Hoffmann Optimistic on Team's Future

Dave Hoffmann is in town this week, having flown in from Washington DC. This past Sunday, he was traveling eastbound on I-90, heading toward Spokane with his 8-year old son, to see his good friend and former UW teammate Steve Emtman. When I reached Hoffmann by phone, he was in good spirits.

Dave Hoffmann was an All-American linebacker who played at Washington from 1988-1992. He played in 3 Rose Bowls and was named the Pac-10's Defensive Player of the Year for 1992. With that kind of team history, it was hard getting our minds around the fact that Washington hasn't been to a bowl game since 2002. But Hoffmann quickly switched gears to discuss the Dawgs under first-year coach Steve Sarkisian.

"I definitely think the Huskies are on their way up," Hoffmann said. "The last few years have been frustrating. Everybody knew that we weren't going to do 180 and get us back to the dream season. It's a long, hard process. I think when the players look back years from now they're going to look at this as when the boat started to get turned around.

"It's the hunt," Hoffmann said. "Someday either next year or a few years from now, Washington will return to the Rose Bowl. And the thing that the players and coaches will look back on is the struggle and the hunt to get back into it. The grind, the hard work, the intensity, the fun and the pain. They're going to look back at that stuff and they will remember this time."

As the Huskies prepare for Apple Cup week with a 3-7 record, it's hard for Husky Nation to see past the lack of victories—especially since the September win over USC raised hopes so high.

"We're going to get this big boat turned around," Hoffmann said. "You don't turn around a big ship on a dime—it takes some time. But I see the signs that we're getting there. Overall, at least from what I can see on TV, the guys are playing with more passion. That's what guys control. They control how hard and how smart they play. Their attitude and how hard they play and what kind of teammates they are. They're now putting in the effort toward those things, and that's what you want to see from the guys.

"The players they have now are going to get better," he said. "And if I was a young kid back in San Jose or somewhere in California, I'd be jacked about getting up to Seattle and playing for Coach Sark and Coach Holt. Because this is the future of the Pac-10 up here."

Hoffmann remembered back to his days in 1988 when he arrived as a redshirt freshman from San Jose. Everyone in his incoming class felt like they could take Washington to a new level.

"We felt like we could make a difference," he said. "And we were excited to make a difference. That's why I say that this is an exciting time to get this thing turned around. Right now, my son Jaeger and I are driving on I-90 heading for Spokane to go hang out with Emtman. I was just telling Jaeger how during my redshirt year we freshmen didn't travel with the team for road games. Emtman and I would leave Friday after class and we would drive to Spokane and Cheney. We would talk the whole way about how excited we were and also how much we wish we were playing. We were chomping at the bit. That's the way all the young guys felt, especially on defense, that we were chomping at the bit. We knew we were going to take every opportunity to get better and push each other.

"I've got the feeling that that's the atmosphere around the program right now," Hoffmann said. "The coaches are going to recruit hungry guys who are excited to play and haven't reached their potential yet but will reach it here in the next couple of years.

"I've said before that nastiness is something that you can't teach but have to recruit. That's definitely something that (former teammates) Jaime Fields, James Clifford and Emtman and all those guys on defense had. It also creates a special bond when you see that in guys and you appreciate it. It's an unspoken thing. But that's the beautiful thing about football—there's not a need for a lot of talking. Because eventually we're going to step across that white line out there and see what everybody has. You're going to build your reputation on what you do. That's the beautiful thing about it. There's no soap opera talk and hype about how great somebody is, we're going to step across the white line in a little bit and find out. And everyone will take that home with them. The thing about our guys was that we felt like we had to earn that every time out. There was a lot of pride, and it created a powerful bond between us."

That powerful bond cultivated over time and peaked three years later in 1991, when Washington went 12-0 and won the national championship. But according to Hoffmann, it all started back in those obscured early days of battling and grinding to get better.

"When we were down there on scout team just hammering away, we tried to make it fun for ourselves," he said. "Running around hitting people, high-fiving each other and often times getting into fights with the first team offense. For us it was a great time. And when we walked off the field we were all friends. We all just had that feeling that it was the start of something special.

"But something I harp on a lot is—talk is cheap. It doesn't matter what Emtman and I said in our car rides back and forth from Seattle to Spokane, it only mattered what we did. When we got back to Seattle we just shut our mouths and got after it. We worked hard, trained hard and practiced hard. We encouraged each other. It wasn't one of these `every man for himself' deals. We were a team. We all had confidence and thought we could get it done, but we knew that it would take each other to be successful as a team.

"Those are days that I look back at with a lot of fondness."
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnsonbooks@hotmail.com


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