Life after college sports ended had been extremely rocky for former Centennial High and Stanford two-sport star Zach Hoffpauir, but the past year appeared to have given the 26-year-old a new career and renewed purpose.
After serving as an assistant coach for Boulder Creek High in Anthem in 2019, Hoffpauir started his new job as the University of Northern Colorado’s safeties coach, working for first-year Bears coach and friend Ed McCaffrey.
Hoffpauir had returned to the Valley after the Norther Colorado campus closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. He died on May 14, of undisclosed causes. In a release, Stanford stated Hoffpauir died in his sleep.
“When he was in town he usually came by,” said Centennial football coach Richard Taylor. “He helped us a couple of times with spring ball. He was a very natural coach and made everyone feel valued.”
Taylor is the Peoria school’s only head coach in 30 years of football. He said even having coached that many players over three decades, Hoffpauir stood out — for more than his all-state performance on the field.
By his sophomore year, Hoffpauir was a star on both the Coyotes varsity football and baseball teams. Taylor said he used that visibility to help lift up students beyond his athletic and cultural spheres.
“He always had a really positive energy on the campus,” Taylor said. “He was a big man on campus and he used it in a good way.”
Several Pac-12 schools recruited Hoffpauir for both sports, and after initially verbally committing to California, he signed with Stanford. He played for the Cardinal’s 2012 Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champions, and teamed with linebacker Shane Skov to make a goal-line stop against Arizona State in the 2013 Pac-12 title game near his home town.
Hoffpauir continued playing both sports in his first three years at Stanford. The Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him in 2015, and Hoffpauir played rookie ball 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 before concussions forced him to retire from the sport.
In John Wilner’s article for the May 18 San Jose Mercury-News Hoffpauir’s father said the family has donated Zach’s brain to concussion research.
Doug Hoffpauir told the Mercury News on May 17 that the process is underway with Boston University. He also said the Stanford football program was very attentive to his son’s head trauma during his career.
Zach Hoffpauir revealed on a podcast last fall 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.
In the podcast, Hoffpauir credited former Stanford teammate Christian McCaffrey with saving his life. He arranged for Hoffpauir to see a neurosurgeon in Denver.
“I sit down with him and within 15 minutes, he tells me it’s Lyme disease,” Hoffpauir recalled in the podcast.
Hoffpauir said Chronic Lyme Disease attacked his immune system — Hoffpauir had bouts with Valley fever and meningitis — and was connected to his anxiety, depression and insomnia.
However, Hoffpauir said on the ‘Untold’ podcast that before he began a treatment cycle for Chronic Lyme Disease, his mental state deteriorated and he attempted suicide by overdosing on Xanax and Benadryl.
At the time of the podcast in September 2019, Hoffpauir said he was taking 30 pills per day of prescription medications, was “way more stable” and had discovered coping mechanisms.
Doug Hoffpauir did not mention specifics of his son’s death but told Wilner that it was absolutely not suicide.
Zach Hoffpauir returned to baseball in 2018, playing a second year in Hillsboro. While his football exploits received more press — Centennial won its third straight state title and was nationally ranked by USA Today for most of his sophomore year — baseball was his only four-year varsity sport in high school.
He started for the 2009 Coyotes as a freshman, hitting .404 with 30 RBI and finished in 2012 batting .455, five homers and 22 RBI.
Jeff Gahan was not coaching in the Centennial program then, but actively followed the team in those years. His son, Michael, was a Centennial basketball assistant when Hoffpauir started for the Coyotes as a freshman point guard.
Hoffpauir gave up hoops, but was the type of athlete that could be plugged in virtually anywhere.
“He ended up at least the majority of the time behind the plate even though he likely was the team’s most talented outfielder. He was just so gifted as an athlete that he could do that because that’s where the team needed him,” Gahan stated in a Twitter interview. “He was so unique as a young athlete in that as good as he was, he remained very humble. He was universally loved by his coaches and teammates in both football and baseball. Lastly, it’s highly unusual to have a talented young athlete who never thought or acted better than anyone. Although the clear leader in both sports, he really just wanted to be ‘one of the guys.’”
Taylor echoed those sentiments, pointing out Hoffpauir had not played organized football until joining the Centennial freshman team in 2008. Yet he was a fixture at safety on the stacked 2009 varsity team.
Taylor said Hoffpauir made season-saving plays off pre-snap reads in the 2010 and 2011 state quarterfinals against Marcos de Niza and Deer Valley, respectively. As he grew into one of the state’s elite football players those two seasons, making 11 total interceptions for 284 return yards and 132 tackles.
“He had great athletic instinct. As a young kid he played a lot of soccer and baseball and developed great footwork,” Taylor said.
Centennial was the first public school Hoffpauir attended after spending elementary school on private Christian campuses. But as long as the coach knew him, Taylor said Hoffpauir was a defender of his faith.
The coach agreed with Gahan and NFL players and Stanford alums like McCaffrey, Aziz Shittu and Zach Ertz. They all said Hoffpauir’s greatest gift was an ability to inspire teammates and entertain just about everyone with his dancing, impersonations and welcoming personality.
“I stayed awake a long time last night, thinking about Zach — a lot of good thoughts. He could really dance,” Taylor said May 18.