Former Husky Dave Hoffmann: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

By happenstance, Dave Hoffmann's induction last October into the Husky Hall of Fame dovetailed with the release of a book detailing his stellar playing career. The book was called The Husky Hitman: The Life and Times of a Linebacker in the Golden Age of Washington Football. Dave and I collaborated on it and laughed abundantly as we rehashed stories from the good old days. Stories not just from the three Rose Bowls and National Championship, but also with behind-the-scenes yarns of Husky Football's rise from mediocrity to monumental.  

The book project culminated in five events held at book stores and sports bars throughout the Seattle area. From Barnes and Noble, University Book Store, Third Place Books and the Taki Tiki sports bar in downtown Edmonds. Recently, I asked Dave what that experience was like for him.          

"I really enjoyed all the book signings," Hoffmann said. "It was really great to reconnect with the fans. Some of those people I had met before and it was great to reconnect. Guys who you don't see for several years but then pick up right where you left off.  And there were also some fans who were really young back in those days or folks that are older now in their years. Those days meant something special to all of them.

"The one thing I always appreciated when I was playing was the constant support," he said. "The fans were very knowledgeable about football and were very appreciative of teams that were doing the little things right. The fans are still looking for that."

With newly remodeled Husky Stadium set to be unveiled August 31st vs. Boise State, fans are looking for brighter times and bigger things. Yearning to finally see this team rise up and emerge from the dark shadow cast by the Oregon Ducks.      

"What's great about The Husky Hitman, and about some of the other books you've done, is that they paint a real good picture of the things we did back then," Hoffmann said. "Just like history and how the military learns from things that have happened before, good and bad. I don't ever mean to compare military to football, but in terms of competition, strategy and work ethic. Football is a grinding, tough, tough sport. I call it the sport of gladiators and it is. The current Huskies can learn a lot from previous days. Even from the personal stories. When I was playing, I loved it when former Huskies would come around to talk to me or when I listened to them as they spoke to us in a group. To learn some of their values and what it meant to them and how they laid it on the line to become successful.

"Each team is going to have its own thumbprint," he said. "But there are some intangibles -- the work ethic and preparation. It's important for the guys to hear, `hey we were once 18-22 year olds just like you, and we were homesick and linked up with our teammates and this is what we did.' To see and feel the reality of what you can accomplish. It's not just a dream that's faraway out there, it's something attainable. What separates teams is what they're willing to sacrifice to get there. How important it is to them and what they're willing to do. Not everyone is willing to climb to the top of the mountain. It gets tough. Some people are happy just being halfway up the mountain, or happy just being on the mountain.

"There are a few special groups of guys that keep their heads down and keep climbing and climbing until they get to the top. It takes a lot of sacrifice and dedication. The guys really need to stop and make a decision of what they're willing to give up and willing to do. You need players to get up and lead and go. And let everyone see this is what we're doing. You'd be surprised how many guys will jump on and go with you."  

Around this point in the conversation, I unearthed an old quote written by Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times back in 1963. Under coach Jim Owens, the Huskies had just played in their third Rose Bowl in five years and boasted a widespread reputation for toughness. I read it aloud to Dave: “I won’t say Owens gets the hungriest football players in the west each year, but if they were in the Roman Coliseum the lions wouldn’t come out.”

"That's cool man, that's really cool," he said. "That's the mentality. That's it. It's got to come from within. I do think that when you look and see that it has been done before, even from that many years ago, and that we were on top for years. It's not about playing your best for one game and being excited for it. It's a long term commitment. It's not for everybody."

One current Husky I asked Dave about was sophomore linebacker Shaq Thompson. As a freshman in 2012, Thompson earned Honorable Mention All Pac-12 honors. I speculated that he might be the hardest-hitting Husky since Tony Parrish and Ink Aleaga from the mid to late 1990s.  

"It seems like he's a player," Hoffmann said. "He enjoys being out there and he's got passion. He's one of those guys that can be an example to the other players about how to turn to the ball. Guys like him that are always sprinting to the ball and trying to get a shot on the ball carrier. Or to be there to scoop up the ball if it comes out. He's now a little older with a little more experience under his belt. Whether he wants to or not, he's got to accept the role as leader and lead from the front. From what I've seen of him, he's definitely got some potential there.

"It's important for guys like that to stress the importance of the scheme that the coaches are putting in. A big part of being successful on defense is understanding what everyone is doing on the field. There's a mental part of the game that's oftentimes overlooked. Just running to the ball and doing those things are great, but if you really want to be successful you need to know what you're doing. You got to know how to read and know how to best perform the particular coverage you're in, the best angle to take, things like that. That comes from being hard on yourself, demanding more of yourself. Paying attention in the meetings and making sure you understand things as well as the coach knows them. I always felt like there was no reason I shouldn't understand what we were doing any less than the coach. Our coaches wanted that and expected it. I know (former defensive coordinator) Jim Lambright expected us to know it like him and he taught us like that.  

"You oftentimes see breakdowns on defense, and I'm not just talking about the Huskies but teams in general," Hoffmann said. "A lot of those breakdowns can be alleviated with concentration and work during the week (leading up to game day)."

Our conversation concluded with me asking Dave his thoughts on current UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.  

"We talked on the sideline during practice," Hoffmann said. "He's a great guy and knows what he's doing. He knows a lot about defense and has come into a situation where he's taking the players he has and is putting them into the best scheme for them to succeed. He's the kind of coach that can do that and isn't locked into one style of defense. I think eventually the Huskies will have a defensive scheme that is their main go-to. But he will do that based on their strengths.

"I also like Peter Sirmon," Hoffmann said in reference to UW's linebacker coach. "I had a chance to talk with him too. He's got some of that old-school backer in him. He talks about hitting from the tips of your toes to the tip of your forehead and using your body as a weapon. He's out there teaching it. He's got to get the guys who want to do it and enjoy that part of the game. I'm excited to see what's going to happen this year."