Provo • Junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman is arguably the best football player at BYU this season, one of the top talents in the state of Utah, and seemingly on the verge of having an All-America type year.
Nobody in his hometown of Crescent City, Calif., pop: 7,562, is the least bit surprised.
“He is doing nothing more now than he was doing in high school,” says his father, Richard Hoffman. “It is no surprise to me, or hundreds of other people around Del Norte County that have seen him play. People will tell you all the time, it was a total joy watching him grow up playing here.”
And dominating — so much so that he was referred to as baseball great Ken Griffey Jr. during a Little League baseball game when he was 12. When he was a freshman in high school, the local newspaper reported that opposing players pointed at him on the football field and said, “Look, there’s Randy Moss.”
The Daily Triplicate still keeps tabs on the favorite son with a couple of features each season, along with reports on how he performed in almost every game.
Much like Jimmer Fredette turned the town of Glens Falls, N.Y., into an enclave of BYU fans, Hoffman has done the same thing in the scenic town just 23 miles from the Oregon border. Crescent City is roughly the size of Heber City or Richfield, but far more isolated.
“Oh, yeah, everybody is a BYU fan right now,” said Richard Hoffman, a guard at nearby Pelican Bay State Prison, which houses California’s most dangerous and violent criminals. “All my friends, and all his teachers, and even his cousins, they are all BYU fans now.”
That was evident last October, when more than 200 Del Norte County residents made the five-hour trek to Corvallis to watch Cody Hoffman catch nine passes, including a juggling, circus catch that became a YouTube sensation, for 162 yards in the Cougars’ 38-28 win over Oregon State.
A similar following is expected on Nov. 17 when BYU plays at San Jose State. Simply put, Cody Hoffman is a rock star in Crescent City, the hottest export since quarterback Buck Pierce, who starred collegiately at New Mexico State (2001-04) and now plays for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League.
“It is just so surreal, and such a great feeling to me, knowing that not even a handful of guys have gone from my high school straight to a Division I school for athletics,” Hoffman said. “It is great to look back at where I came from, and where I am now, and hopefully where I will be in the future. It’s just crazy.”
Having caught 61 passes for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, topping it off with an MVP performance in the Armed Forces Bowl, Hoffman is being touted as an All-America candidate in 2012. That won’t change his approach, he said.
“I am still going out there as hungry as I’ve been before, if not hungrier, because I want it more now that I am a name player. It will just drive me to compete harder and try to do bigger things for the team,” he said.
In Crescent City, he was doing big things athletically almost from the time he could walk, and Richard Hoffman knew Cody had a special gift. When he was just 3 years old, he would play catch in the living room with his dad’s friend, a former Chico State pitcher, and fling the ball back as hard as it was thrown to him.
“Amazing coordination, and he was just three. It was something that I will never forget,” Richard Hoffman said.
A year later, Cody threw a matchbox car at his mother so hard that it gave her a black eye.
“Kind of hard to explain around town, how your wife got a black eye,” his dad said.
By the time he hit high school, Hoffman was already a legend around town, and he didn’t disappoint on the football field, although his father claims baseball was his best sport. He was all-conference three straight years, yet the only four-year college program to offer him a scholarship was Sacramento State — until BYU got wind of him.
By now, BYU and Del Norte fans are familiar with the story: Mendenhall and Crescent City native Terry Vance were roommates and track teammates at Oregon State in the mid-1980s. A teacher at Del Norte, Vance called Mendenhall and told him about what has turned out to be one of the best recruiting finds in BYU football history.
Ironically, Hoffman was on a recruiting visit to Sac State with his father and was being pushed for a quick commitment when a Del Norte coach called and said BYU was expressing interest. Cody Hoffman said he had never heard of the school, let alone its sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints.
A few days later, the Hoffmans boarded an airplane bound for Salt Lake City, and Mendenhall offered Cody a scholarship just hours after he got to Provo. Unlike Sac State, BYU coaches didn’t want an answer right then and there, instead urging Cody to think about it for a few days and talk it over with his parents.
He committed a few days after that. After a redshirt year that Hoffman and his father say was extremely tough to deal with, Hoffman made an instant impact in 2010, catching 42 passes for 527 yards and seven TDs. He became the go-to guy for quarterback Riley Nelson, his former roommate in Provo.
“I thought last year was pretty special [for Hoffman],” Mendenhall said. “I think you use that as the baseline and hopefully he will do more. I am sure he wants more, and it will help our team if there is more.”