[Vandal] Idaho’s Hoover Juggles Football, Studies, And Work

robiegruss at aol.com robiegruss at aol.com
Sat Jun 13 09:37:57 PDT 2020

>From the Daily NewsMoscow, IdahoSaturday, June 13, 2020
Idaho’s Hoover Juggles Football, Studies, And Work
By Colton Clark
Jalen Hoover has stayed occupied. That’s underplaying it. As of late, it’s been a stretch jammed with significant — and important — work for the fourth-year starter in Idaho football’s defensive backfield.
“It’s just keeping busy, keeping in shape, and working through these hard times we’re going through,” he said.
On the sports side of things, Hoover is preparing for his senior season, and second as a cornerback in the pass-happy Big Sky Conference.
He’ll be banked on to captain a position group that’s lost three key pieces from last year, and provide instruction to the Vandals’ handful of newcomers. He’s maintaining his physical condition with 6 a.m. sessions, and keeping mentally sharp via Zoom video meetings with Idaho’s staff.
“Like my coaches say: ‘Get some type of work in every day,’ ” Hoover said. “It’s a completely different world, doing stuff with your hands and feet, but we’re taking in the knowledge.”
Monday through Wednesday, Hoover studies architecture courses online. He only has a couple more to go before he earns his degree.
Of course, his “Plan A” is trying his luck with professional football. If that doesn’t pan out, he intends to fall back on a career as an architect — Hoover even has a study-abroad graduate course in London mapped out for summer 2021, if he elects to hang up his cleats.
“It’s been a lot of trial and error,” he said. “Both (football and architecture) are really demanding of your time and effort. There were a lot of late nights, where I stayed up until maybe 4 in the morning working on a project, then 30 minutes later I’d have to get up.
“I had to be mentally and physically prepared for that.”
But it’s not only education and Division I football keeping Hoover engaged.
The Brandon, Miss., native had to remain on the Palouse for the summer, so he sought nearby temporary employment about a month ago, and — after meeting with Lewiston’s Express Employment Professionals — landed with Veterinary Medical Research & Development, a biotech company in Pullman.
“It was really just luck of the draw,” he said. “I was looking for jobs on Facebook, and I applied. They called me back the next day and asked if I could do an interview.”
Thursday through Saturday, Hoover works 12-hour shifts at the lab as part of a team of assemblers, who package medical testing vials “that are shipped across the country to different hospitals, so they can keep up different testing, and coronavirus testing, in particular,” Hoover said.
According to the Facebook page of VMRD, the company is in the midst of a project to fill and package Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-approved COVID-19 transport media. The Whitman County Gazette reported VMRD is working alongside a human diagnostics company on assembling molecular transport media that kills the SARS CoV-2 virus.
“Really, it’s just a teamwork-type thing,” Hoover said. “It’s not too far from what we do in football. Everyone comes together for one overall goal.
“I wanna make sure, when I go there, that I perform well, just like I would anywhere. I kinda take it like my time on a football field — don’t give them anything less than what I can offer.”
It certainly would’ve been difficult five years ago for Hoover to imagine what would come, that he’d be finding this kind of three-tiered success 2,300 miles from home.
Hoover, a football and track star at Class 6A Northwest Rankin High School, calls his recruitment to Idaho a “blessing dropped right in my hands.” He and a couple of his teammates — defensive end Jeremiah Doss and quarterback Braden Smith, now of Colorado and Louisville, respectively — had been on defensive coordinator Mike Breske’s radar, but Hoover wasn’t really aware until Doss had let him know, and provided Breske’s number.
“I called, but I didn’t realize that it was such a different time zone,” Hoover laughed. “He didn’t answer. They might’ve been at practice or something.”
On a whim, after stirring from a nap on his grandmother’s couch the next day, Hoover gave it another crack.
“He answered, and we had a great conversation; he told me he really liked me and wanted to offer me a scholarship,” Hoover said. “I just had the biggest smile on my face.”
Hoover also had offers from Football Championship Subdivision programs Alcorn State and Jackson State, and some powerhouse Mississippi junior colleges, but Idaho was his best prospect. He misses his home region’s humidity, but wouldn’t change much else.
“I took my chances. This is D-I, this is always what I wanted to be,” he said. “It might not be Mississippi State, Alabama, LSU, but everyone’s gotta make the best of what they got. I did, and I told myself, ‘When I get there, I’m giving it all I have.’”
Hoover is not from a particularly deep family background of football, despite being from a place that “lives and breathes” the sport, with schools that compete at Mississippi’s highest prep level, and churn out future Power Five and pro standouts every year.
“There was a handful of us that extended our football careers,” he said of his Cougars team. “We always pushed each other ... and we’re still pushing each other to make it to the next level. We all had those dreams as little kids. Football is driven into our bones and our blood.”
Hoover had shaped a vision at a young age, after his mother enrolled him in recreational league ball. A few years later, he witnessed former LSU safety Tyrann Mathieu’s immaculate punt return against Georgia in 2011.
“That made me say, ‘I want to play college football. I want to better myself, and be at that type of level,’ ” Hoover recalled.
Now, he’s one of the Vandals’ most experienced and clever defenders — a crafty 5-foot-11, 170-pounder who possesses striking ball skills, reaction time, and doesn’t shy from contact.
Although he’d never played cornerback before, Hoover led Idaho last year with 10 pass breakups, some of those impressive lay-outs, in which he saved scores. He’s transitioned effectively from “quarterback of the defense,” to a role in which he reacts to plays more often than reading them.
In 35 career games, he’s logged 104 tackles, 15 PBUs and two interceptions. He’s made an impact on special teams too, blocking a pair of punts, including a game-changer in 2018 against North Dakota, which was returned for 6.
In hopes of being considered for the NFL, his objectives this year are to intercept more passes, add weight and play with more certainty.
“Especially with this being my last year, I’m going full-out, not holding back or regretting anything,” he said. “If I see it, I’m getting my hands on the football.”
Idaho coach Paul Petrino has said Hoover was moved because his style of play seemed more of a natural fit at corner. Hoover started at safety as a sophomore in 2018, and as a freshman, in the Vandals’ final year in the Football Bowl Subdivision and Sun Belt Conference.
A combination of injuries and Hoover’s tireless study of the playbook — and incessant seeking of advice — were to thank.
“I took it like a job,” he said. “They’re not gonna baby you at this point. It’s big-boy football now. It was just coming in, and making sure coaches can trust me.”
Hoover fared well in his first start on Sept. 16, 2017, at Western Michigan, though he’ll admit he “had a mini panic attack.”
“It was surreal, going out there and playing good for my first time,” he said.
“I just wanted to get to that level, and show that a lil’ boy from Mississippi can do it, and kinda be like a hero to the neighborhood down there.”
With his balancing of D-I football, an architecture major, and important work in combating the coronavirus, that very well could be the case.
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