Michael Hoffer Wants To Win Another National Title For Late Mother & Coach
Michael Hoffer knows what can be done with a little belief and some can-do-attitude.
In a little more than a year, the Shawnee Mission (KS) High athlete added nearly a foot to his high jump best, culminating in a national title at the AAU Junior Olympics last year at Turner Stadium in Humble, Texas in a height of 6 feet, 10.75 inches.
But while he experienced unparalleled success on his way to his first big title, Hoffer dealt with personal tragedy that tested his resolve, too.
The February before his title in August, Hoffer lost his mother, Shirley Stubbs, after a year's fight with cervical cancer. And weeks after his national win, his Northeast Kansas Track Club coach, Lance Lenard, tragically died from a car accident.
"They were my biggest supporters," Hoffer said. "It's hard to know they're not here physically, but I believe they're still here with me spiritually. They want me to be successful, and they know this is something I want to do."
Hoffer still went on to win his second straight Kansas State High School Athletic Association title in May, marking a winning height of 6-8 despite a nagging hamstring injury that sidelined bigger hopes of reaching 7-feet.
But Hoffer knows that effort may come in time. So, too, could another national title.
"I definitely want to see if I can get over the 7-foot bar and see if I could hold another national title," he said.
What's somewhat remarkable is the progression the soon-to-be senior has taken in just two years in track and field. The versatile three-sport athlete, who also plays football and basketball, stands just 5-feet-10 inches.
But in his first track meet as a sophomore in April 2015, when he recorded a leap of 5-11.5 inches, Hoffer was only about 5-foot-8.
And yet, by July of 2016 at the AAU Junior Olympics, the Topeka native had added nearly a foot to his personal best, marking 6-10 for the second time his sophomore season.
"It didn't surprise me that he went 6-10 again," said Brad Nix, who coaches Shawnee Mission High. "His sophomore year was his breakout year."
Hoffer relates much of his success to Lenard, who taught him the basics, and of which he continues to perfect. At Shawnee Mission, Hoffer also has the benefit of working with Bob Wells, who has coached for 30 years at the program.
"Coach Lenard, he saw what I could do," Hoffer said. "He's the one that got me into it."
What's different about Hoffer is his approach. He says most right-handed athletes are traditionally left-footed jumpers. But he approaches from the left and takes off with his right.
"I start with a steady couple of steps and on the curve is where I bring the speed and try to bring myself into the area," he said.
"He likes to walk into it," Nix said. "So he has marks he has to hit so he knows that he's on stride and I think for him, it's just a mental thing. He does a great job attacking the curve."
An unfortunate hamstring injury prevented him from getting back to 6-10 as a junior, though Hoffer did mark 6-8 five times over the season and stood as No. 4 in the state -- three other athletes also jumped that high this season in the state.
Hoffer, who also long jumps and ran in his team's 4x100 and 4x400 relay, still has time to end in the No. 1 position, though. That mark currently belongs to Richard Newman of Topeka High, who went 6-11 in May.
"It will be hard, but I will give whatever I have," he said. "Most of all, I know I can't give up and just give my best."
What's a little different now is Hoffer's motivation.
He wears a cross around his neck to this day that bears the initials of his mother's name on the back -- it was a gift given to him by a student from nearby Haden Catholic, who saw his story on the news.
"It was a random act of kindness," he said. "It was amazing and I can't thank her enough for it."
He also writes the date of his coaches and mom's death on his shoes as a reminder for what he's competing for, and says a prayer before every leap he takes.
"My mom wanted to see my happiness," Hoffer said. "So I want to keep trying for my best and see how high I can go. I'm really anxious to see."