DAYTON — Steve Hanson thought his life had ended. In an 18-month span, the young football player had endured three anterior cruciate ligament tears in the same knee.

“That’s pretty much Jenga for a football player,” Hanson said.

Without football Hanson feared that he’d become just another guy who’d return to his small hometown in eastern Montana and fall into the same rut as so many others.

“Where I’m from, there’s no shortage of guys sitting on barstools who couldn’t make it in college football,” Hanson said. “I was pretty sure that they had a seat waiting for me.”

With that as his motivation, Hanson rehabbed quickly, entered the Navy, met his wife, built a family and is now an integral piece at Tongue River High School.

Hanson grew up on his family farm in northeast Montana. He attended high school at Billings Senior and parlayed his high school football prowess into an offer from Montana State University.

Hanson had the opportunity to play as a freshman but couldn’t avoid the injury bug. He broke his hand prior to the career-ending slew of knee injuries. Hanson elected to drop out and join the Navy after just one and a half years in Bozeman.

Hanson served for five years active duty followed by three more years of inactive duty. He did five deployments between 2001-05 with the Marine Corps and different Navy units. He was sent to Iraq, Afghanistan along with the Gulf of Aiden and the Red Sea.

“It was probably the smartest thing I’ve ever done,” Hanson said. “… All the things I hold dear now as far as integrity and discipline got pounded into me to where it became part of me during that time period.”

Hanson met his wife during his time in San Diego. He attended a country fest with his roommate and his girlfriend and once at the fest, met another individual, Erin, who coincidentally was also playing the third-wheel role.

“She was kind of my rock those last two deployments as far as giving me something to look forward to come home to,” Hanson said.

Hanson and his wife lived in Missoula shortly after getting married. Hanson worked as a welder while also coaching football, track and softball at a local high school. The two moved to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, where Hanson once again helped out coaching football and track.

Hanson made good money as a welder, but he could see that there wasn’t much longevity with the profession. Having never finished his teaching degree, which he started at Montana State, Hanson decided to finish that up online.

To do so, Hanson and his wife had to move to a location where they could live off Erin Hanson’s salary and a part-time job for Steve Hanson, as he pursued his degree online through Grand Canyon University.

Hanson had known about the northeast sector of Wyoming, had fished in the Bighorn Mountains as a kid and when a job came available in Sheridan, the two made the decision to move once more. Hanson helped out at Big Horn High School and in 2012 moved to Tongue River to teach history and government while coaching football, track and holding down responsibilities as athletics director.

A typical day for Hanson begins at 4 a.m. and concludes at around 11 p.m. He budgets his time so there’s everything from working out to teaching to athletic directing to coaching before closing the day with his family.

Some days prove more hectic that others, but Hanson loves every hat he wears day in and day out.

“I love how I can go from handling a medical emergency down in the cafeteria to teaching government to out on the field to running the weight room to talking to a kid who needs a little extra love,” Hanson said. “On any given day, I could be an AD, counselor, coach, and I love that. … I like the fact that here, at TR, there’s a big part of me that’s the fabric of the school.”

Hanson fulfills his many roles, plain and simple. It harkens back to his football days when he’d fulfill a role as an offensive lineman.

Those days are long gone, but he doesn’t dismiss them. He appreciates the experience he earned at every stop in his life, and how it led him to where he is now.