Intelligence, perseverance set Missouri’s Matt Hoch apart

08/10/2014 7:07 PM

08/10/2014 7:24 PM

Few things get Missouri defensive tackle Matt Hoch’s blood boiling.

He’s generally level-headed and pragmatic, known for a workmanlike effort on the field and a relatively soft-spoken nature off it. He’s also very intelligent — named one of the smartest players in college football by NFL.com in June.

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“He’s got a dry sense of humor where, unless you really know him, you can’t tell he’s joking,” senior nose guard Lucas Vincent said. “He’s kind of got that Sheldon Cooper thing going, if you watch ‘Big Bang Theory’ — that he’s so smart that, unless you know him, you can’t really understand him.”

Classical mythology, however, is a sore spot for Hoch.

It’s the one class Hoch, who graduated in August with a 3.97 grade-point average in education science, didn’t earn an A in during his undergraduate studies. And he’s still fired up about it.

“I don’t know what happened,” Hoch said. “I aced every test. (The professor) didn’t track my participation grade at all throughout the semester. She didn’t say anything about it and, then at the end, she said, ‘Oh, yeah, your participation grade is 40 percent.’

“Thanks. It would have been nice to know that and know where I was at. I ended up with a B+ out of nowhere and got 100 on every test. … I was a little upset. I tried sending emails to everybody — the dean — it just didn’t work. I got a B+. It is what it is.”

Balancing academic rigors with football responsibilities is a source of great pride, and occasionally consternation, for Hoch.

“I work really hard at academics, and I just persevered through a lot of tough times when I’m struggling with football and academics,” Hoch said. “It’s pretty hard to juggle both of them, especially when you’re trying to keep as high of a GPA as I’ve held.”

Hoch also has been forced to rely on that perseverance during an injury-riddled career, including a Jones fracture in his foot in 2010 and strained a hamstring in 2012. He battled turf toe throughout last season.

Most recently, Hoch needed surgery to repair a broken ankle after his left tibia snapped where it connects to the top of the ankle during the Tigers’ first spring scrimmage.

“We’re dipping his feet in holy water every day before he comes out for practice,” defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski joked.

Despite the injuries, Hoch, who is set to become a three-year starter after beginning his Missouri career as a scout team tight end during a redshirt season in 2010, has been a productive player with 77 tackles, including 8 1/2 for a loss with five sacks, in 25 games as a sophomore and junior.

“We’ve only seen a glimpse of how good he can be,” Pinkel said. “If this guy is just healthy and can play, you’ll see a very high-level player. We saw a pretty darn good player before, but that’s what I want for him — selfishly for him and selfishly for our defense.”

Hoch, who is 6 foot 5 and 300 pounds, didn’t resume football activities until mid-June and wasn’t pain-free and able to fully participate in summer workouts until mid-July.

He said he needs to lose five or 10 pounds before the season to return to his ideal playing weight, but he’s confident that he’ll hit that goal by the Aug. 30 opener against South Dakota State.

Perhaps it also will set him up for the monster season the Tigers’ coaches and his teammates believe Hoch has in him.

“If I lose five or 10 pounds, my hips will be exactly where I want them to be,” Hoch said. “I’ll be able to get skinny through gaps and that will help my pass rush tremendously.”

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @todpalmer.

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