Hoff ready to lead Cardinals in finalsLUVERNE — Ryan Hoff had big shoes to fill.
By: Matt Huss, Worthington Daily Globe
LUVERNE — Ryan Hoff had big shoes to fill.
With Luverne’s football team coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Class AA championship, expectations were high entering this season. The Cardinals returned six starters on each side of the ball, along with an experienced and talented group of seniors.
Most of the pressure landed squarely on the shoulders of Hoff, who was handed the keys to the offense. The first-year starter was called upon to replace a quarterback who Hoff said “probably was the best Luverne has ever had.”
After two years as the Cardinals’ quarterback, Jeremy Hoff graduated from Luverne High School. His departure made room for his younger brother, but his success put the pressure on.
“I don’t think there was anybody on the team who had to meet those expectations,” Luverne senior Zach Olson said. “(Ryan) is probably getting crap at home, and then the team and a lot of people in the community are looking to him to take us to the Dome again. And that’s just a ton of pressure.”
In the Hoff household, Jeremy added to it.
“He didn’t give me advice; he was more taunting me about it,” Ryan said, laughing. “He told me that I could never do what he did. Every time I talked to him, he said I had to beat him in touchdowns. He had 22 touchdowns in his junior year, and I have 23, so I beat him in that so far.”
Nervousness was seemingly inevitable.
“Early in the season, you could tell he was nervous,” said Olson, a wide receiver who is one of Ryan’s favorite targets. “He wasn’t as confident as he is right now. He was nervous, but he hung in there and did a heck of a job.”
Despite missing almost three games after tearing a ligament in his non-throwing elbow, Ryan passed for 1,154 yards and 19 touchdowns. Luverne lost just one game, to Harrisburg, a perennial power in South Dakota, en route to earning a third consecutive berth in the Class AA title game.
Still, Ryan couldn’t escape the comparisons to his older brother.
“There kind of was pressure; a lot of people thought that I should live up to what he did,” Ryan said. “But there are a lot of guys around me who helped me out. I didn’t really expect to be as good as him, but I went out there this year and did what I expected myself to do.”
With his attitude, demeanor and play, Ryan quickly earned the respect of his teammates.
“I think he’s definitely grown,” Luverne senior linebacker and offensive lineman Sam Dooyema said. “I think the first season, at any position, is going to be a big change when making that jump to the varsity level, and it’s definitely going to be huge for a quarterback. But Ryan has definitely grown and progressed, and he’s really matured.
“He’s kind of taken a little bit more control in the huddle. He’s not quite as take-charge as Jeremy was; he’s a little more soft-spoken, but he’s really come into his own.”
Dooyema said that comparing the brothers is akin to comparing apples and oranges.
“I don’t think there was too much pressure (on Ryan) because I think people realized that they are two entirely different people,” he said. “Jeremy ran the option very well; Jeremy was a great mobile quarterback; Jeremy was a great running one, but passing was his weakness. And I think everyone knew that Ryan was a much better passer.
“I think people, and the team, especially, we realized that they’re entirely different people — we’re not going to make comparisons between the two. It’s like comparing apples to oranges; they have two entirely different styles.”
At times this season, Ryan has dabbled in his brother’s style.
“The first time I can honestly say I saw him start becoming a better quarterback, and not just a passer, was against Windom,” Olson said. “We called a pass play, and he dodged a bunch of tackles, went 15 yards into the end zone while making about eight guys miss. Everybody was just like, ‘Wow, he’s getting into that groove.’”
Ryan’s run led Luverne to a 35-6 victory. It also earned him points in a sibling rivalry that started when he and Jeremy had rock-throwing contests in their yard as young kids.
“That was my first rushing touchdown,” Ryan said. “I remember that only because I took off running, juked a couple of kids out, got a touchdown, went back to the sideline and told Coach (Todd) Oye, ‘Jeremy’s got nothing on me.’”
When hearing of his brother’s bravado, Jeremy burst into laughter.
We’ll see if he gets an 80-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper; that’s all I have to say,” he said, laughing. “Then he can come talk to me.”
Ryan and the Cardinals will meet Caledonia at 4 p.m. today in the Metrodome. The Warriors, who are led by senior running back Alex Schleich (1,505 yards, 17 touchdowns) and senior quarterback Casey Bauer (82-for-138 passing, 1,465 yards, 23 touchdowns), defeated Jeremy and Luverne 14-7 in the title game last year.
“I think the greatest advice I could give him is to just go out there and do what he’s been doing all year,” Jeremy said. “He’s been doing awesome so far this year, so I wouldn’t change anything.”
And if Ryan leads Luverne to victory?
“Oh, I’ll rub it in his face,” Ryan said, laughing. “He deserves it.”