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Super Bowl LI: Chris Hogan makes long run from lacrosse to NFL end zone

Patriots receiver Chris Hogan spikes the ball

Patriots receiver Chris Hogan spikes the ball on one of his two touchdowns against Pittsburgh in the AFC title game on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough. Hogan played three years of lacrosse at Penn State and one year of FCS-level football at Monmouth in New Jersey in 2010 before embarking on his improbable NFL career. Credit: TNS / Matt Freed

Unheralded Chris Hogan became famous last Sunday by making nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the Patriots’ 36-17 win over the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

But when an interested Steelers fan saw Hogan’s exploits, he knew exactly where those moves came from. Glenn Thiel, Hogan’s former lacrosse coach at Penn State, saw the player he knew at State College — just running without a stick.

“He’s big and strong and he’s got good footwork,” Thiel said of Hogan, who will look to catch some more passes from Brady next Sunday in Houston against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

“I mean, when you run a lacrosse ball up and down the field, you’ve got the footwork like a tailback or like a wide receiver, making moves around people and whatnot to protect your stick. That’s kind of how he runs patterns, I think.”

Leave it to Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots to turn a former college lacrosse player with one year of FCS football experience at Monmouth into a prime target in one of the biggest games of the season.

Hogan, a star football and lacrosse player at Ramapo (N.J.) High School, chose lacrosse for college and played three full seasons at Penn State. But an ankle injury in his sophomore year led to a redshirt season. Hogan decided he wanted to spend that on the gridiron and not the lacrosse field.

“He had come to me before his last year at Penn State and said he wanted to play football,” said Thiel, who retired in 2012. “I knew he was going to play somewhere. I just didn’t know where. It turned out Monmouth was the perfect situation for him, I guess.”

Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan knew of Hogan from his high school days. When some mutual friends reported that Hogan wanted to return to football, the Hawks pounced.

“Immediately I said, ‘I know who Chris Hogan is. I remember Chris Hogan,’ ” Callahan said. “And he came down and spoke to us and decided to come and went on from there.”

Hogan put away his lacrosse gear and headed to West Long Branch to play wide receiver.

“He comes out and basically the first day of practice, it was very obvious immediately that he was extremely talented,” Callahan said. “He was very athletic. He had the size, the strength, the athleticism, the speed, all the things you look for. Great hands. We knew right away he was going to be a very, very talented player. In the first game he ever played, in the season opener against Colgate, his first catch goes for a 17-yard touchdown.”

Hogan showed his lacrosse-honed versatility later that season when the Hawks were short of defensive backs. Callahan asked Hogan if he would be willing to start at cornerback, and after two practices, he did just that — and continued to play wide receiver.

“On the surface, you would say that Chris is very quiet, somewhat laid-back,” Callahan said. “He doesn’t say a lot — operates under the radar. But under the surface, he’s extremely confident, he’s extremely competitive, and he’s highly motivated and driven to succeed. He’s a guy that sets a high standard for himself. If he ever senses that there’s something or someone saying he can’t be successful or saying, ‘Hey, we don’t think you can do this,’ he’s going to even work that much harder to prove those people wrong.”

After his year at Monmouth, an NFL career did not seem likely for the 6-1, 210-pound Hogan. He signed with the 49ers, spent time on the practice squads of the Giants and Dolphins, and eventu al ly hooked on with the Bills.

He caught 10 balls for Buffalo in 2013, 41 in 2014 and 36 in 2015. The story would be good enough if it ended there. But then Hogan signed with the Patriots and caught 38 passes for 680 yards and four touchdowns during the 2016 regular season.

In his first playoff game, Hogan caught four passes for 95 yards in the Patriots’ 34-16 win over Houston. Then came his breakout game against Pittsburgh, which made Hogan’s former lacrosse coach smile.

“I remember when he left Buffalo and got picked up by New England,” Thiel said. “I said to myself, ‘He’s going to enjoy catching Brady passes.’ He’s had a great year, that’s for sure. It’s exciting. It’s good to see him make it like that. I always thought he was the kind of athlete that could do those kind of things.”

New York Sports