Andrew Hofer has a very typical-looking classroom at Polo High School, with rows of desks, a blackboard in the front, and various charts and posters hanging on the walls.
On Hofer’s desk, however, are two items that point to his status as the Marcos’ head football coach.
There is a sheet of paper with various X’s and O’s and arrows pointing every which way. It’s a diagram of a defensive alignment used by Michigan State this past season, and Hofer wanted to see if something being done by the Spartans could be incorporated into his playbook.
Next to that is a biography of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, a book which Hofer checked out of the library, but hasn’t quite completed yet.
“From what I’ve read so far,” he said with a slight grin, “I am nothing like Nick Saban.”
Actually, Hofer does share at least one trait with the Crimson Tide’s coach – winning.
Saban has Alabama in the hunt for a national championship most seasons, including the current one, and Hofer looks to have the Marcos pointed in the right direction as well. They went 11-1 and reached the quarterfinals of the Class 1A playoffs, the deepest penetration of any team in the Sauk Valley this past season.
“If a coach isn’t passionate for the game that they’re coaching in, I’m not sure why anyone would do it,” Hofer said. “That’s just always been my take on it, not only in coaching, but also in my teaching career. I’m always wanting to better myself and to further my education.
“In the offseason, I try to study successful coaches, and try to look at different schemes and cultures within football that might be beneficial to us and our program in the future.”
Hofer, 30, came to Polo 5 years ago with a rich football background. He played at Sherrard High School for head coach Pat Elder and assistant coach John Elder, members of one of Illinois’ preeminent prep football families, and was also an assistant for 3 seasons at Deer Creek-Mackinaw under long-time coach Joe Linboom.
The last game Hofer coached at Deer Creek-Macknaw was in the fall of 2010, a 46-12 loss to Newman in the Class 2A semifinals.
“I’ve been able to use the experience under those guys, and use them in a positive way to help me in my career,” Hofer said.
Hofer’s first head coaching job came the next season, at Polo, and it was an eye-opening experience. He took over a program that had been solid, with 19 playoff appearances in school history, but was rarely able to do much damage in the postseason.
Making Hofer’s task even tougher was the fact he came on board in the first of a 2-year run in the NUIC Northwest, a much more rugged path than in the Upstate side of the NUIC. Polo went 1-8 in 2011, then 3-6 in 2012, resulting in some grumbling in the community.
Hofer simply stayed the course, however, and soon the results followed. The Marcos, with some talented but raw underclassmen in the lineup, went 4-5 in 2013, then had a breakthrough in 2014 by posting an 8-3 mark, and made a run to the second round of the 1A playoffs.
That squad was junior dominated, and they bought what Hofer was selling. Included in that group was Ethan Cain, one of the sophomore call-ups in 2013.
“The first season I played varsity, we didn’t have a winning season, and it was kind of like, ‘Ah, does he know what he’s doing?’” Cain said. “Then the next year he helped us win the conference title. This year we were like, ‘All right, he knows his stuff. Let’s trust him.’”
There were two main building blocks for Hofer. First, he surrounded himself with a coaching staff that he trusts completely. That included offensive coordinator Hank Grobe and special teams coordinator Cliff Bardell at the varsity level, and Jeff Bumsted, Matt Scholl and R.J. Gabaldon at the fresh-soph level.
The second building block was securing a year-round commitment from the athletes. In the summer, Hofer oversaw weightlifting sessions from 6 to 8 a.m., and again from 9 to 11 a.m., 4 days a week. In-season, that dropped to 3 days a week, but players are still going at it.
“You’re not going to see any successful football program in this state where the kids aren’t committed to the offseason lifting program,” Hofer said. “In my 5 years since I’ve been here, we’ve more than doubled our participation, which I think you’ve been able to see those results on the field. It’s a constant battle. Kids don’t always want to put in the work, but we keep on ‘em, and they’ve responded nicely.”
Juan Dominguez, another 3-year varsity player for the Marcos, was one of the lifting regulars.
“He always put that on us,” Dominguez said. “We needed to get in the weight room to reach that next level.”
In 2014, the season ended with a 49-12 demolition at the hands of Stark County, a loss that while hard to take, set the wheels in motion for what became a memorable 2015 campaign. A core group of seniors came back bigger, stronger and faster for the season, and laid waste to just about anything in its path.
“When you get a combination of the experience and hard work, a lot of times things work out really well for you,” Hofer said. “Add that to the fact we were blessed with an abundance of talent this year, especially at our athletic positions, and we certainly took advantage of that this year.”
Through 11 games, Polo outscored its opponents 577-41, with the majority of the games being mercy-rule affairs. Unfortunately for the Marcos, that all ended in the 1A quarterfinals, with a 35-17 setback against Stark County. The Rebels would go on to finish second at state, losing to Arcola in the finals.
Polo has lost to Stark County in the playoffs three times in the past 7 years, and Hofer takes a lesson from those defeats.
“I think our kids have seen what it takes to get to where we want to be,” Hofer said. “Even though Stark County didn’t win a state championship, they’re a great program. They’ve been to the playoffs countless years in a row, and that’s the team that we want to be – the team that’s in the playoffs year-in and year-out, and not only in the playoffs, but a team that’s competing for a state championship. We’ve made some great strides, but there’s still some work to do.”
Outside of football, Hofer makes time to spend with family. He and his wife, Kady, have been married for 6 years, and they have 2-year-old twins, Micah and Savannah.
Hofer also describes himself as a “sports junkie,” with pickup basketball, flag football and intramural softball games part of his routine. He has also become a bit of a workout warrior, which has helped him shed some 60 pounds since his college days. At Sherrard, he was a 235-pound offensive lineman, and described himself as “pudgy.”
Now, he eats much better, works off what he eats, and tips the scales at around 190 pounds. Before football games, he goes on a 3- or 4-mile run, to work off some nervous energy and get his mind right for that night’s game.
“It’s something that’s become another passion of mine,” Hofer said. “If I’m going to ask the kids to live a healthy lifestyle, I should be willing to do the same.”
Hofer is already looking ahead to next season, when the current juniors will fill the shoes of the departing seniors, and a 9-0 fresh-soph squad looks to find their niche on the varsity.
“This was a great season for the players, the coaches, the school and the community,” Hofer said, “and we want to do everything we can to put ourselves in that position again.”
Backing Hofer in his pursuit of football success is Polo Athletic Director Ted Alston, the varsity coach at the school for 11 seasons (2000-10) before Hofer arrived. Alston is keenly aware of what it takes to win at the varsity level, and is excited Hofer is the man guiding the Marcos.
“We’re on the same page pretty much all of time with what needs to be done to make the program better,” Alston said. “Andrew is very easy to work with, and I couldn’t be happier having him be our football coach.”
High School: Sherrard, 2004
College: Olivet Nazarene (2008)
Family: Wife, Kady; children, Micah and Savannah (twins), 2
FYI: English teacher and varsity football coach at Polo for the past 5 years. … Has overall record of 27-23 at school, including 11-1 in 2015. … Won NUIC Upstate for second consecutive year. … Advanced to quarterfinals of Class 1A playoffs