week five of the high school season, I ventured to southern Mahoning County on
Friday night to see West Branch host a Northeastern Buckeye Conference rival
from Carroll County, Carrollton High School. Of course, Buckeye commitment
Chad Hoobler was the young man I was making the relatively short trip from
Youngstown to see.
At first glance, Hoobler passed the look test when I went down on the field prior to the game. I've met Chad previously, so I had an idea of what his physical appearance would be like, and he looked even better than I thought he would in pads.
After a bit of a slow start for Hoobler and Carrollton (they trailed West Branch 13-0 at one point), he caught fire when he grabbed a 6-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone on a real nice effort to go get the football.
Immediately after that, Hoobler seemed to turn it up a notch from both sides of the football. He came up with an impressive speed sack on defense shortly after the touchdown, and then he added a 52-yard touchdown grab when he outleaped a defender around the 25 and raced in for the score. He showed good speed racing down the left sideline.
The Warriors from Carrollton were tied with the Warriors from West Branch at 20 late in the game as Hoobler tried to play on a bum ankle he suffered near the beginning of the fourth quarter. It rendered him nearly useless as he tried to continue playing on both sides of the ball down the stretch. A late field goal by Carrollton earned them a hard-fought 23-20 victory.
"(The ankle sprain) was disappointing but it's fine," said Hoobler after the game. "Even though I got the injury, I still wanted to be out on the field. I told them to get me off as fast as they could so I could get back on as fast as I could. It's not a big deal."
With his ankle taped over the outside of his shoe, Hoobler limped around at middle linebacker as Carrollton tried to keep West Branch off the scoreboard again. He was replaced in certain situations on both sides of the ball down the stretch.
"He had a high-ankle sprain last year, same ankle," said Carrollton head coach Barry Goettemoeller. "He's been a marked man all year long, but he just keeps making plays and coming after it and coming after it, and that's what you expect from a kid like Chad. He's a tough kid that does not want to come out of the football game.
"It was a Warrior-like performance, and that's the way he's been all year long. He's been relentless, and when the chips have been down, he's found a way to get not only himself but his teammates up, and that's the sign of a good football player."
The injury aside, Hoobler, despite getting off to a slow start, dominated at times on both sides of the ball after coming off of a school record-setting, 28-tackle performance a week earlier.
"He has the whole package; that's the thing that's great about Chad," said Goettemoeller of his rather mild-mannered team leader. "He's had a slow start in other games. He had a slow start last week against Minerva and ended up with 28 tackles. But the most important thing about Chad is that he knows how to finish, and that's very, very important. As he goes through his career, he'll learn how to get himself motivated every week, but the bottom line is that he knows how to finish, and that's important. That's the sign of a winner."
Offensively, Hoobler catches the ball well and he blocks well, and at 6-5, 235, he has great speed. He lined up on the far left side as an outside receiver when he snagged his 52-yard TD.
"That's what's making our offense so good right now," Goettemoeller said. "We ask Chad to collapse the whole right side of the line and he does it. And then we ask him to go out and run a pattern, and he catches everything that we throw to him. So that's a tough combination. You get a play-action pass, and he's collapsing the heck out of the line, and all of the sudden, he's out there in the flat, so he really makes our offense go. He's just a tremendous fighter. He's a great kid, and I love him to death."
And on defense, Goettemoeller called Hoobler the "heart and soul" of the unit.
"He's not the most vocal kid in the world, but our kids see his desire and his passion and his instincts for the ball, and it just makes them better around him," the coach said. "He's all over the field. They run counters, and he's back side. They run power, and he's right there in the hole. Our coaches have done a great job of putting him in position to make plays, but we can't take a whole lot of credit for him.
"He's a special football player, and he covers a lot of ground. He can recognize when it's run and recognize the pass, and when he recognizes pass, he's back right now in his hook zone. And he covers a lot of space at 6-5 with a big wing span."
I asked Goettemoeller where he thought the already two time All-Ohio defender's future position would be at on the next level. From my vantage point, he performed stellar at times on both sides of the ball. I really liked him more in that game however at tight end. But he was a bad boy on defense at times too.
"The thing is that he's got such a defensive mentality," Goettemoeller said. "But he's got tremendous hands, and he's a strong kid, and he can play on either side of the ball. I think it depends on where the need is because he can play either way."
Former Buckeye great and Carrollton assistant coach Kirk Lowdermilk was happy to shed some light on the kind of player that he thinks Ohio State is getting in Hoobler.
"I think he's getting better every day, and he's got a lot to learn about the game, but athletically they will enjoy what they're getting," he said. "He's a very good athlete, he's a very fierce competitor, he's tough, he's a hitter, but it's just going to take him a little while to figure out some stuff about the game. But I think they're going to get a very, very good player and they'll be happy with him."
Although he's being recruited by Ohio State as a tight end, even Lowdermilk isn't certain about what Hoobler's eventual position will be in college.
"I think that's to be determined. They're going to have to make that decision," he said. "You've seen him run and catch the ball; he can get out and run and catch the ball. And his blocking is getting better and better and better, but he's still got a lot to learn as far as playing leverage football. But he'll learn that in a hurry when he's going against 290 pound guys instead of 210 pound guys."
Of course, tight ends have to be able to block at Ohio State, and Lowdermilk, being a former offensive player himself, is excited about Hoobler's potential as a blocker.
"He'll be able to block," he said. "Like I've said, he's got a lot to learn, but I've tried to give him a good starting point as far as playing leverage and footwork, but he's got a lot to learn still."
And the intangibles are just as exciting with Hoobler.
"He's has tremendous character; he makes great decisions all of the time," Goettemoeller said. "He's a leader everywhere, on the field and in the classroom, and our kids have really responded to that."
At 2-3, Carrollton's chances for the postseason aren't the greatest, but a victory at West Branch helped make the season brighter for Hoobler and his mates.
"We got killed here two years ago in my sophomore year, like 55-0, so this is a big win for us tonight," he said. "So now we're back in the race for the NBC, so we'll see what goes on from here."