Hard-working Hoffman leads tough defense

David La

Sean Hoffman’s voice stands out among the others during practice at Rod Wallace Field.
Usually the linebacker’s deep voice is heard calling out the defenses. Other times he employs his pipes to change the alignment.
And sometimes Hoffman must use his voice to convey his thoughts about his teammates’ play. All in a day’s work for the Gophers coach on the field.
“Hoff’s a tough, hard-nosed kid that everybody respects,” defensive coordinator David Gibbs said. “Because they know every time he steps on the field he’s going to play hard.
“Everybody respects Hoffman and any time that happens on a football team, you know the kid has got some special qualities about him.”
Hoffman has earned the respect of coaches and players alike — the latter sometimes coming grudgingly.
“Whether we like it or not, we respect Sean because he goes out there and gives it his all,” linebacker Curtese Poole said. “Some of the guys get a little mad because Sean can get real verbal out there to keep the huddle under control.”
This season, the 6-foot-3, 244-pound junior from Fargo, N.D., finds himself plugging holes all over the field and depth chart.
Injuries to Poole, Justin Hall and Astein Osei put the services of the versatile Hoffman at a premium.
In Minnesota’s schemes, Hoffman is playing both outside and inside linebacker, with appearances in the nickel formations as well.
Gibbs said Hoffman struggled early in his career when asked to drop into coverage. While certainly better this year, Hoffman acknowledges that he’s still learning.
“You have your up weeks, and you have your down weeks,” Hoffman said. “But I think if you look at it as a whole, it’s been a pretty successful year for me.”
Statistically, Hoffman is somewhat overshadowed on his own team. While safety Tyrone Carter leads the team in tackles this season, Karon Riley in sacks and Jimmy Wyrick in interceptions, only one Gophers defender earned Big Ten player of the week honors: Hoffman.
In week 4 at Northwestern, Hoffman tallied 12 tackles, including five tackles-for-loss, and a sack. The blue-collar defender’s secret? Playing outdoors.
“I’ve played really well on the road, but I haven’t played quite as well at home; I don’t know what the deal is,” Hoffman said. “I like playing outside, I haven’t really gotten used to playing in the dome even though it’s my third year. I wish they could take the roof off that place, I’d probably play better at home.”
While Hoffman longs for fall days of visible breath and grass stains, he’s known for his unwavering approach to game day — dome or no dome.
Against Indiana last weekend, Hoffman managed to chase the fleet-footed Antwaan Randle El out of bounds for a 5-yard sack.
Later in the game, Hoffman became clearly hobbled between plays with a bad ankle. Because the team is thin at linebacker, however, Hoffman gritted it out.
“He’s just a tough kid,” coach Glen Mason said. “He’s a blue-collar guy. He’s a great-attitude guy. Football is very, very important to him.”
Identity is also of great importance to Hoffman, who was not born with superb athletic ability. He does not take an “Aw shucks, I dunno” attitude to his accomplishments, or the performance of the defense as a whole.
“That’s one thing we pride ourselves on: playing hard,” Hoffman said. “You won’t find another defense in the country that plays as hard as we do.”

David La Vaque covers football and basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]