Every once and a while, an athlete who has played two collegiate sports will make it big in one. Tony Gonzalez famously played college basketball. Wayne Gretzky played lacrosse. Jim Brown played lacrosse.
And new New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan played lacrosse.
“I was actually really into baseball,” Hogan said. “But then I hurt my shoulder. My dad had a stick in the garage and I started playing.”
Hogan was a natural lacrosse player, having not beginning to play until his freshman year of high school. Some accounts have said he could shoot over 100 mph, was named the state player of the year his senior season, and he was offered a scholarship to play at Penn State.
“He was a year older than me so my freshman year I was able to compete against him as a second line midfielder which I think helped me evolve as a dodger because even though he was an offensive player first he played very aggressive D,”said former Penn State teammate Colton Vosburgh, who played professionally in the North American Lacrosse League. “As a sophomore I was able to benefit from being his linemate because he was always poled and even doubled at times which made my life easier.”
In his senior year with the Nittany Lions, Hogan led the team with 34 points, 29 of them goals, also the most on the team. A first team All-ECAC selection in his final season, his senior year was his best as Hogan played in all 14 games. He also started all 13 of his games as a freshman in 2007.
However, even as his lacrosse career flourished, it was football that never left his mind.
In 2008, his sophomore year, Hogan had been injured and received a redshirt after playing in just three contests. That left him with a year of eligibility after graduation, and Hogan knew what he wanted to do with it.
While his lacrosse career took off at Ramapo High School in New Jersey, he was also putting together an impressive football resume. Hogan was named one of the top players in the state and was offered scholarships from local schools like Rutgers.
With more options for lacrosse, he chose that path, but after graduation had the chance to go back to football.
“The biggest difference between playing lacrosse and football is lacrosse has more freedom, there’s really no set plays, it’s more just going out there and being in a certain formation,” Hogan said. “Football is a lot of Xs and Os and reading coverages and being able to adjust on the run.”
He finally decided on Monmouth for graduate school where he played that one season of football before going to the NFL combine. Undrafted, he signed with the San Francisco 49ers before the Miami Dolphins, and then settled into a major role with the Buffalo Bills.
Hogan ended up in Buffalo and New England, two major lacrosse markets for college and professional versions of the sport, but was able to see two areas that geographically have not had much of a lacrosse presence. Seeing both sides of it, Hogan still sees that the sport is growing throughout the country.
“The sport is definitely growing everywhere,” he said. “You think of New York, or Baltimore, or New England, but now you do see players from California, or Florida.”
Now a part of the Patriots, Hogan isn’t the only member of the organization to be involved in lacrosse. Head coach Bill Belichick, who played college lacrosse at Wesleyan, is a known advocate for the sport. Hogan says the two do discuss the sport, and just last week were talking about the final four games.
Just a few weeks ago in an interview with Lacrosse Magazine, Belichick named several members of his roster to lacrosse positions, including quarterback Tom Brady in goal.
Boston Cannons head coach Sean Quirk, in an interview with ESPN Boston, named several Patriot players to positions on the lacrosse field as well, and, naturally, placed Hogan at midfield.
Lacrosse is a passion that has not left Hogan; he keeps in contact with several pro players who he played with in college, and still follows the sport on several levels.
“I follow lacrosse all season,” Hogan said. “I follow Penn State, they’re on TV at times and I get to watch them. I turn on MLL every now and then because I have so many friends still playing in the sport.”
Playing Division One lacrosse, Hogan was able to compete against some of the best players in the game. Some of those players include lacrosse household names such as Kevin Buchanan, Logan Schuss, Max Quinzani, Ned Crotty, Mike DeNapoli, PT Ricci, and Dillon Roy.
Hogan actually played in a game against Will Yeatman, a member of the Notre Dame lacrosse team at the time, who spent time later on with the Patriots as a wide receiver who went undrafted.
“Chris was always a very intense player on and off the field,” Vosburgh said. “The way he trained, the play he played, every shot he took he put every ounce of his strength into it. Most of the time he was quick enough to split dodge a guy but other times he initiated the contact during the dodge and never shied away.”
Hogan says the toughest player he faced in the sport was actually a teammate of his, and a three-time MLL goalie of the year winner.
“Drew Adams,” Hogan said. “He’s a fantastic goalie, and he plays professionally now with the Lizards.”
His lacrosse career is now over over, but still with an eye on the growth of the game, Hogan has now established a career in the NFL with three full seasons in Buffalo, but looks to be a major key to the Patriots offense in 2016.