HELENA — Just to look at newly minted New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Alex Hoffman you would think he has been playing the tackle position most of his football career. That is simply not the case, and in fact Hoffman, who was signed by the Saints as an undrafted free agent on Saturday, has only been a full-time offensive lineman for three seasons.
“It’s something that when I came to Carroll I wasn’t expecting at all,” Hoffman said. “To get picked up by an NFL team as an offensive lineman, I would’ve never guessed that. My coaches at Carroll knew where my future was and they put me in positions to succeed and I’m thankful for that.”
A state champion his senior season at Juan Diego High School in Utah, Hoffman was the 3A MVP and an All-State performer as a quarterback, throwing for over 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing for another 10 scores.
Hoffman walked on at Carroll as a quarterback and redshirted his freshman year of 2016 as a 210-pound option-style signal caller. Just two years later, however, Hoffman would start every game for the Saints from his offensive line position.
“It became pretty apparent right away that, although he had some defined skills, he was more of an option guy out of high school and didn’t throw the ball well enough at that level,” Saints offensive coordinator Alex Pfannenstiel said. “I think the thing that stood out about Alex and the things I learned is, No. 1, he was an intelligent quarterback and an intelligent tight end and now is an intelligent offensive lineman. Those things work across positions...It requires a lot of discipline to go through those transformations.”
Since his first day on Carroll’s campus, Hoffman has added something like 80 pounds to his 6-foot-6 frame, transitioning from the quarterback position to tight end before eventually settling into his role as a two-time First-Team All-Conference tackle.
“Those things are processes, because we forget sometimes these are 18- to 23-year-old young men that their bodies are still growing and changing and developing,” Pfannenstiel said. “His body -- you almost watched it mature overnight between his sophomore and junior year. You’re like, ‘OK, he’s not just a guy who’s 270, he’s a big man now.’”
It is Hoffman’s body of work over the last three seasons that had his agent’s phone ringing less than 30 minutes after the NFL draft ended on Saturday. The call was from the Saints offering Hoffman a contract and $1,000 signing bonus to come to camp and battle for a roster spot.
New Orleans was one of the teams that reached out to Hoffman and his representation after Carroll’s season ended in April, and by Saturday night, he had completed the Saints-to-Saints transition by formally signing the contract.
“It was really cool [Saturday] to get the call and hear that I was getting an offer to sign with the Saints, but now the work is starting again,” Hoffman said. “The honeymoon phase is already over, it’s time to start getting to work to try to make a roster spot.”
Hoffman said the Saints expressed a good deal of interest in his flexibility and ability to move at his right tackle position and want him to continue putting on weight. That athleticism, which he likely carried over from his time under center, is one of the first things that jumped off the page for Carroll’s offensive line coach Ryan Springer when he first flipped on Hoffman’s film last year when he got the job.
“His athletic ability is pretty insane,” Springer said. “He’s obviously a very strong guy in the weight room, but you watch his movement skills out on the field and see that he is definitely an elite athlete at his size...People aren’t ever gonna miss on the person. The guy is going to be the hardest worker that they’re going to find, never going to any sort of a knucklehead or anything like that. He just does exactly what’s asked of him to the best of his ability all the time.”
Hoffman was selected as Carroll’s Lifter-of-the-Year in the weight room and has proven that his physical tools are among the best in the Frontier Conference at his position. Add in the fact that he was a CoSIDA Academic All-American a season ago and has been accepted into St. Louis University’s Medical School and that ensures Hoffman is likely to be one of the smartest players on the football field at any given moment.
“Yes he’s strong, yes he’s agile, yes he’s pretty fundamentally sound for, as most people would say, a small college offensive lineman,” Pfannenstiel said. “He actually has some pretty good fundamentals in terms of his pass set and his footwork in the run game. But Alex’s ability to understand and recognize defensive techniques, strengths and weaknesses of defensive linemen and how to attack them and neutralize their strengths -- I think being able to put his intelligence in his frame is kinda what set him apart.”
