BERKELEY, Calif. -- If one had to pick the place in America that differed most from Berkeley, California, then Cal wide receiver Chad Hansen's previous home of Pocatello, Idaho would be a prime candidate.
"It's very desolate," Hansen said. "It's surrounded by a lot of potato fields and potato farms."
Hansen lived amongst those potato fields for a season, hauling in 45 passes as a true freshman for Idaho State in 2013. The contrast between his football career now and three years ago is as stark as the difference between the ecletic Bay Area and rural Pocatello.
With 50 catches already through only four games, Hansen is the nation's leader in receptions. A player who didn't field a single FBS offer coming out of high school -- and whose only offer from Idaho State only came because one of the Bengals' recruits signed elsewhere at the last minute -- now has his name popping up on some early NFL Draft watch lists.
"Chad was not a 5-star recruit coming out of high school," Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. "I don't even know if Chad was a 0-star recruit coming out of high school. Sometimes you get labeled as that, and that's a hard label to overcome. People say that you can't be very good because so-and-so didn't recruit you."
The story of how Hansen overcame that label and got opportunity in the Pac-12 after his season at Idaho State begins with a computer screen. Hansen and his father sent out hundreds of highlight emails to different programs, essentially begging for a positive response.
"I sent out 15-20 emails of my highlight tape a day to different programs, for weeks," Hansen said. "But there was almost always no response. They get a whole bunch of emails from people like me."
So the receiver morphed into detective mode, searching for ways that he could find personal email addresses and phone numbers of college coaches so that his tape might separate itself from the fray.
"Luckily, I knew some kids on Pac-12 teams, and I would talk to them and try to get them to give me their coaches' numbers," Hansen said. "I was the one doing the recruiting here."
A few responses did eventually trickle in, but not the type that Hansen wanted: They all encouraged him to stick it out at Idaho State, essentially insinuating that he wasn't FBS material.
Nowadays, Hansen is able to brush off every spurn with a calm, smiling nonchalance that seems to reflect his southern California roots.
"It was a slight jab at me athletically, but that's fine," he said. "You've just gotta push that aside."
But Hansen admits that the rejection ate him up at the time, and that it fueled his incessant emailing campaign -- until one school finally bit.
That was Cal. The Golden Bears discovered Hansen almost by a stroke of luck, thanks to graduate assistant David Gru, who stumbled across the receiver's tape and was intrigued by what he saw.
So Hansen transferred.
Now, after sitting out the required year in 2014 and then waiting as the Bears' seventh receiver in 2015 -- all of Cal's top six targets left after last season -- Hansen has vaulted to the top of the national charts, putting up what Dykes calls "stupid" numbers.
"He's a guy who's versatile enough to run past people, but also big enough to play physical, and smart enough to use his savvy to set people up," Dykes said. "At the end of the day, he's dependable."
Hansen's teammates credit his work ethic for the meteoric rise.
"That's what makes him who he is," fellow receiver Patrick Worstell said. "Whenever someone puts up the numbers he has, there's always a 'wow' factor. But I don't think any of us is truly surprised that it's Chad doing it."
Even quarterback Davis Webb -- a football addict who spends an estimated six hours daily watching film -- is impressed with how meticulously Hansen studies the game.
"Chad is a great leader," Webb said. "He knows the game plan by Tuesday or Wednesday every week. He knows exactly where I want him to be by watching film with me every week."
Hansen developed excellent chemistry with his new quarterback soon after Webb arrived at Cal following a transfer of his own from Texas Tech. The two began throwing drills just one day after Webb landed in Berkeley this summer.
Now, just one season after Jared Goff and his slew of targets lit up stat sheets for the Bears, the two transfers are doing the same. Thanks in large part to Hansen and Webb, Cal's offense hasn't skipped a beat -- despite the talent exodus.
"It's been a whirlwind, honestly," Hansen said. "I put in the work, and now I'm finally able to reap the rewards."