RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A high-powered offense, with speedy running backs and strong-armed quarterbacks – assets annually found on the Cleveland High football teams – is basically only as good as the front five linemen.
Without pass-blocking or their hole-opening abilities, not to mention a clean snap from the center to the quarterback, yardage is lost, passes don’t get to the receivers and QBs get sacked.
Behind those front five, aka the guys in the trenches and the “big uglies” – two tackles, two guards and the center, with an occasional tight end or two – there has to be a competent offensive line coach.
For the Storm, that’s Jason Hoffman.
“Coach Hoffman has been a vital part of our continued success at a Cleveland,” CHS coach Heath Ridenour said. “I hired him in 2012 and he and I work so well together — we complement each other very well.
“Coach Hoffman has an incredible eye for detail with his players. They are coached hard and they understand exactly what is expected of them,” Ridenour added. “Coach Hoffman’s approach is respected by his players and he helps each player become the best player they can be.”
Hoffman played football as a freshman and sophomore at Taos High School, then played at Heritage High (Class of 1991) in Littleton, Colo., after the family moved north.
He attended Western State and played two years on the offensive line for the Gunnison, Colo., college.
Following college, he worked in a few New Mexico casinos. Deciding he wanted to get back in the game and be a coach, he got a job as offensive coordinator at Atrisco Heritage Academy. When fellow Jaguars coach Angel Castillo got a coaching job (varsity softball) at Cleveland High for the 2013 season, Hoffman accompanied him and found work with Ridenour on the sideline in 2012.
He starts seeing the varsity linemen as they’re on the freshmen team.
As important as strength and technique are for linemen, Hoffman said the most-important ingredient and part of that all-important “process” at CHS is attitude.
“It’s great having Henry Hattises (former Storm now playing for Stanford), but you don’t always have Henry Hattis,” he said. “If the guy’s willing to put in the work, he’s going to get better, so it’s definitely that attitude. And we preach, preach, preach we’re going to be physical and aggressive and we’re gonna work hard.
“The kids that embrace that going to be better, one way or the other, then we start working on technique,” he said. “The physical stuff and the strength will always help. … Our freshmen this year are very coachable. Last year, we had a lot of talent but they were kinda doing their own thing. Eventually they get it.”
There’s more than just coaching and teaching – he teaches math — for Hoffman, there’s also cooking.
“I cook the kids pancakes on game day,” he said. “Every week they have a goal, (like) how many knockdowns does the team get. We mark ’em all down, on Friday morning we get all the linemen come in here and I cook ’em pancakes and just kind of build that camaraderie and that, ‘Hey, I understand no one else recognizes you, but I’m going to.'”
One of the biggest differences between coaching at AHA and CHS, besides the postseason appearances, is support from the administration – “The support here is unbelievable.”
Another component for success on the field, Hoffman said, beside a belly full of pancakes, is “Be excited about being a lineman – I ask them to be excited about it and take pride in what we do. I think that’s a big thing that we teach and preach – go and knock that guy down. Be proud of what you’re doing up front.”
By the time a Storm player is a senior, he should have all the tools – and the great attitude — he needs to succeed.
“Seniors just get it – I don’t know if it’s a sense of urgency or physical maturity – it’s hard to replace a senior, whether he‘s returning or not,” he said. “Our center this year is going to be a senior – he’s never started a varsity game, he’s had very few varsity reps – but at this point, I think I can totally count on this kid.”
The Storm have just one returning offensive lineman.
“Last year was like the miracle season up front; we had no injuries on the offensive line,” he said.
“I have high expectations and know that I care,” he said. “I’m tough on them, but they understand that I have their back … as much as they can.”
In addition to success on the field, Hoffman said he enjoys working for Ridenour.
“I think we work together well, as far as football-wise,” he said. “He’s a very family-oriented guy; family’s important to me. I’m very happy here at Cleveland.”
(BE SURE TO GRAB THE AUG. 4 EDITION OF THE OBSERVER, WHERE YOU’LL FIND A FEATURE ON FOUR FORMER STORM STANDOUTS WHO ARE NOW ASSISTANT COACHES FOR THE FOOTBALL PROGRAM.)