I always wanted to be around football

Alabama's newest graduate assistant is definitely happy to be back at his alma mater, training for a career as a football coach. But for the first several months after he left Tuscaloosa, former All-SEC center Paul Hogan gave pro football everything he had. <br><br>"I've always wanted to play football as long as my body would let me play," Hogan said. "But my backup plan was to coach."

Hogan arrived on campus in 1996 as an undersized offensive lineman. One of the last players signed that year, many predicted he'd never play a down of college football--much less start. Back then he was barely 240 pounds soaking wet, but Hogan spent the next five years building himself into an all-star player. "I like to be the underdog," he related. "I like for people to think that I don't have what it takes, when I really do."

Hogan talks to quick guard Justin Smiley in the Indoor Practice Facility. After giving pro football his best shot, the former Tide center is pursuing a career in coaching.

The Valdosta, Georgia native ended up starting for the better part of four seasons, and Hogan's hand and footprints are now enshrined at the foot of Denny Chimes, honoring his role as captain his senior year. But despite having earned all-conference recognition two separate times, once again few people gave him any chance of playing at the next level.

But Hogan was determined to give pro football his best shot. "I went to the New York Giants as a free agent, but I didn't pass their physical. They found a stress fracture in my back and said they couldn't take a chance on me. Then I was at home for a week when the Oakland Raiders called."

Pro teams commonly over-sign free agents basically to be used as cannon fodder at summer training camps. Hogan understood the odds, but he didn't hesitate boarding the next plane for the West Coast. "People have had me buried a couple of times in my career, but that's just life," he explained. "You've got to prove yourself every day. Nobody cares what you did in the past. I've always liked it when people said I couldn't do something. That's what drives me."

"I was with the Raiders for 10 weeks."

Even for drafted players with fat contracts and a big signing bonus in the bank, pro training camps are tough. But for players like Hogan just hoping for a chance, the going is frankly brutal. "You're pretty much there for free anyway," he explained. "They just pay you for the days you're in camp. It's your choice to be there, but you haven't signed a contract. If you get hurt, that's it. They'll give you a settlement, but that's it.

Hogan helps Offensive Line Coach Jim Bob Helduser at the recent summer camp. His main responsibility this season will be breaking down film for the offensive staff, but Hogan understands that graduate assistants basically work wherever they're needed at the time.

"You don't get big money until you actually make the team and sign a contract."

"Pro football is pretty tough," Hogan continued. "There's nothing personal up there. It's a business. When you get up there you've got to prove yourself every day. They'll know right off the bat. It'll only take a couple of practices to see if you've got what it takes, and they'll get rid of you if you don't. I think they saw something, but I was competing with three All-Pros.

"It's a different world up there."

Hogan describes being overmatched as he attempted to block players outweighing him by as much as 50 pounds, but he stuck it out as long as he possibly could.

Then, the dreaded message came. "The head coach wants to see you." And just like that his dream of playing in "The League" was done.

"It hit me when I was on the plane coming back from Oakland. 'What do I do now? Football is all I've ever trained for since I was 10 years old.'

"Everybody wants to play in the NFL for ten or 15 years, but that didn't happen for me. I always wanted to be around football, and the next best thing is being a coach."

Very much a "self-made" man as an athlete, through hard work in the weight room (and at the dining room table) Hogan got his weight up to more than 290 pounds his senior season. But since giving up football he has rapidly lost back to his more natural weight of 250.

Hogan would have loved to start off immediately at Alabama, but because of his time with the Oakland Raiders he was late in applying. The 2001 season was spent at the University of Georgia, helping out his former position coach Neil Callaway. In the spring Franchione brought him back to Tuscaloosa, with the original intent of working in the Alabama weight room. But when Joe Dan Rogers took a job with the Atlanta Falcons--allowing Woodrow Lowe to take over his old position--Hogan moved upstairs to help out with the Tide offense.

"Quality control graduate assistant is my title," Hogan related. "But we do a little of everything. Basically, whatever goes wrong, it's my fault. They pay for our school and our housing and food, so it's a good deal. Right now I'm breaking down tapes on next year's opponents. You break down all 11 games and get their tendencies. Technically I report to Coach North, but really any of the full-time guys are my boss."

As coaching role models Hogan lists Gene Stallings and Nick Hyder, a legendary figure on the Georgia prep scene and Hogan's head coach in high school. His long-term goal is to become a head coach himself. But for now he's content to listen and learn, soaking up as much knowledge as possible.

Hogan talked about his work load. "Everybody has to pay their dues. I talked to the lady at the MBA program, and she said they don't want their students to work for more than 15 hours in a week.

"I told her that come fall, I'd be doing 15 hours on Sundays alone."

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