VALPARAISO | The Valparaiso University football team hasn’t won multiple games since 2008. The Crusaders also haven’t had the same starting quarterback in consecutive seasons since that year.
But they will now as redshirt sophomore Eric Hoffman returns for his second season as VU's No. 1 quarterback.
Hoffman put his name in the record books last year with 224 completions, the second-highest single-season total in program history and 2,302 yards, good for fourth-highest in one season.
Hoffman’s talent is what won over Dale Carlson last season and now it’s the signal caller’s experience that has the third-year head coach eager for the season to start this evening against longtime rival St. Joseph’s.
“The biggest thing that Eric and I have talked about is being extremely prepared,” Carlson said. “He’s not just trying to figure out what to do out there, but reacting to the video study and doing things that are becoming second nature.”
Hoffman wasn’t the only inexperienced player that saw the field last year.
Running back Gabe Ali-El played a significant role in the offense and Hoffman spread the ball around to receivers Tanner Kuramata, Cole Anderson and Andrew Cassara. All four players are back as sophomores and have spent plenty of time working with Hoffman.
“I think we’re all pretty close-knit as far as the whole team,” Hoffman said. “We’ll spend time just throwing routes for an hour. We’re very in tune with each other.”
Given that Valparaiso’s next three games after tonight are against bigger FCS schools Youngstown State and Duqense and then a difficult road game against San Diego, getting a good start is paramount for the Crusaders.
Valparaiso lost those three games last season by a combined score of 181-41.
The Crusaders have played St. Joseph’s 63 times, more than any other opponent, and haven’t beaten the Pumas since 2001. St. Joseph’s currently holds a five-game winning streak over VU.
“This game is a big momentum changer for the entire season,” Hoffman said. “It’s important for us to do what we did in those last couple of games last season.”
Carlson enters this season with the most confidence he’s had since taking over the program in 2010.
The first two years haven’t been kind, with the Crusaders going 1-21. With last year’s youth a year older and stronger and Hoffman back to lead the team, Carlson has a brighter outlook than he has in the past.
“He is the one who starts us and the one who has to get us to the right play,” Carlson said. “It’s important with him coming back and should be a vital part of the success that we have.
"Over the years that I’ve been doing this, when you have a quarterback with experience, the easier it gets for them.”