Normally an athlete needs a few games to get into a rhythm after missing a period of time, so expectations weren’t exactly high for Virginia Tech center Brock Hoffman when he returned to But Hoffman mashed the pedal, pegged the tachometer and throttled over, through, and around any defender in his path during his debut as a Hokie. His play led Tech to 314 yards rushing and a 45-24 defeat of NC State. His reward came when the ACC named him its Offensive Lineman of the Week.
“I obviously like getting those accolades, but it’s not the end all, be all of how I feel that I’ve performed week in and week out,” Hoffman said. “At the end of the day, I know how I play, and my teammates know how I play, so I try to block it out. I just want to focus on getting the win. That’s all that matters.”
Arguably no Virginia Tech player appreciated his blessings this past Thanksgiving more than did Hoffmann. A list of his blessings started with his parents, who continuously influence his decisions. His father, a one-time college coach, started him in the game of football and now has his son on the precipice of a potential professional career playing the game that he loves.
It seems odd for Hoffman to think that when he reminisces on his first football experiences. His freshman year of high school, he weighed 180 pounds and looked more like a soccer player than the Hokies’ hulking center.
“That spring, I started working out with my dad in the basement of my house,” Hoffman said. “We had an old, old bench rack, where the bar only weighed about 10 pounds, and that’s where I started lifting. After I started lifting in the basement with him, I grew to about 6-1 and weighed about 225 pounds going into my sophomore year. About midway through that sophomore season, I knew I could play college football.
“My senior year, I was 6-4 and 300 pounds, but it all started back when me and my dad were lifting in the basement,” Hoffman said. “I started to grow, get stronger, have some confidence, and that’s when I knew I would be able to play at the next level.”
His father helped him find his passion as a football player and cultivated in him the desire to get into coaching when football runs its course. But his mom holds a truly special place in his heart.
After Hoffman graduated from high school in Statesville, N.C., he signed a letter-of-intent to play for Coastal Carolina. At roughly that point, his life started taking more twists and turns than a NASCAR road course, starting with his mom’s illness.
In 2017 – Hoffman’s first year at Coastal – Stephanie Hoffman was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the base of her brain. The tumor turned out to be non-cancerous, but she needed surgery to remove it and suffered from its effects (both the tumor and the surgery). Brock Hoffman frequently made trips home to check on his mother.
With the eight-hour round trip draining him, Hoffman made the decision early last year to transfer from Coastal Carolina to Virginia Tech to be near his ailing mother. The move to Blacksburg cut his return trips to Statesville in half.
Plus, he had established relationships with Tech’s coaches during the recruiting process. So that made his decision much easier.
“There’s always been a huge football tradition at Virginia Tech, and deep down, I have always wanted to go to a school where football was the thing,” Hoffman said. “I have always grown up as a football guy, the football kid, and I just wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than myself. I wanted to go somewhere where football was the main thing in town.”
But the NCAA threw a roadblock Hoffman’s way that prevented him from playing right away. He needed a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible to play immediately, but NCAA officials looked at his case and denied his application primarily for two reasons: he wasn’t transferring to a school within 100 miles of his home, and his mother’s condition was improving. Hoffman appealed that decision. Three days before the season opener at Boston College, NCAA officials denied his appeal, forcing him to sit out last season.
The case received national scrutiny and portrayed the NCAA in a negative light. Media members chimed in on the perceived unfairness of it all, including ESPN’s Jay Bilas. The NCAA also received criticism for the length of time that it took to make the final decision.
Bitter at the time, Hoffman has moved past all of it, focusing now on this season’s final games and his future.
“In the end, it was frustrating having to go through all that and still not being able to play,” he said. “But I just kept my head down and kept working. Once everything got officially denied, I knew I had time to focus on myself and work on myself.
“I took that year and really tried to learn different things about nutrition and push myself physically within the weight room and conditioning,” Hoffman said. “I really wanted to take that year and use it to better myself.”
His role forced him to humble himself. He wasn’t a starter on an ACC squad last season, but instead was a member of the offense scout team that ran the opposing team’s offense each week in practice to prepare Tech’s defense for Saturdays. He spent game days watching from the stands. He lifted weights with freshmen and walk-ons, all things not really befitting of a guy who started all 24 games of his career at Coastal Carolina.
But he refused to look in the rear-view mirror.
“I just put my head down and worked really hard,” Hoffman said. “I tried to grab guys to work on extra stuff and show them I was going to lead by example. Having those three months [in the summer of 2019] definitely made it easier once we got into the season when I was trying to be a leader when I wasn’t playing. I was dying to be out there on that field with them, but I couldn’t.”
The latest part of his life’s roller coaster ride took place this spring when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, canceling spring practices and forcing players to work out on their own over the summer. Hoffman found a way to stay in shape, using his high school’s weight room and getting creative on his family’s 36-acre property outside of Statesville.
Of course, he was forced to wait an additional two weeks to make his debut when Tech’s first two games were postponed because of COVID-related issues. He finally experienced a game day as a player on Sept. 26 when the Hokies played NC State at Lane Stadium.
“It was just fun to step onto the field with the guys,” Hoffman said. “We worked really hard and battled a lot of unseen enemies, like COVID. Being able to step out on the field with that staff and those guys on the team really meant a lot.”
Players love playing in front of big crowds, but the lack of fans this season forced them to bring their own energy to the field. Some players struggle with that, but not Hoffman. He said before the season that, “We’re going to find out who really loves football.
“Some people do it for the fans, and some people do it for the love of the game,” he said. “That’s what you have to do. You have to do it for the love of the game and the love of your teammates.”
Hoffman probably has more of an appreciation for his sport than most of the Hokies’ football players. For starters, he knows how quickly things change, considering his mother’s health situation, and of course, the current COVID-19 pandemic. No one anticipated this situation in March.
But he remains overwhelmingly grateful. A season has taken place, regardless of how odd it has looked, or how the Hokies have struggled. His mom continues to make progress in her recovery, he continues to do well academically, he feels great, and his play on the field shows it. All-ACC recognition is not out of the question.
This Thanksgiving, he was thankful for all of that. And he was also thankful for a future that appears very bright, one which he is finally pursuing at nothing less than full speed.