Patrick Hoffmann was looking for a fresh start.
After beginning his college football career at Northern Illinois, the 2020 Neuqua Valley graduate effectively went back in order to go forward.
“They had me playing defense over at NIU, and I wanted to get back to my receiver days,” Hoffmann said. “I just thought it was best to hook up with my former high school quarterback and make that move.”
Hoffmann has reunited with former Neuqua Valley teammate Mark Gronowski at Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse South Dakota State. Gronowski was the 2019 Naperville Sun Football Player of the Year.
Hoffmann was one of Gronowski’s top targets on Neuqua Valley’s undefeated conference championship team that went 9-2 and reached the second round of the Class 8A playoffs in 2019. Hoffmann had 30 catches for 451 yards and five touchdowns that season.
Hoffmann left NIU after the 2021 spring season and reached out to Gronowski.
“Mark helped me the entire way of getting recruited by them, working with the playbook and getting on the same page with the offense,” Hoffmann said.
“I was so glad when Patrick came up here about a year ago,” Gronowski said. “It’s awesome having that connection that we built over high school and now having that back.”
Their reunion comes at a crucial juncture for both players. Each is facing a new challenge.
While Hoffmann comes into a new program, Gronowski returns as the Jackrabbits’ starting quarterback after missing last season with a knee injury suffered in a 23-21 loss to Sam Houston State in the FCS national championship game in May 2021.
“I’m feeling great,” Gronowski said. “My body is feeling great, and my mind is stronger and sharper than ever.”
Gronowski started all 10 games for the Jackrabbits during his freshman season. He completed 108 of 188 passes for 1,565 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also rushed for 577 yards and seven TDs.
Both players said they think the system at South Dakota State optimizes their talents, and both are redshirt sophomores with four years of eligibility remaining. So they have plenty of time to take advantage of their connection.
“As the quarterback, you have to be able to build that trust,” Gronowski said. “You have to have some instinct with it, knowing guys are going to be in a certain situation at this time.”
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The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Hoffmann said he is where he wants to be.
“This just feels more like home and more natural to be playing receiver again and working on my craft,” he said.
Hoffmann and Gronowski, who are also roommates at South Dakota State, played together in youth leagues in Naperville and were three-sport athletes at Neuqua Valley.
They started together on the basketball team that reached the Class 4A sectional semifinals in 2020. Hoffmann won two state medals on the Wildcats’ 1,600-meter relay team in track, while Gronowski was a standout outfielder in baseball.
Both players have something to prove this season.
“I still have that same chip on my shoulder of bigger colleges looking over me,” Gronowski said. “I just want to prove to people I am back to where I was before and better than ever.”
Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.