Former Mr. Irrelevant Making Up For Lost Time
Although penciled in as the opening day starter at wide receiver opposite of Rich Musinski for the Berlin Thunder, Ryan Hoag actually made his biggest play of the season on special teams during Week One, blocking a punt by the Rhein Fireís Danny Baugher. Hoag relishes that role.
"Special teams has always been my forte --- something I embrace and get excited about, whereas a lot of guys donít embrace it. After watching film we realized that they were susceptible to blocked punts," said Hoag. "However, in NFL Europa, you can only bring six guys at a time, so you have to be creative and you really have to just beat your guy, man versus man, in order to block a punt."
The block came on Hoag's first professional non-exhibition game, something that fired up the receiver allocated by the Washington Redskins. "It was just a one-man rush, me versus the wing, and I gave him an up-and-under move. I was fortunate enough to get a hand on it," recalled Hoag.
Later in the contest, Hoag suffered a strained calf, an injury that held him out the next five games and stalled any progress he was hoping to make in NFL Europa.
"It was something I never had to deal with, and it could have been a lot worse. Luckily Iím usually a quick healer and I healed in the amount of time that they had anticipated me healing and right now itís just a matter of getting the strength back in it and feeling confident in it. With each day that passes, I am getting more and more confident, and thatís the most important part," said Hoag.
Hoag made his return from rehab during Week 7, logging one catch for 20 yards. He returned to the starting lineup in Week 8, catching an 11-yard pass and added two more catches in Week 9.
During the final week of the season, Hoag had his best receiving performance with 86 yards on 4 catches. With Berlin attempting to overcome a one-point deficit against the Amsterdam Admirals, Hoag caught a 52-yard pass from quarterback Bruce Eugene at the Amsterdam one-yard line but time ran out before another play could start. That play capped off a frustrating 2-8 season for the Thunder. He finished the 2007 season with a total of eight receptions for 133 yards. Achieving these numbers was a coup for Hoag, given the path he took to the professional ranks.
Playing only one year of football as a quarterback during his junior year in high school, the sport didnít peak his interest until playing intramural flag football during his short time at Wake Forest. He originally went to Wake Forest to play soccer but it didnít work out.
"I overslept my first practice, after kind of making the team at Wake Forest. I had my own tryout in the spring, [was] asked back the next day, overslept that practice, got cut that next day," said Hoag.
Make no mistake about it, Hoag lived and breathed sports. Lettering in football, soccer, tennis and track at Washburn High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he also played baseball in the summer. He was twice named All-Conference and team captain in tennis and an All-Conference honoree as a soccer player.
Following his short stay at Wake Forest, Hoag then transferred close to home to Division III Gustavus Adolphus, located in Saint Peter, Minnesota, where he had a successful career as a wide receiver.
He set school records by catching 14 touchdowns his junior year, and in one game pulled in 13 receptions while totaling 375 yards with 175 of those coming from receptions, 122 from kickoff returns, four from a punt return, and 12 rushing the ball. Hoag topped off his senior year by being honored as Gustavus Male Athlete of the Year.
His accomplishments at Gustavus Adolphus earned him a trip to the NFL Scouting Combine in February 2003, an event that had never previously been attended by a Division III player. Hoag just recently realized the accolade he had achieved.
"I didnít know that I was the first Division-III player to be invited until this year. It was exciting because for the first time I was really able to go out and see these guys that I had heard about or watched on TV. Iím looking at these guys and saying, ĎYou know what? Youíre the same guy I was watching on TV but I can play with these guys.í I ran the fastest 3-cone shuttle time at the Combine. I ran the third fastest short shuttle time. We had guys like Terrance Newman that, I mean, are just blazing fast. My vertical [jump] was right under 40 inches. I was doing a number of the athletic drills stride-for-stride with a lot of these guys. Anquan Boldin goes out there and runs just under a 4.8 [40 yard dash] and just looks terrible running routes. I saw that and just thought this is a guy that is an unbelievable playmaker. He obviously still is. But it really made me say, ĎI know I can play at this level [and] I know I can make some things happen if I get a true opportunity.í It was exciting," said Hoag.
