Sports

Stanford's Hoffpauir is proving to be a hit in two sports

 

Zach Hoffpauir hopes to have a very difficult decision to make on June 8, 2015. That's the day Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft begins.

Stanford's latest two-sport standout hopes to continue his productive season playing football and attract the attention of the NFL.

Hoffpauir also hopes to duplicate last year's breakout season with the Cardinal baseball team, when he torched opposing pitchers to the tune of a .453 batting average in the month of May to help Stanford qualify for the NCAA tournament.

Hoffpauir, who recorded 15 tackles, nine solo, in Stanford's 34-17 victory over Washington State last Friday, looks more and more like the versatile athlete who choose Stanford over Arizona State because of the possibility of playing both sports in college.

"I wanted to play two sports," Hoffpauir said. "That's one of the biggest reasons I ended up here."

The junior will returning to his hometown for an important Pac-12 Conference contest on Saturday night in Tempe when No. 23 Stanford (2-1 Pac-12, 4-2 overall) takes on No. 17 Arizona State (2-1, 4-1) in a rematch of last year's conference championship game.

Hoffpauir, who hails from Glendale, Ariz., lettered in four sports in high school. His original intention was to play at California, but decommitted because he sensed Jeff Tedford would not be around.

"It didn't feel right," Hoffpauir said.

His final two choices were Stanford and Arizona State. Sun Devils' quarterback Mike Bercovoci played host when Hoffpauir took his official visit to ASU and the two have remained friendly.

"He's a great guy who works hard," Hoffpauir said. "I congratulated him on the win over USC."

Bercovoci threw a 46-yard 'Hail Mary' pass on the final play of the game two weeks ago, when ASU upset the Trojans. Bercovoci threw for 510 yards and five touchdowns, three in the fourth quarter.

"He stepped right in," Hoffpauir said. "It was pretty crazy. It seemed like it was meant to be."

Hoffpauir also counts Sun Devils tailback D.J. Foster among several friends who went to Arizona State.

"If you're in the Phoenix area you're an ASU fan unless you went to U of A," Hoffpauir said. "It was close at the end."

So far, his football success mirrors his baseball success. He was a little-used reserve in his first full year in both sports and then hit a hot streak and never looked back in his second year.

Hoffpauir seems to have hit his stride in football.

"We saw it in his junior film," Cardinal coach David Shaw said of Hoffpauir's versatility. "He returned punts, he played special teams, and he played defense and offense. He's a firecracker. He brings the same desire to be great to practice every day."

Hoffpauir has 27 tackles on the season, tied for fourth, with Palo Alto High grad Kevin Anderson. He's recorded three tackles for a loss and is looking for his first sack. He leads the team with four break-ups and four passes defended.

After a slow start to his baseball season, Hoffpauir rode his May production, during which he batted .418 with runners in scoring position, to an overall .324 average, second on the Cardinal. He hit seven home runs and drove in 35 runs, among the team's top three in each category.

"Knowing our history and how much passion he has for both sports, we have meetings between football and baseball and work off each other and work together," Shaw said. "He's a college student, let him be competitive, be versatile."

For Hoffpauir, seeing was believing.

"Stanford has a past with guys playing two sports; John Elway, John Lynch and, of course, Tyler (Gaffney)," Hoffpauir said. "Other schools said they would let me do it but I wanted to play two sports. Coach Shaw played two sports, coach (Mark) Marquess played football and baseball."

Gaffney has answered any question Hoffpauir asked. Gaffney originally signed a baseball contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and then returned to Stanford for his final year of eligibility in football.

Hoffpauir says their circumstances are completely different but that Gaffney has been helpful and supportive.

Stanford baseball coach Mark Marquess called Hoffpauir his "most improved player. The beginning of the year he was striking out a lot on breaking balls. He's been working on it. In baseball, you have to play. He didn't play in the summer or fall."

Playing two sports is a juggling act in which Hoffpauir has become proficient.

"Right after this season I'll go straight into baseball, after taking a week off, and start in the winter and go for however long the season is, which last year was June," he said. "Then I'll take two weeks off, rest physically and more important, mentally. I'll come back in the summer and start to get in shape for football. When it's football, I try to focus on football. When it's time for baseball, I'll just catch up and get as many swings as I can."

For now, he's a football player and getting better every day.

"He doesn't know he's not 6-3, 230 and I'm not going to tell him," Shaw said. "He plays like it. He brings his whole body into a hit. He's learned a lot about football."

He also enjoys the action on defense.

"I just always wanted to play defensive. You don't need the ball to make a play. You can make a big play on every play essentially. I'd rather knock someone down or get a pick than catch a touchdown pass."

Notes: Stanford is ranked first nationally in scoring defense (10.0), second in total defense (238.0), fourth in passing defense (138.2) and ninth in rushing defense (99.8) . . . Arizona State is ninth in passing offense (340.4) and 13th in scoring offense (41.2) . . . The Cardinal has held opponents under 30 points in each of its past 29 games, the nation's longest such streak, and has held opponents to 20 or fewer points in 13 straight regular-season games . . . The visiting team is 14-4 in Pac-12 games this season. "It's amazing. It's crazy," Shaw said. "This conference is tough. You can't say anybody is that much better on a given day." . . . Players were given two days off following Stanford's win over the Cougars and the coaching staff took one day off . . . Tight end Austin Hooper was named to the John Mackey Award midseason watch list on Monday.

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