to be closer to home and to work in the Chicago area. “I’m a huge Cubs fan, and the Black Hawks,” he said, and just being in the Chicago market was “a huge selling point.”
He shoots video for the scoreboard, replays, live in-house video and video posts on social media. He also works with ESPN3, which airs Missouri Valley Conference games online and on various broadcast outlets. The school recently added a new video board for its basketball arena.
Rambler footage has become a hot item.
“I’m currently sending clips to ESPN, CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox’s sports affiliates now,” he said.
Hansen said Chicago is crazy about the Ramblers.
When the Ramblers returned from Atlanta on Sunday after beating Kansas State to make the Final Four, a big motorcade with dozens of police escorted them back to campus, where they were greeted by cheering fans. Downtown, Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, was lit up in school colors and another building was illuminated in school letters.
Hansen records more than the games. He also pays special attention to the team chaplain, 98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores Smith, who has captured as much attention as the athletes. Hansen said she was a campus celebrity long before she reached national notoriety, and the school had already made souvenir bobble head dolls with her likeness.
Hansen said it is exciting to be part of such a big moment.
“It’s pretty special thing ... to document the entire season,” he said.
He has witnessed special locker room moments, like an exchange between Ramblers guard Clayton Custer and Sister Jean. Custer told her, “Sister Jean, we broke your bracket. And we’re going to keep on breaking it!”
Sister Jean leads the team in prayer, now held outside the locker room because so many want to participate. It might be a superstition, but the players circle around in the same order as she prays for both teams.
“She always ends with, ‘Amen, and go Ramblers!’” Hansen said.
Hansen sometimes gets razzed because of his UNI roots.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Colleagues created gag videos in his office with Loyola beating UNI 104-75. Loyola actually ended UNI’s season by a much closer margin, 54-50, in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis.
Loyola’s success has made Hansen a blue-chip recruit among some fellow UNI alums. They want him back in Cedar Falls.
“They think I’m a good luck charm,” he said. He was still on campus for the Panthers’ last tournament run.
As the Ramblers head for San Antonio and the Final Four this weekend, Hansen may put a discreet dash of purple and gold under his “dancing” shoes — with someone’s blessing.
“I’m thinking about wearing my UNI socks,” Hansen said. “Sister Jean always says to be loyal to your alma mater.”