Patriots' Chris Hogan took circuitous route to unlikely rise
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The lacrosse-star-turned-wide-receiver was making his first start on defense. Word spread that injuries hampered the Monmouth secondary, so the quarterback at Duquesne figured he might as well go after Chris Hogan at cornerback.
It was the first series of the game, Monmouth's fourth of the 2010 season. The quarterback threw the ball Hogan’s way. Interception.
Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan just shook his head.
“As he’s walking off the field, I looked at him and said: ‘Hey, great job,’ ” Callahan told USA TODAY Sports in a phone interview.
Hogan, as Callahan recalled, shot back: “I told you I could do this.”
The fifth-year senior intercepted another pass later in the game, and also scored on a 41-yard touchdown reception.
That was nearly seven years ago. Now, Hogan is the deep threat receiver for the New England Patriots, who will face the Atlanta Falcons on Feb. 5 in Houston for Super Bowl LI.
At Monmouth, Hogan caught only 12 passes for 147 yards. Three of those grabs, however, were touchdowns. He also made eight starts at cornerback and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, while adding 28 tackles and six passes defended.
What makes Hogan’s rise even more remarkable is that he played lacrosse at Penn State for four seasons before opting to transfer to Monmouth for his final year of athletic eligibility to play football.
Hogan caught 38 passes for 680 yards and four touchdowns for New England this season. He led all receivers in the AFC in yards per catch (17.9). He’s coming off a breakout performance in the AFC Championship Game in which he hauled in nine passes for 180 yards – a Patriots playoff record – and two touchdowns.
Now, Hogan is one of the players who is buzzing. During New England’s 45-minute open locker room, Hogan spent the entire time answering wave after wave of questions.
“It’s fun to be a part of this,” Hogan said. “Seeing everyone here, this media, it’s a neat experience for me. I think I do a pretty good job of not letting things distract me from what I want to do and what I want to accomplish as a football player. This is a dream come true. We’re playing in the Super Bowl. So there’s nothing that’s really going to distract me from putting the work in this week.”
After going undrafted, Hogan spent time with the San Francisco 49ers, the New York Giants, and the Miami Dolphins, but only during the offseason or as a practice squad member. He then latched onto the Buffalo Bills for four years – three on the active roster – in a secondary role. The Patriots signed Hogan to an offer sheet this offseason, and the Bills declined to match it.
Hogan had a standout junior season with the Nittany Lions as a midfielder, leading the team with 29 goals en route to a first-team All-Eastern College Athletic Conference selection.
While at his locker, Hogan repeatedly had to answer the same question about his collegiate days, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick expressed doubt about Hogan’s time as a lacrosse player translating to the NFL because of the variance in skill sets used in each sport.
“I’d say the one thing that Chris does well that maybe is related to lacrosse is just his conditioning,” Belichick told reporters in a conference call. “He’s in good condition. He runs a lot of deep routes, but he has real good stamina and he can keep going. That’s probably something that carried over there, but the skills are pretty different.”
His senior season at Penn State, former coach Glenn Thiel appointed Hogan as a captain and moved him to defensive midfield.
“In lacrosse, he was the exception,” Thiel told USA TODAY Sports in a phone conversation. “He’s big, strong, fast, athletic. That’s the kind of guy you look for when you’re recruiting midfielders. It was a small man’s game, but it has changed. He intimidated people because he was tough and rough and fast.”
In his new role, Hogan succeeded almost immediately. It just so happened that one of the Patriots' most explosive offensive threats previously excelled at stopping his opponents.
“That’s probably the strongest skill he had,” Thiel added. “He could play one-on-one defense and handle anybody in the open field.”
Hogan has demonstrated excellent speed and acceleration in his brief time in New England. For a Patriots franchise seeking its fifth Lombardi Trophy of the Belichick era, he could play an instrumental role despite his uncommon career trajectory.
“I think maybe the fact that he only played one year of college football has improved his ceiling,” Callahan said. “When he left Monmouth, his best football was in front of him. I think that still may be the case now.”
Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.
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