Jake Hoffman is hungry, and he’s not talking about lunch.
“I haven’t played a football game in almost two years, and I’m ready to be unleashed,” said Hoffman, a two-way star at North Central High School who was redshirted last season at Eastern Washington.
“I’m not going to lie: I thought I’d get some reps last year. I was going from getting the ball every play to not playing at all,” Hoffman said Friday morning in the Eagles’ second day of fall camp.
It’s a story repeated thousands of times a year on every college campus. Says Eastern coach Beau Baldwin: “Every one of these guys came in here being ‘the man,’ and now they have to do a lot of grinding and learning – that’s part of the growing process.”
That meant hours in the weight room, the film room and on the field – all with no immediate reward.
Hoffman is one of 10 returning redshirt freshmen, and one of several who have a chance to make a big impact this year. He’s listed at the top of the depth chart at one cornerback spot, though he’s understands it’s an open competition. Three other redshirts are in the mix at corner, including Moe Roberts, Victor Gamboa and Keonte White.
“I’m excited about what they’re going to bring,” said Baldwin, who was talking about all of the second-year players.
That’s also true at linebacker, which a year ago was the thinnest position on the team and begged for some fresh faces. In what was admittedly a close call, Baldwin and his staff played true freshmen Albert Havili and opted to redshirt Jake Gall and Joe Kreifels.
It was all for the good of the program and the players, but Gall admits that the redshirt year “Took it out of me for a while. But, I learned a lot behind the seniors – it’s a really big advantage for us to watch and see how they prepared,” said Gall, a 6-foot-1, 215-pounder from Cle Elum, Washington.
Gall and Kreifels had a big hand in the Eagles’ success last year, earning co-defensive Scout Players of the Year last year.
Perhaps the best example was set in 2012, when Cooper Kupp arrived in Cheney, full of promise – and was redshirted behind a deep talented wide receiver corps.
But as Baldwin recalls, Kupp approached every week of his redshirt season as if he would play, and the payoff was a breakout season that astonished everyone in college football: 1,691 yards, 21 touchdowns and first-team All-America honors.
Said receiver Nic Sblendorio, a redshirt last year: “It was good to watch the veterans to see how they attacked the game – not just the technique, but how to prepare.”
The learning curve is steeper for some. Kreifels said his football IQ “jumped about 90 percent” during his redshirt year.
“I’m glad I redshirted, because it got me 100 percent better,” said Kreifels, a 5-9, 205-pounder from Modesto, California.
The reward? More work, but now with a clear chance to see the field, even if only on special teams.
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