Heading into Division III football, Hoag never expected to get noticed by the NFL but following the Combine, he was closely watching the NFL Draft. He remembers being joined by family and friends along with about 200 other people at a Draft Day party held by his school. He was selected in the 7th Round (262nd overall) by the Oakland Raiders, earning him the distinction of "Mr. Irrelevant" (the title given to the final pick of the NFL Draft).
"We were all there for about six hours sitting there and nothing happened. Once I did get drafted, it was pure elation. I was really excited about it, so excited that I ended up hanging up on Coach [Bill] Callahan in the process, which probably ended any chance of me making that team," said Hoag.
Hoag recalls the perks of being named Mr. Irrelevant, which was highlighted by a trip to Disneyland.
"Being Mr. Irrelevant was a phenomenal experience --- something that you really have to experience to fully appreciate. A lot of people throw around the term and hear different things about being able to go to Disneyland and about parades and gifts but they really treat you [like] first class the whole week. You go to Newport Beach, California and they tailor every event to each individual that particular year. For me, they knew I liked to golf so they had me go golf. They knew I was single, so they had a "Ms. Irrelevant" contest. The whole week, youíre doing interviews, and youíre on TV. I was on the Jimmy Kimmel Show. Literally, itís non-stop fun and itís non-stop celebrity status. Itís pretty sweet, especially being in L.A.," said Hoag.
His stay as a Raider was brief, just lasting through training camp of his rookie season. He signed with the New York Giants later during the year but was released the following spring. He spent the 2004 season with his hometown team, the Minnesota Vikings, but was released prior to the 2005 regular season. He re-joined the Vikings in April of 2006 but was cut following the pre-season.
Hoagís time with the Vikings was somewhat of a dream come true.
"I grew up bleeding purple and gold. I truly was a die-hard fan. It would make or break my whole week and following months after the season depending on how the Vikings did. Playing for them was almost a surreal experience. Itís such a different perspective [to go from] being a fan and then actually being in the organization and playing. You canít fully appreciate things like you did as a fan. Now looking back and knowing that I got a chance to play --- that was pretty special," said Hoag.
"Although Iím very happy with Washington, especially their coaching staff, to be able to be at home and be familiar with the territory, and having family and friends cheer me on at training camp was great. I had everybody in southern Minnesota rooting me on every day in training camp. That just gives you that boost when youíre going through two-a-days. Itíll be interesting going through my first training camp in four years, not being at Mankato State [home of the Minnesota Vikings training camp]."
His first stint with the Redskins lasted just less than a span of one week when he was signed as a member of the practice squad in mid-season. He was then re-signed to the practice squad before the teamís final game against the Giants.
The Redskins allocated Hoag, 27, to NFL Europa in January. The move brought about mixed emotions but time has gradually shaped his outlook.
"Thinking back now, I have gotten a great opportunity to get valuable playing time and to become a better blocker, which is important, especially in the Redskins offense as a receiver. I think it was the right move."
Getting noticed by the Redskins coaches during training camp will be a mighty task for the 6í2, 200 pound Hoag considering the team is stacked at wide receiver with Santana Moss, Brandon Lloyd, Antwaan Randle El, special teams standout James Thrash, and up-and-comer Mike Espy.
"A lot of times that you go into training camp, they [the coaches] have their minds made up. In order to change their minds, you not only have to stand out, you have to continually stand out. Itís easy to stand out in one practice. Itís easy to stand out in one preseason game. But to do it on a continual basis and to create favor in the eyes of the coaches each and every day, that is the challenge."
"The biggest thing for me is to come into training camp more prepared and able to play receiver and special teams in the eyes of the Washington Redskins coaches, and in my eyes. I think Iíve done that thus far. I think I have more I can get accomplished. So far, Iím happy with the progress Iíve made."
For the Redskins' sake, progress can only be construed as a good thing.
- Jake Russell
This article was released on 2007-07-20.
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