Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Ernest, Intent: How Ernest Hausmann Got from Uganda to Lincoln

December 25, 2021

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A dinner 15 years ago in Columbus, Nebraska, is the starting point to understanding linebacker Ernest Hausmann. Bob and Teresa Hausmann hosted a missionary named Peter from Uganda. Teresa had been an exchange student in South Africa, developing a love for Africa and its people.

During the dinner at the family’s home, Peter had a realization. The Hausmanns had several empty bedrooms. Peter suggested to Bob and Teresa that they adopt a child from his village in Uganda. The AIDS epidemic was raging in the country, causing many children to be orphaned.

The Hausmanns had two daughters, but they’d always wanted a lot of children. It didn’t happen for them. They had several American adoptions fall through. At the end of that dinner conversation, Bob said they would be willing to help if Peter felt they could. The next day, Bob and Teresa heard Ernest’s name for the first time. He was Peter’s nephew.

Hail Varsity December 2021 cover

2022 linebacker commit Ernest Hausmann on the cover of the December issue of Hail Varsity. (Photo by John S. Peterson)

Ernest was 2 years old when the Hausmanns decided to adopt him.

It was a three-year process. Bob went to Uganda so he could get legal guardianship, going through the court system with his Ugandan lawyer. That part went smoothly until it came time to get Ernest’s passport stamped at the United States Embassy in Uganda. The worker at the Embassy wouldn’t stamp the passport. After hours of fighting, Bob had to leave the country without Ernest to figure out the next steps.

Bob still can’t say for certain why that worker would not stamp the passport.

The Hausmanns had help from several people they had met throughout the process. Over the next four months, they all contacted government officials explaining the situation and presenting their case. They had legally adopted Ernest but just needed his passport stamped.

It was very difficult for the Hausmann family. They worked with two Ugandan attorneys. Through it all, Bob and Teresa felt like this was meant to be. That faith kept them motivated to continue even as many people told them to give up and forget about it. The American and Ugandan adoption agencies didn’t have a history of working together. Ernest would be among the first to be adopted in the United States. It would be easier somewhere else.

But the Hausmanns didn’t want to adopt just any child from Africa. They knew Ernest. They had his name and picture. They were not going to take no for an answer.

“From a mom’s point of view, even though he wasn’t in my belly, you do everything in your power to protect that baby until that baby arrives,” Teresa said. “Then you do everything in your power to raise that child to the best of your ability and love that child. It was the same thing as soon as we heard his name. That’s it. I knew God wanted us to protect him and take care of him. Literally, from the moment we heard his name, we knew we were his dual parents, and he was our son.”

Bob flew back to Uganda and brought Ernest home that December. Ernest was 5 years old.

“At the time, I was shocked,” Ernest said. “It was tough seeing my (birth) parents the way that they were, being really sick. It was tough to say goodbye to them. It didn’t really hit me until I grew up and matured, that might have been the last time that I get to see them. It really has put a fire in my heart. That’s the reason I play football today. It’s for them. I know that they sacrificed a lot for me to come here. I play the game to make them proud.”

* * *

While the Hausmann family worked through the adoption system in America, there was another battle that was well underway. Days before Bob went to Africa the first time, Ernest became sick.

His caregiver took him to get a shot so he wouldn’t be sick when Bob arrived. Instead, the shot was administered in the wrong spot, which pierced a nerve and deadened his foot and leg.

The medical care in Uganda is different than what you find in the United States. Instead of going to a doctor’s office for this shot, it was more like a truck on the road similar to how you can visit a food truck in the states. When Bob found out, he called his family doctor immediately to figure out a game plan. Luckily, the motel at which Bob was staying in Uganda had ice for him to put on the injection area. It was the first relief Ernest had in days. He fell asleep with the ice pack on. When Ernest finally made it to Nebraska, the rehabilitation process was intense.

“He would kind of tiptoe on one leg and kind of hop along,” Bob said. “We did therapy on him multiple times every day for the first year. I was trying to keep his foot from freezing. We’d keep the joint flexible and bending. I would work on him for an hour every night and during the times that we would see him during the day just getting his calf and getting all the nerves to fire and trying to get the toes to work. I did that every day for a year.”

(Photo by John S. Peterson)

Their journey through red tape wasn’t over. As the rehabilitation process was underway, the visits from American social workers began. The aim was to make sure Ernest was healthy and happy. The family had to check in often at the Office of Homeland Security in Omaha.

When you do an international adoption, you legally adopt the child in their home country. The Hausmanns had to obtain a green card and work permit for Ernest. You also have to get an American attorney to legally adopt the child here. The case had to be taken to court to finalize the adoption domestically. It was another three- year process for Ernest to become an American citizen.

