- Kyle Bonagura, ESPN Staff Writer
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It has been 296 days since the Stanford football team opened fall camp to begin preparations for the 2013 season. If that day marks the official start to an athlete’s season then Zach Hoffpauir has been in season for 296 days.
For Hoffpauir, the conclusion of the Rose Bowl meant the beginning of baseball season. One of four Pac-12 athletes to play both sports, he immediately shifted gears and begun preparations for what turned out to be a very successful sophomore season for the safety turned outfielder.
And thanks to a walk-off home run from freshman Tommy Edman on Monday against Indiana, the Cardinal, who were the No. 3 seed in the four-team Indiana regional, advanced to this weekend’s Super Regional at Vanderbilt. Hoffpauir was 5-for-19 in the series including a 3-for-5 performance with a home run and a triple in a 10-7 win against Indiana on Sunday.
Balancing the academic workload at Stanford with both sports is a challenge, but he’s in a unique position in that both head coaches -- David Shaw (football) and Mark Marquess (baseball) -- were multi-sport athletes as students at Stanford. Shaw made brief cameos with the track and basketball teams in addition to his role as a wide receiver in football, while Marquess also pulled off the football-baseball double.
“When your coaches are supportive of [playing both], it relieves a lot of pressure,” said Hoffpauir, who ranks second on the Cardinal with a .332 batting average and seven home runs. “It’s nice to have both coaches that have done it too, so they know where I’m coming from.”
When Hoffpauir went through the recruiting process, he sought out a place that would not only allow him to play both sports but provide an environment conducive to being successful in both. Stanford stood out immediately. John Elway in the 1980s, Toby Gerhart a few years back and, most recently, Tyler Gaffney are a few notable examples of how it has worked in the past.
“Stanford was really only program [recruiting me] that had repeated success of two-sports athletes,” Hoffpauir said. “Was I just being told I could do both or is there evidence that it had worked in the past? It was a big part of why I chose Stanford.”
All three of those players had professional baseball opportunities -- Elway and Gaffney both played minor-league baseball before returning to football -- and if things play out the way Hoffpauir hopes, he will too. He’ll be draft eligible after next baseball season, and if the price is right, he said he’d be open to going the Gaffney route and leaving for the minor leagues.
Like Gaffney, Hoffpauir didn’t redshirt during his true freshman football season, which would allow him to step away from football for a season -- essentially redshirting his senior year -- then return to the football team the following year if he’s not sold baseball is the correct permanent fit.
“Things worked out pretty well for Gaffney,” Hoffpauir said.
Gaffney was selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft after rushing for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns upon his return.
Projecting how Hoffpauir’s chances at a career in professional football factor into that equation are difficult. Through two seasons, he’s been a special-teams mainstay, but has sat behind Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards on the depth chart at safety. With Reynolds off to the NFL, Hoffpauir is one of four players who will compete to start alongside Richards next season.
The Cardinal moved receiver Kodi Whitfield and quarterback Dallas Lloyd to safety before spring practice to bolster the competition that also includes Kyle Olugbode. Hoffpauir knows he missed out on important reps that could theoretically play a role in who starts, but he isn’t overly concerned by it.
“Yeah, you want to be out there, but I came here and wanted to play both,” he said. “You really earn your spot in fall camp. Once you get to fall camp, whoever is going to make the plays is going to play the position.”
When he had time, Hoffpauir would still sit in on meetings with the football team during the spring and has a specific workout regimen designed to allow him to bulk up but remain flexible.
When Hoffpauir officially returns to football, there will be a new position coach to waiting for him. Duane Akina was hired to replace Derek Mason, who coincidently left for the Vanderbilt job, as the secondary coach following Stanford's first session of spring practice.