Both Pfannenstiel and Springer know the makings of a good offensive lineman having been standouts themselves, so when they say Hoffman has unmatched leadership ability, both on and off the field, and the motor to be consistent every single snap, it means something.
Saints head coach Troy Purcell calls Hoffman a ‘get better everyday’ kind of player, too.
“I think that’s something my parents have probably taught me, but definitely playing at Carroll, and my high school coaches, too, have helped me with that,” Hoffman said of where that mentality comes from. “That’s just been something that has been reinforced at Carroll. I think they’ve done a great job of teaching me that. Every football player that’s come through they’ve worked to instill that mindset.”
Hoffman’s signing with New Orleans came a day after he was sized for a Frontier Conference Championship ring that Carroll earned this spring. It also came on the same day he was honored with the St. Sebastian Award, an award that is given to the student-athletes who exemplify most what it means to be a Carroll College student-athlete.
More than just a good football player, those that know him best describe Hoffman as a fantastic individual, one that worked extremely hard to reach this point in his football journey. That is why Carroll’s coaching staff and players worked diligently to help get their teammate signed with an NFL team.
When the season ended, a number of people helped Hoffman start putting together a highlight tape that was sent to interested NFL teams. Springer and Pfannenstiel also organized Zoom interviews and ran through drills with Hoffman that were requested by teams, as well as the collecting of some measurements. Pfannenstiel described it as an ‘all hands on deck’ effort that ended with Hoffman getting this opportunity.
“Anyone of our guys that get this opportunity we’d do that for,” Pfannenstiel said. “It’s part of our C4 mentality. C4, in it, is ‘choose to love your teammates.’ Even us coaches, we’re a part of the team and it’s whatever we can do to help guys to get the opportunities that they need and to care for each other...I think Alex’s teammates mean a lot to him, and he means a lot to his teammates. It’s pretty neat to watch that because I think our players are the best judge of character of our other players.”
For Pfannenstiel, who began his coaching career at Carroll in 2016 when Hoffman was a freshman, his graduation, along with fellow fifth-year senior Kolby Killoy, represents a milestone in Pfannenstiel’s coaching career that he got to see a group of players through from their initial days on campus to their final days.
“It’s neat to watch a young man develop over five years, put in a lot of hard work, dedication, become a leader, and to see all that hard work pay off with a great opportunity for himself,” Pfannenstiel said of Hoffman. “That’s the lesson moving forward is that when you have guys that are really talented and have that ability, if they do all the things, those opportunities come to them.”
Recognizing the opportunity is rare, there has been a handful of other Carroll players to experience what the NFL has to offer. Casey FitzSimmons, Josh James and Bubba Bartlett all spent time with NFL organizations with varying degrees of success, but it is a club Hoffman can now proudly call himself a member of.
“It’s a rare opportunity, it’s a once or twice a decade thing and I think we’re pretty special here at Carroll that it’s that frequent at our level,” Pfannenstiel said. “It speaks to the level of athletes that play at Carroll College and in the Frontier. It speaks to the culture that’s been around here at Carroll for a long time that helps guys develop into people with the opportunity to play at the next level at a level that doesn’t usually come from...They always say, they’ll find you wherever you’re at and it’s true, they’ll even come to Helena, Montana, to find the best players in the country.”
With his name signed on the dotted line, Hoffman will soon be attending rookie camp with OTA’s the goal after that. It will be a lot of hard work for Hoffman to earn a roster spot and his focus will not change from what made him successful at Carroll as he carries those memories and experiences from the purple and gold into his job with the black and gold.
“It seems like just yesterday I was a skinny quarterback in the quarterback meeting room trying to learn the offense,” Hoffman said. “It’s been great. I wouldn’t trade these memories for anything. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life to be able to come to Carroll and meet all the great people here.”