Camp journal: Hoch makes natural move

Coaches describe sophomore Matt Hoch's transition to starting defensive tackle as the right fit.
Sophomore Matt Hoch stretches before beginning practice Tuesday morning. Hoch has added 40 pounds over the offseason and has been made Missouri's starting defensive tackle.

The corn that grows tall when the elements are favorable over the Iowa fields back home.

More meat, less lettuce.

Could the change be that simple?

Sophomore Matt Hoch’s new position coach Craig Kuligowski almost puts it that way. On Missouri’s first official depth chart of the season, Hoch is the starting nose guard. He used to be a tight end. Then he was a defensive end.

His experience at defensive tackle only came in high school, when he filled the inside of the defensive line every now and then on third-down situations for more penetration up the gut.

Kuligowski is asked how the transition was possible.

“(Hoch) played defensive line for us in camp (out of high school),” he said. “So we really did want him as a defensive line and as a tight end out of high school. He felt like playing defensive line would be a good move so we moved him over there. He started gaining weight, and he said, ‘Do you think it would help the team if I moved to D-tackle?’ I said, ‘Yes I do. I want you to.’ So he agreed to make the move.”

And what about the weight gain of 40 pounds? What happened to November’s 260-pound Hoch?

“Well, his brother, Dan, played (offensive) tackle for us,” he said of the current Jacksonville Jaguars rookie. “He was 335 pounds, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch for him genetically to do it.”

Kuligowski smiles.

“He just started eating more cheeseburgers than salads, and here he is.”

Here he is, shuffling in and out of the spaces between the propped-up bags in a line, his arms pumping rapidly. The next bag left only seconds to wonder whether the right or the left would smack.

Here he is, during the same recent practice session, just him and the offensive lineman in front of him. He’s down in his stance, fingertips digging into the naturally growing grass of the Kadlec Fields.

A can of Coke could be perfectly safe on his tabletop straight back. But then he explodes into his blocker. He swings his left arm around the man in his way and taps the target prop ahead of him.

It took him less than three seconds to get there.

“I just stay as low as I can and go as hard as I can,” he said. “It works pretty well most of the time.”

Hoch maintained the mentality in the spring that staying near the earth would have its benefits, and the team named him its most improved defensive lineman.

“He learned the position fast and was an impact player,” Pinkel said. “Being inside there, a lot of stuff happens between those tackles. When you’re inside there, it usually takes guys a while to get used to. Some guys get moved there and they’re kind of looking around. If you’re looking around there, you kind of get mowed over. But he never did that.”

He isn’t the only one at practices carrying more weight. On the defensive line alone, there are seven returning players listed as combining weight for 70 more pounds than last year’s preseason roster.

To that, the instant reaction surrounds the Tigers’ move to the Southeastern Conference, the place the public has come to know as where the big boys go to play.

“We set weight goals for every player,” Pinkel said. “A lot of the young players are the ones that are generally going to get up. Or we look at their body composition. … (It) has absolutely nothing to do with the SEC.”

Hoch entered came with the most significant weight gain. He said much of it came after he broke his foot in November.

“I was pretty sedentary and less mobile,” he said. “I kept eating but wasn’t as active. So I put it on. After the bowl game, I put on a bunch of supplements and was able to convert that into muscle.”

Kuligowski’s point is mentioned — the point about his genetics and being in a football family in the town of Harlan, Iowa.

And Hoch lists the food that could be found on the kitchen table from home, the welcoming proteins and carbohydrates and starch his mom put out: the pork chops, the stir-fry, the lasagna, the potatoes and the corn — definitely the corn.

“We’re from Iowa,” he said. “Got to rep that corn.”

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