Hoffman Making His Way Back
By John Hankemeier
Second on the UCLA soccer team in scoring his freshmen year, then-sophomore forward Chandler Hoffman entered the 2010 preseason training camp confident, and with higher expectations than the year before, determined to improve on an already strong beginning to his young UCLA career.
"I had an incredible summer," said Hoffman. "I got to do everything with the (Los Angeles) Galaxy as far as training, and had a good summer playing with the Blue Stars and was really excited coming into the fall season."
On August 18, 2010 - the first day of preseason training camp - Hoffman's goals came to an immediate halt.
"We were just doing some small-sided scrimmage and I got into a tackle and heard something crack right as it happened," said Hoffman, referring to the fibula in his left leg. "As soon as I went down I knew that it was broken because of the pain and the sound of the tackle."
Over the next several weeks, the greatest pain Hoffman would endure was not being able to play the game he loved. He would soon find out that in order to get back on the field he would once again have to work hard like he did in the offseason, only this time without a soccer ball.
Now a junior at UCLA, Hoffman - a native of Birmingham, Ala. - has grown accustomed to living in Los Angeles. He has played in front of large crowds in Drake Stadium, and practiced with big-named players like David Beckham and Landon Donovan. But he doesn't take it all for granted.
"I tell all my friends back home that when I'm walking around campus each day, I can't believe it," Hoffman said.
Named to the Pac-10 All-Academic First Team in 2010, Hoffman continues to strive for excellence on and off the field and largely credits his parents for much of his success.
"They were always pressuring me to make sure that I was staying on top of my school work. The biggest thing my parents would always try to instill in me was balance," said Hoffman.
Hoffman's ability to balance soccer and academics helped him lead Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham to back-to-back state championships. He was presented with the Gatorade State Player of the Year in 2008 and 2009, all while maintaining his grades, gaining membership to the National Honor Society and becoming valedictorian of his high school. Then, UCLA came calling.
"UCLA has been a dream of mine. The soccer players that have been through the program, and the history and tradition of producing pros and winning national championships is what did it for me," said Hoffman.
The first player from Alabama ever to play soccer for UCLA, Hoffman decided to join the program that sent three players to the World Cup in 2010, adding to a total of 14 throughout its history.
Hoffman recalls the first game he played as a Bruin against the University of Maryland in Maryland.
"I was just having to make sure that it was real, that I wasn't just imagining this, that this was what I was likely to be doing for the next four years," he said. "It was a pretty awesome transition from playing high school soccer in front of a couple hundred people to playing in front of 7,000 screaming, crazy fans. It was an awesome experience."
After fracturing his fibula before his sophomore season, Hoffman optioned not to redshirt despite the amount of games he would miss.
"The coaches thought that I could help the team coming back, so I decided that's what I would do," said Hoffman.
With incentive to speed up the recovery process, it was an intense regimen that followed.
"I was swimming close to two hours a day," he said. "And once I was able to start training (soccer) again, I would go in before training for an hour, do physical therapy, go out for training, and then stay after to do extra work on fitness, and then would usually finish it off that night in the pool."
With such a rigorous schedule, Hoffman often experienced frustration.
"There were days where I would just be so tired and would just be so upset because my day wouldn't even involve a soccer ball," Hoffman said. "But I knew that long-term I would be able to have a great season for UCLA and ultimately play professionally one day."
After missing the first 11 games of the 2010 season, Hoffman returned on October 15 in a game at Stanford.
"My first couple games coming back were really difficult for me. I was used to starting, playing a lot of minutes, but I couldn't even run for 20 minutes without gasping," said Hoffman.
Eventually he would get significant minutes, and with three games left in the season, he began to find his groove. Hoffman finished the season with six goals and an assist in the last six games, but most importantly, helped the Bruins reach the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
"I just really had a lot of confidence going from that point," said Hoffman.
On September 16 of this year, his junior season, Hoffman scored a hat trick, and helped the Bruins beat rival UC Santa Barbara in a 3-2 comeback victory. With his first goal of the game, Hoffman tied a UCLA record for scoring at least one goal in five consecutive games.
Still in rehab when UCLA lost to Santa Barbara in 2010, Hoffman was understandably excited after this year's win.
"It was definitely like a dream - I mean, after that game that night and the next day, I felt like someone was going to have to pinch me and I was going to wake up," he said.
In the few days that followed the victory over Santa Barbara, Hoffman was named Soccer News National Player of the Week, Pac-12 Player of the Week, and UCLA/Muscle Milk Student Athlete of the Week.
It's been almost a year since Hoffman returned to the field after his injury, and the junior forward will likely not forget the injury any time soon.
"It might sound kind of weird," Hoffman said, "but I have the X-ray picture in my room of the fractured leg on my desk so that each day I'm just reminded to be thankful to be able to play today."
This season, Hoffman has continued exactly where he left off last season, perhaps even exceeding his own expectations. He currently has nine goals, and has scored 15 goals in his last 15 games.