PULLMAN – When Alex Hoffman-Ellis committed to Washington State in the summer of 2008, information about the Moorpark College freshman was hard to come by.
Then someone found a video on YouTube of Hoffman-Ellis on the Raiders’ kickoff coverage team.
The video was grainy and dark. But one thing stood out. As the ball was kicked and the Moorpark players took off down the field, one guy surged ahead. A yard, two yards. By the time the ball came down, the one player was almost 10 yards ahead of the pack.
It was Hoffman-Ellis.
Then, as now, an outside linebacker.
“I was pretty much the fastest on every team I played on,” Hoffman-Ellis said recently. “In baseball, I was one of the two fastest. It was me and Chad Peppars, who played (defensive back) over at Oregon, we played on the same Little League team. Our teammates would want us to race after every practice.”
Hoffman-Ellis may not be the fastest Cougar, but he’s in the top five. And he’s the only guy in that group that teammate Travis Long also mentions as one of WSU strongest players.
In his one year at Moorpark, Hoffman-Ellis not only played football but also was on the track team.
He threw the javelin. He long jumped. And he ran the leadoff leg for the 4x100 relay.
“I didn’t really have good 100 speed, but I got out (of) the blocks and I give you a solid 60 to 80,” he said, “and then the hip flexors would start to tighten up. But I would be there (at the handoff) for sure.”
Hoffman-Ellis’ speed helped him survive on the football field, as he came to WSU a relative neophyte, with only one year of high school competition – he attended Santa Monica and Hamilton highs and didn’t play until his senior year for a variety of reasons – and one of JC under his pads.
“In the beginning (my speed) definitely helped me make up for the fact I couldn’t read plays,” he said. “I would make up for lack of recognition with catching up to the play.”
But Hoffman-Ellis understands speed isn’t enough for someone who wants to play football for a living. So he worked hard in the weight room to get stronger, in front of a video screen to react faster and in the classroom to understand more. It’s worked.
“Alex is fast and he plays fast,” said WSU defensive coordinator Chris Ball. “And you can see that with him. But he’s a more experienced guy too. … He’s done a good job in the weight room and made himself a really good football player.”
He’s also learned that no matter how fast he is, there is always someone faster. Especially in the Pac-12.
Last season against Oregon, Hoffman-Ellis began to blitz, only to spy running back LaMichael James in the right flat. Hoffman-Ellis threw on the brakes and tried to catch the Heisman Trophy finalist as he caught a short pass with only open field in front of him. It was a futile effort, though Hoffman-Ellis ran for more than 60 yards.
“That’s just a fast dude right there,” Hoffman-Ellis said of James. “There’s nothing else to say. He’s fast.”
And someone running away from him was not a usual occurrence.
“If I’m chasing your ass, I’m going to get you,” Hoffman-Ellis said, laughing.
Plays like that keep Hoffman-Ellis working on his speed in the offseason, not content to let his God-given talent rust. When he can, he runs on sand dunes near his parents’ home Los Angeles doing sprints, bounding up the hills, walking backward, anything to gain an inch or two of speed. It’s something he’s done since high school.
“It’s tough as hell,” Hoffman-Ellis said. “I just did it when I went back home right before camp.”
There’s another video memory of Hoffman-Ellis, and this one comes from his time at WSU. It’s the 2009 game against … heck, let him describe it.
“It was against Oregon State in ’09 I guess,” he said. “I was lined up away from the student section (in Martin Stadium) and they threw like a screen or something to James Rodgers on the student section side. He was running up the sideline. I caught him from the other side of the field going up the sideline.
“I guess that was one of those times when I kind of surprised myself.”
|Sept. 3||Idaho State, 2 p.m.|
|Sept. 10||UNLV, 2 p.m.|
|Sept. 17||at San Diego State, 3:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 1||at Colorado, TBA|
|Oct. 8||at UCLA, TBA|
|Oct. 15||Stanford, TBA|
|Oct. 22||Oregon State in Seattle, TBA|
|Oct. 29||at Oregon, TBA|
|Nov. 5||at California, TBA|
|Nov. 12||Arizona State, TBA|
|Nov. 19||Utah, TBA|
|Nov. 26||at Washington|