Sports served a dual-purpose in Ernest’s life. Growing up in Uganda, he didn’t have much opportunity to be a kid and play. He relished the opportunity to run around and try different activities. His parents got him a bike with training wheels so he would be forced to use his leg to pedal. They got him a Fisher-Price basketball hoop and lowered it to teach him how to dunk. That encouraged him to push off his feet to try to jump. As soon as he was able, Ernest was playing soccer and tee ball. He didn’t have full use of both legs yet, but he would hop along, dribbling the soccer ball down the field and score goals.

Ernest became very detail- oriented as he learned English. He watched everything––including sports––without a detail escaping him. The family started to notice his toughness and determination. Even as Ernest was learning the different activities, he kept trying.

He crashed so much on that bike the helmet, knee pads and gloves were scarred. Learning to play catch, Ernest would get bloodied trying to catch the ball when he couldn’t. He always came back for more. Even though he would cry as a kid when he missed a ball, he didn’t want to stop playing. A breakthrough happened at the end of the tee ball season.

“I was coaching first base, and Teresa was up in the stands,” Bob said. “He hit a little dribbler right to the pitcher. All of a sudden, we saw him run. It just fired. He actually ran to first base, and I looked at Teresa across the way like, ‘Did you see that?’ Teresa was crying, and then it just kept going from there.”

Ernest doesn’t remember that tee ball moment very well. He does remember running was tough for him at that time in his life. The first time Ernest remembers being able to really run was in elementary school at the track. He’d jump over the hurdles but didn’t have the landing aspect figured out. Still, it felt cool to get off the ground and he loved that feeling. As he progressed through elementary school, running became more natural. He’d get a good head start on kids but eventually his leg would give out.

But he kept getting better.

* * *

By the time I first saw Ernest play in a football game, it was the start of his senior season and I noted right away that he was the best athlete on the field. He played everywhere for Columbus High School, and rarely came off the field.

Ernest started playing football in the fourth grade. As an ex-football coach, Bob would have Ernest in the front yard running plays and catching passes. The family roots for the Huskers, so it was naturally passed down to Ernest to cheer for the Big Red.

Organized football started for Ernest at 10. He loved playing football with the neighbor kids and at recess. He learned the game by watching a lot of games on television and going to games when he could. Ernest was 8 or 9 when the family started taking him to Husker games. They made sure to go to one every season.

(Photo by John S. Peterson)

Ernest loved studying football. During his senior year, he was one of the seniors chosen to speak to elementary school kids. He advised them to play football every chance they got and watch games on television. That helped him so much in his early years.

Ernest was the first commitment in the 2022 class for the Huskers. A high-upside defender, he selected the Huskers on March 3, 2021, over scholarship offers from Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and others. Ernest finished his senior season with 80 tackles, nine tackles for loss and two sacks. He also had 37 catches for 600 yards and eight touchdowns. The physical ability was there, but so was something else.

The other thing that helped Ernest throughout this journey was his mindset. His parents describe him as the most mature person in the house.

“I am really a routine kind of guy,” Ernest said. “I have a structured mindset and I know what needs to be done. I have always had priorities that come first, and then I pretty much just won’t stop until I do what I need to do to get it accomplished.”

Ernest believes that structured mindset traces back to his coming to America. When he arrived, communication wasn’t easy. It was difficult to talk to others, and he was sometimes reserved. When he got a task, he knew he had to do whatever it took to get it done. That’s all he knew.

As he got older, he watched his two older sisters go to college and saw that as an option. He’s always hated wasting time, but he recognized the opportunity he had in coming to America. All those life experiences at a young age are seen on his “goal wall” in his bedroom.

Bob used to leave Ernest notes and things to think about. That morphed into Bob giving him goals to achieve. Throughout high school, Bob and Teresa noticed Ernest started including his own goals. He posted them on his bedroom wall, and he had to check them off. The weight room was one of those big goals for Ernest. He wanted to get stronger. When he checked off one benchmark, he would add another.

“What always strikes me is he’s never satisfied,” Teresa said. “There’s just something in him that he’s never done. He won’t allow a whole list to be crossed off. He’s just hilarious. He is so goal-driven. It’s never done.”

Everyone in the Hausmann family had to overcome obstacles to get to this point. Bob and Teresa balanced honoring his Ugandan roots with fitting in and learning a new culture. Ernest went from not being able to walk to preparing to play Big Ten football, from being behind when he started school to progressing so fast he’s enrolling early at Nebraska.

“I’ll never forget where I came from,” Ernest said. “Not just where I came from in Africa, but where I came from when I came to America. How blessed am I to be in this moment that I am? I’m never going to forget things that happened in Columbus in my experiences because they truly shaped who I am today.”

Next on Ernest’s list: succeeding in the Big Ten.

Beating the odds and proving people wrong has been something Ernest has done his whole life. It wouldn’t be smart to start doubting him now.

(Photo by John S. Peterson)

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