Earl Hansen thought perhaps it was fate, or, at least he knew he was entering the right profession.
Then a first-year head football coach at Palo Alto (Calif.)
, Hansen had a star-studded team in 1980, a roster littered with five players who eventually played Division I college football.
Then the "big kid" showed up. And he was a quarterback.
Jack Harbaugh had just accepted the defensive coordinator spot at Stanford and he brought his strapping 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior son Jim Harbaugh to the high school in Palo Alto, right across the street from the university.
"Guess that's what you call good living," Hansen said.
Harbaugh took over the starting job that at one time was penciled in for the MVP of the frosh-soph team named Peter Aronson. He had to know he didn't have much of a chance once he took a gander at the physically imposing Michigan native.
Harbaugh already had seasoning as a part-time starter the season before at Pioneer (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
. He was physically superior to anyone in the junior class at Palo Alto, and likely anyone on campus.
He ended up leading the Vikings to a 9-1 season, their first Central Coast Section playoff berth, but they lost to the eventual champion Live Oak (Morgan Hill, Calif.).
"We were already going to be pretty good, but Jim tipped the scales for us," Hansen said. "I remember thinking this coaching stuff is pretty easy. But I found out quick I wasn't going to get a Jim Harbaugh every year."
Harbaugh, of course, was a rare find, who later started three seasons at the University of Michigan, was a first-round pick of the Chicago Bears and played 14 seasons in the NFL. And now, after highly successful coaching stints at the University of San Diego and Stanford, he has catapulted a proud San Francisco 49ers franchise back into the Super Bowl in just his second season.
Harbaugh has been an instant coaching success in the NFL — a true rarity — and a lightning bolt for media sorts for his intense reactions on the sideline, his sharp answers during press conferences and his overly enthusiastic handshakes with opposing coaches.
None of it surprises Hansen, who is still in close contact with his former quarterback, largely because his own son Peter Hansen was an assistant coach at Stanford under Harbaugh and now is a defensive assistant/quality control coach for the 49ers.
Earl Hansen attends 49ers practices weekly, including one Thursday, and he and his wife of more than 30 years Marilyn will attend his first Super Bowl in New Orleans Sunday when San Francisco faces the Baltimore Ravens.
"(Harbaugh) had a superb football mind as a high school kid and it's obviously expanded every year since," Hansen said. "He had a good basic understanding of the game before he got to us because of his dad and he's won everywhere he's gone.
"No, none of it remotely has surprised me." Cocky but never disobedient
Hansen said it took Harbaugh some time to adjust socially at Palo Alto, but no time at all to adjust on the field.
"His knowledge of the game was his strength," Hansen said. "His mobility was very good. He was very athletic."
And his personality?
"He was never quiet," Hansen said. "But he was never disobedient. He was respectful and wanted to work constantly.
"I'd say he was confident, cocky possibly, but the other players liked hanging out with him."
Much like his current quarterback Colin Kaepernick
, Harbaugh was a three-sport standout – the same sports in fact. According to Hansen, Harbaugh was a 20 points-per-game scorer on the basketball team and he reportedly threw 90 mph as a pitcher. When he didn't pitch, he started at shortstop.
He once gave up a home run to Barry Bonds of Serra (San Mateo, Calif.), just up the Peninsula.
In his office, Hansen has pictures of Harbaugh playing baseball and basketball for Palo Alto, and football while at Michigan and the Bears.
"He was just a great all-around athlete," Hansen said. "A throwback."
With the 1980 team decimated by graduation, including the entire offensive line, Harbaugh and the Vikings mustered up only a 5-4 season his senior campaign.
"There were some struggles," said Hansen, who led Palo Alto to a 2010 Division I State Bowl championship and was named state coach of the year by several outlets. "But Jim battled through. He was an All-Region type player."
College recruiters weren't flocking for Harbaugh because it was pretty clear he was committed to Michigan. Jack Harbaugh and then-Michigan coach Bo Schembechler were close.
"I think overall, Jim really enjoyed his days here," said Hansen, noting Harbaugh attended his class' 30th reunion last August. "I know we did."
Harbaugh isn't the only tie to the 49ers for Palo Alto.
Two-year starting quarterback Keller Chryst
, a second-team junior All-American
, is son of 49ers' quarterback coach Geep Chryst. Much like Harbaugh, the 6-4, 230-pound Keller arrived on the Palo Alto campus a year after starting a season back east — in North Carolina.
Keller Chryst is considered one of the top junior quarterbacks in the country. He's also a starting center for the basketball team, which is off to a 17-1 start. Chryst threw for almost 2,500 yards and 28 touchdowns while leading the Vikings to an 8-3 record and a Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza title.
"Keller is a little bigger and stronger (than Harbaugh in high school)," Hansen said. "They are similar in arm strength but that's about it."
Palo Alto's starting running back Matt Tolbert
(1,161 yards, 13 touchdowns) is the son of 49ers assistant strength and conditioning coach Kevin Tolbert as well.
"With how well we did this year and having so many 49ers connections and them going to the Super Bowl, it's been a lot of fun," Hansen said. "Hopefully it will be even more fun next week."