LAWRENCE — Zach Hannon hung up the phone, walking out of his class at the University of Nebraska before heading to his car to a destination unknown.
His father, Tim, had just called with the news that he’d been diagnosed with Stage 2 prostate cancer, and even his warm voice and optimism weren’t enough to put Zach’s mind at ease.
That would come a few minutes later. Zach found a church on the side of the road, entering the doors before sitting in the back pew while an organist played.
“It actually was one of the most peaceful moments of my life,” Zach says. “ ... I’m telling you, it was just God saying, ‘Chill out. I’ve got you.’”
Though he didn’t know it at the time, the moment of clarity would help set up the joy that will come Saturday, some seven months after one of his toughest days.
Zach, a 6-foot-4 offensive lineman from Kansas City and Rockhurst High School, will start his first college football game when Kansas plays host to West Virginia.
And Tim will be the proud father in the parents’ cheering section, celebrating one of the Hannon family’s best weeks ever.
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Zach Hannon’s transfer decision wasn’t as easy as it appeared.
The former three-star Rivals recruit had hit a roadblock at Nebraska. After developing into a backup guard for coach Bo Pelini’s team in his second year — with coaches believing he could become a starter in the future — Hannon’s career hit a restart when Pelini was fired and replaced by Mike Riley.
Though Hannon loved Nebraska, where he received two degrees and met four of his wedding groomsmen, he believed his best opportunity would be as a graduate transfer. One of his best friends was going to Texas Tech, while Nevada also showed interest.
Kansas, though, was a better fit. His high school sweetheart and wife, Jennifer — they were married in May — could pursue her graduate studies in social work. The two immediately found a daycare they liked for their 2-year-old daughter, Harper.
There also was one other big factor.
“I wanted to be close to my dad,” Zach says.
Tim’s cancer was originally found following a physical in January, confirmed later by blood work and a biopsy.
“We knew it wasn’t a death sentence,” Tim says, “but it was definitely serious by all means.”
The treatment began quickly. Tim first received a Lupron injection, a synthetic hormone given in an attempt to eliminate most of the cancer in his prostate.
There was one main step after that. Each weekday, Tim would drive to the Kansas City Urology Center in Overland Park, slipping on a gown before lying underneath a machine that sent high doses of radiation through targeted places over his hips. Though the procedure was painless and only took 10 minutes, Zach went with his father a few times.
“Just being a little bit closer,” Tim says, “he’s been mentally and spiritually uplifting.”
Hannon’s career at KU took an unexpected turn last week.
After playing guard throughout fall camp, he was asked by KU’s coaches to move to right tackle — a position he hadn’t played since high school.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m only about 6-3 1/2 . You don’t find many tackles that height,’” Hannon says. “But at the same time, whatever you want me to play.”
The transition couldn’t have gone much better.
After right tackle Antione Frazier struggled early against Ohio on Saturday, Hannon was inserted in the second quarter and remained in the rest of the game while providing stability on the right side.
“Just a calmer guy,” KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham said. “He’s been to the puppet show. He’s seen the strings. He just kind of knows. It’s good to have that kind of demeanor out there.”
Hannon, who was frequently in on special teams but never started at Nebraska, was officially announced as a part of KU’s lineup this week.
“We’ll be shedding a tear,” Tim Hannon says, “because we know how hard this kid has worked.”
It’s been an emotional week for another reason as well.
Just before Zach went in for his medical check in KU’s football offices on Monday afternoon, he received a call from his father. Tim’s Prostate-Specific Antigen levels — once at 7.3 in the winter — had dropped to 0.5.
After 43 radiation treatments, Tim was cancer free.
“You’ve just got to look up to God and say, ‘Thank you,’” Zach says.
It will all result in a day of celebration Saturday, both father and son making their way through uncertain times.
“Things happen for a reason,” Tim says. “We don’t question it. We embrace it. And that’s life.”