PULLMAN – With his bulging biceps, wild hair, colorful language and plentiful tattoos, Washington State linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis will never be confused with the local librarian. “He kinda looks scary,” WSU defensive end Travis Long admits. No doubt some rivals share Long’s opinion. Take Hoffman-Ellis off the football field, however, and the wild-eyed outside linebacker is a different fellow.
“Pretty low key,” WSU safety Tyree Toomer said. “It’s kind of like a dual personality.”
“He’s a nice guy,” Long said. “He gets along with everyone.”
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Hoffman-Ellis says that wasn’t always the case in high school. The Los Angeles native prefers not to go into detail, but he was kicked out of one school, and it’s safe to say the local police would have loved to chat with him a time or two.
“I fell in with the wrong crowd,” Hoffman-Ellis has said.
Academic ineligibility prevented Hoffman-Ellis from playing high school football until his senior year. That was the first time he played football at any level, but his
impressive speed and athleticism helped him land a spot on a local junior college team.
The Cougars spotted Hoffman-Ellis on film and brought him north after his freshman year. Hoffman-Ellis redshirted in 2008, then led the team in tackles in 2009.
Hoffman-Ellis, still learning the game, might have led the Cougars in blown assignments and tackles that year, too. He played middle linebacker most of his sophomore year before moving outside last season, when he finished second on the team in tackles despite back problems that severely limited his practice time.
Healthy this year, Hoffman-Ellis leads the Cougars with 80 tackles. That ranks fourth in the Pacific-12 Conference, and he’s first in solo tackles with 61.
“To see where he is today compared to what he was when he showed up here, it’s amazing, how far that man has come,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said.
“He was really raw (in 2008),” defensive coordinator Chris Ball said. “It was nice to be able to redshirt him, let him get his feet on the ground and get bigger and stronger. He made a commitment to learn football, and it’s paid off.”
Hoffman-Ellis hopes to play for pay a year from now. He leaves WSU with warm memories, if not very many wins.
“I can’t say enough about my fellow seniors, what a great group of guys they are, just persevering through the tough times and never giving up,” Hoffman-Ellis said.
“Hoffman-Ellis has had a tremendous year for them,” said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, whose team faces WSU in the Apple Cup on Saturday. “He’s been a very sure tackler. He plays the game with a great deal of energy and effort. He seems like a real leader for them.”
Indeed, WSU coaches and players say Hoffman-Ellis gradually developed into a key team leader, on and off the field.
“You see that passion and rage he has inside of him,” Toomer said.
“He was a great leader this year,” Long said. “I’m going to miss having him back there.”