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Dick Harmon: Ex-Cougar, Steeler Chris Hoke turned hard work into 11-year career

Published: Saturday, March 31 2012 8:52 p.m. MDT

Former BYU and Pittsburgh Steelers player Chris Hoke runs with the Y flag before a 2008 game against New Mexico in Provo. at LaVell Edwards Stadium at Brigham Young University.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

Not every NFL player gets drafted.

The state's colleges are teeming with outstanding football players and some will be taken in the draft. But the majority of professional-bound players in Utah will take a different route and sign as free agents.

Sometimes, it even works out.

A great example is Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Chris Hoke, who just retired after an 11-year career that included two Super Bowl rings. He was undrafted out of BYU in 2001. He never let that stop him.

Hoke has the attitude of a cage fighter. He doesn't know what it means to quit. He's never let anyone define how good or bad he is and never allowed a hurdle to trip him up or keep him down. He lives to prove people wrong.

He knows himself and his abilities. He's patient as a Swiss watchmaker, grateful as a Christmas elf.

And all this opened doors.

I called Hoke on the phone in Pittsburgh this week and asked him to share three things he's learned as a survivor of 11 years in the NFL.

He didn't hesitate and rattled them off like Post-It notes he'd stuck on his kitchen fridge. These are parts of a blueprint that can be applied to every level of sports, business or even personal venture.

First thing, said Hoke, is you're never as good as you think you are and you are never as bad as the media says.

"If you think you're good, that's when you have to work harder," he said. "If you start thinking you're something, that's when you have to buckle down and really give everything you have so you don't grow complacent. The other thing is the media is always going to harp on the negative and you have to believe in yourself and know that you are better than that. I think you have to keep yourself humble and keep yourself hungry."

For the first three years of Hoke's NFL career, he was on the inactive roster and did not get any playing time. When starting nose guard Casey Hampton got injured six games into the 2004 season, Hoke came in and got 24 tackles and one sack. The next year he played on the Steelers' Super Bowl XL championship team.

Second thing he learned in the NFL is there is no substitute for hard work.

"I know it's something people hear all the time, but for me, it means something. As an undrafted free agent, I didn't get to play my first three years. I took two snaps in the first three seasons. One of the things that kept me going as a young guy was I never let up. Others would tell me to 'slow down, slow down' and I kept telling them if they started paying my paycheck, I'd slow down.

"I always gave 110 percent because I wanted to stay around. I always stayed after practice and I always did extra film study. My thing is, good things happen to those who work hard. If you want to stick around, then you push your tail. That was the mantra of my career. Any coach or player you talk to will tell you nobody worked harder. I wasn't the most athletic player on the team, I wasn't the most gifted guy but I'd outwork you and out-prepare you."

Hoke made it hard for the Steelers to cut him or give up on him. In fact, they probably wanted him in the mix to show the high-priced draftees what level of commitment they expected in a player who simply loved the game and played to prove it.

The No. 3 thing he learned is there is nothing like having a family support system for a professional athlete.

Hoke has seen his share of highly talented men with a lot of money and time on their hands self-destruct because after football they ended up with a vacuum at home and got in trouble or made bad choices.

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