Centennial football will retire the No. 31 of Zach Hoffpauir during a halftime ceremony in Friday night’s game against Hamilton.
To ask anyone who has been in Coyote Country for a while, though, the memories of Hoffpauir — who died in May 2020 at age 26 — are far more vivid and varied than his old Centennial football and baseball highlights. They remember his ability to dance to any type of music, impersonate the whole coaching staff, pick up a student he could see was struggling, listen to a friend or crack a joke to ease the tension.
“I don’t know what it’s going to look like but I think it’ll be first class. I think it will be something that everyone will be proud of. People that have been around Centennial football for a while remember Zach Hoffpauir as a football player. I most certainly remember more than just the football,” Centennial football coach Richard Taylor said.
Taylor said plans to have the ceremony, dubbed “Hoff’s Night,” picked up momentum this year. He credited people in the athletic department, not just coaches, for running with the idea and said teacher and longtime volleyball coach Cari Bauer has been really good putting this together with Renee Woolery, the athletic secretary.
Some normalcy also had to return to high school football for the night to have its desired impact.
“Yes, we wanted to do it last year but it needed to be done right … with all of the family, fans, and his former teammates,” Bauer stated in a Twitter message. “I had to find a date that obviously worked for Doug and Shannon, and it couldn’t be Homecoming or senior night. I know it’s Hamilton and a big game but Zach lived for big moments.”
Doug and Shannon Hoffpauir will be there for the Sept. 24 ceremony, when their son becomes the second Centennial player to have his jersey retired. The first is the No. 45 of George Cortez Jr., a former Coyote defensive tackle and fullback who served in the Phoenix Police and was killed in the line of duty in July 2007.
The Hoffpauirs will join former teammates for the ceremony at the 31 yard line.
“They were talked to and we wanted to make sure they were in favor of it and wanted it to move forward. And they did,” Taylor said.
Zach’s parents recently spoke more in depth about their son’s life and death in the in Sports360AZ online documentary “Zach Hoffpauir: The Real Story.” The production debuted in late August.
Months before his death, Hoffpauir started his new job as the University of Northern Colorado’s safeties coach, working for first-year Bears coach and friend Ed McCaffrey. But when COVID-19 first swept the country he and some other coaches went on furlough. Hoffpauir returned home to Glendale.
Shannon Hoffpauir said her son as not sleeping one night and got a percocet from a friend.
“It was laced with fentanyl and he died instantly,” Shannon Hoffpauir said in the documentary. “We had been through so much with him, and his grit and brilliance had pushed him through so much. It was so hard for me to accept that now we’re going to lose him like that? In an accident?”
After graduating from Centennial in 2012, Hoffpauir played three seasons of baseball and football at Stanford before being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015, and Hoffpauir played rookie ball in Montana and earned a promotion to the Class A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops.
Following the 2015 season, he decided to return to play his senior football season at Stanford. Hoffpauir started at safety for the first 10 games of 2016 before concussions forced him to retire from the sport.
In the documentary, the Hoffpauirs revealed that studies of his Zach’s brain by the Boston University CTE Center revealed a large number of CTE lesions in his brain.
Zach Hoffpauir revealed on a fall 2019 podcast with ASU football alum and local sports radio host Jordan Simone that he had sustained “five or six” concussions during his football career and suffered from depression — to the point that he attempted suicide in early 2019 by overdosing on Xanax and Benadryl.
After surviving that he told his father he was going to find out what was the source of his anxiety and depression.
“He said, dad, I do not want to die,” Doug Hoffpauir said in the documentary.
In the podcast, Hoffpauir credited former Stanford teammate Christian McCaffrey with saving his life. He arranged for Hoffpauir to see a neurosurgeon in Denver. Later in 2019, Hoffpauir began a treatment cycle for Chronic Lyme Disease.
Centennial senior safety/tailback Zach Hoffpauir takes down Deer Valley senior quarterback Auston Hillman as Deer Valley senior lineman Stephen Arnold tries to block Oct. 6, 2011 at Deer Valley High in Glendale. Hoffpauir died in May 2020 at age 26. Centennial will retire his #31 jersey at halftime of its Sept. 24 home game against
While Coyotes assistant coach Steve Issac only coached Zach at Centennial in his senior season but knew the Hoffpauir family since Zach was an elementary school student at Phoenix Christian.
“I coached at Phoenix Christian, where his father played. He used to come in our locker room all the time and hang around our team a ton. He loved football and all sports,” Isaac said.
Defensive coordinator Andrew Taylor was around Hoffpauir the most during his varsity career, from 2009-2011. In the course of growing into the best safety in the state, Hoffpauir put a unique spin on approaching the game.
“Zach was a fierce competitor but a lot of times in kind of a fun way, in a way that was a little strange. Sometimes kids are really fierce competitors and so intense that it’s kind of smoldering and snarly, kinda nasty. Hey had a fierceness in how he would compete but he would say things that were funny to other players. It wasn’t trash talk. But he still wanted to win at everything, even shooting a rolled up piece of paper,” Taylor said.
That competitiveness was mixed with and uncanny knack for making pre-snap reads and stopping a play almost before it started. Andrew Taylor remembers him blowing up plays in the 2010 state title game against Chaparral, along with game-saving defensive plays in state quarterfinal wins against Marcos de Niza in 2010 and Deer Valley in 2011.
“He exemplified what we were looking for. He was an All-American type of kid, not only on the field but also academically. Everybody enjoyed being around him. Everything he touched, he was good at,” Centennial offensive line coach Joe McDonald said.
Richard Taylor remembers Hoffpauir’s great sense of humor including a prank on the head coach that the Coyotes starting quarterback was quitting after a practice.
“What happens in your years in high school football is not trivial. It’s not just a hobby or a little thing you did and just forgot. This really is a legacy for all time that many people remembers. We’re remembering these things from a decade ago,” Andrew Taylor said. “Zach had a huge impact on people. He was a very unique individual.”
Isaac said Hoffpauir’s passion for the sport and the people he met along the way will live on.
“It about something he was passionate about. When someone is deeply passionate about something or someone, that’s usually thing that lives on after they’re gone temporally. Those things and people we poured ourselves completely into, those are the things that, if you celebrate them the right way, they don’t die. And they rebirth themselves in younger people,” Isaac said.
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