Coming out of high school, Matt Hoch was seduced by the glory of the end zone.
He wanted to be a tight end and actually worked with Missouri’s scout team on the offensive side of the ball during a redshirt season in 2010.
“Originally, I wanted to score touchdowns,” said Hoch, who has been a three-year starter at defensive tackle for the Tigers. “That’s why I played tight end, and that’s part of the reason I came to Mizzou. I was going to have that opportunity to block. I wanted to be used as a blocking tight end, but with time I realized that the defensive side of the ball fit more my personality. That’s why I decided to switch.”
Hoch — who has appeared in 32 games, including 29 starts on the interior defensive line, over the last three seasons — beefed up after his redshirt freshman season with an eye on starting at defensive tackle.
It has turned out to be a pretty good decision.
Hoch turned in perhaps his finest game at Missouri in a 24-14 victory Saturday against Vanderbilt, finishing with career highs for sacks (11/2) and tackles for a loss (21/2).
His six total tackles were tied for the team lead against the Commodores.
“That’s a rarity,” Hoch said, “a defensive tackle tying for the team lead in tackles on a game. I just played my heart out the whole game, and I was just trying to make plays and maintain my gap. More plays just came to me and I was able to hold my own.”
Hoch has battled a variety of injuries in his Missouri career.
He suffered a Jones fracture in his foot in 2011, strained a hamstring in 2012, dealt with turf toe and a back injury last season, broke his left ankle in a spring scrimmage and dealt with a strained pectoral muscle early this season.
“My pec’s gotten a lot better in the last five or six weeks, but for a while there … I was basically playing with one arm,” Hoch said. “It was really frustrating, but with time it’s healed up quite a bit.”
Now healthy, Hoch — whose older brother, Dan, played offensive line for the Tigers — is beginning to reach his full potential.
“He’s been healthy for four straight weeks, which has been (rare) in the last three years,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “I think he’s starting to play with more confidence, and you also start to play more consistently. You’re playing more in the field, so now we’re starting to see a little bit of what he’s capable of because he’s healthy.”
As it turns out, Hoch switching to defense was a perfect marriage.
“It’s motor more than anything — just nonstop going after the ball, just a desire to get to the ball and tackle,” Hoch said. “I’ve always loved the big hit and thrive making tackles behind the line of scrimmage and things like that. That’s just been more of my knack than catching balls or blocking.”
Besides, Hoch has never been a guy who sought glory anyway — even after perhaps his best college game.
“Our defensive ends (senior Markus Golden and junior Shane Ray) are the best in the country in my eyes,” Hoch said. “They just help mold the whole entire defense and everything they do helps the entire defense. I always give them the respect, even if they don’t get the numbers every week.”