Greenback’s Hanley was determined to be in that 50 percent

Greenback’s Tanner Hanley (3) helps bring down a Coalfield runner earlier this season.

John Brice
The news would have been tough to digest for any athlete. But a three-sport standout like Greenback’s Tanner Hanley?

Almost too difficult to hear a doctor, even before Hanley’s 2013 season had begun, tell the Cherokees’ two-way gridiron star that he might not ever play football again. The diagnosis of a Lisfranc fracture would require surgically implanting screws, grueling rehab and no guarantees.

A coin flip outcome. Maybe. Maybe not.
Except Hanley’s father, Brian, had an immediate message as the family left the doctor’s office. “It’s just one of those things, I guess it was really hard to hear whenever I first got the news,” Hanley, who also plays basketball and baseball, told The Daily Times. “My dad looked at me whenever we were in the car, and they had told me there was a 50-50 chance I wouldn’t play again, he just looked at me and I really remember what he said: Which side do you want to be on? Which side do you want to flip the scale towards? “And I would think about that, and it definitely helped me get through recovery.”

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Greenback coach Jason Hicks, who’s guided the program to an opening-round playoff bye this week and also garnered national television exposure for the Greenback community, hasn’t forgotten the day that Hanley relayed the doctor’s message. Nor has Hicks forgotten what he knew about Hanley even then.

“Tanner was extremely upset, he hugs me, he’s emotional and he told me the doctor told him there was a 50-50 chance he would never play again,” Hicks shared. “He was one of those kids, where I felt like if the doctor told him it was a 50-50 chance, he’d be in the 50 percent that made it back. “Two days later he’s in our weight room lifting before he’s even had surgery.”
Hanley never stopped lifting. In fact, upper-body workouts were all the Greenback senior could do through a major portion of the recovery process. Hanley had to utilize crutches and could not put weight on the foot for six months. “A lot of the rehab was water therapy. I was just doing a lot of swimming, cardio in the water. Just trying slowly to work my way back,” Hanley said. “I couldn’t put any weight on my foot. It definitely made things really difficult. I played three sports. It wasn’t just like I missed football. I love competing. Love playing sports. Going from one extreme to playing all the time to the other was frustrating at times, but I was able to still lift weights. (The desire to compete again) helped me a lot to get through.”
To say Hanley is merely competing would be like suggesting Peyton Manning only screams “Omaha!” Hanley has amassed 67 tackles, including four for losses, and grabbed a 34-yard pick-six interception. He’s tallied 200 rushing yards, 133 receiving yards and owns offensive touchdowns via land and air.
Moreover, he’s been a beacon in the proud Greenback football community.
“To me Greenback really is a special place for a lot of different reasons. This community is really tight,” Hicks said. “Mr. Casteel (Greenback principal Mike Casteel) said to me everything in our community revolves around Greenback football. One thing I’ve noticed, and I don’t exactly know the reason why, a lot of kids don’t understand that if I work and work hard, good things come. There’s so much apathy in our society now, I think a lot of kids feel like a lot should be given to them. “Tanner isn’t like that, and it originates from his family. They’re really just a great family, and Tanner’s been taught when you work hard, good things happen.”
For Hanley, there never was any other option. “It was a huge motivator for me. Just thinking about coming back and getting to compete and play with all my buddies,” he said. “That really pushed me every day. There would be bad days now and then; we all have bad days sometimes. And I’d go in for rehab, and maybe I wouldn’t feel like swimming in the pool or running in the pool. But when it would get hard, I’d close my eyes and picture myself running a touchdown, making a big tackle this season.
“Thinking about that and getting to do what I love again is what helped me get through.” It was a coin-flip. Hanley never had a chance of losing the toss.