Missouri football's Hoch uses math skills to his advantage

Friday, October 30, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Sophomore offensive lineman Dan Hoch (No. 77) goes through defensive drills with junior tight end Andy Loyd during football practice Tuesday at the Daniel J. Devine Pavilion.

COLUMBIA — Just after the teacher finishes asking the question, the biggest kid in the class shoots his hand into the air.

How many students are absent? That's easy, he thought. Just subtract how many are here from how many are in the class.

It was kindergarten or first grade. Dan Hoch can't remember. He just knows it's his first memory of numbers being effortless.

Hoch is still the biggest kid in the class. Except the class is a Division I football team, and anyone who is 6 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs 320 pounds probably can't be called a kid.

He is also still good with numbers. He took Calculus III as a freshman. His teammates fire three-digit numbers at him to divide and multiply. And while he is often the most physically imposing man in whatever room he's in, it's the mental side of things that he has always tried to make his greatest advantage.

Hoch never had much of a choice when it came to schoolwork. His mom was the valedictorian of her high school class, finishing just ahead of someone else Hoch knows fairly well — his dad.

"My parents have always pressed (academics)," Hoch said. "It was always really important to them, and they did really well in high school. So it’s been a heavy influence with them."

So while his 3.9 grade-point average at Harlan High School in Iowa might not come as a surprise, it did come with a packed schedule.

By the end of Hoch's freshman year, he was a two-sport varsity athlete, but neither was football. Before Hoch was a college football recruit, he was a basketball star. More importantly, he was a pitcher.

Hoch started pitching for his high school team in eighth grade, which is allowed in Iowa. And even as a 14-year-old, Hoch was big enough to terrify opponents as he took the mound.

"I hoped I was a little bit intimidating," Hoch said.

But though he was throwing a staggering 90 mph fastball as a freshman, Hoch said it was the numbers behind pitching that allowed him to be successful.

"It helped a lot," Hoch said. "I could just tell percentages, like needing to throw a first pitch strike and how important it was."

Eventually, football began to take over. It was impossible to ignore Hoch's body and athleticism (he actually played tight end for most of his high school football career). Colleges came calling and, after choosing Missouri, it didn't take long for Hoch's new teammates to discover his ability with numbers.

Blaine Gabbert lived next door to Hoch last year, and when Gabbert, who was taking Calculus I at the time, found out that Hoch was taking Calculus III, he found a brand new resource.

"If I had a question, I’d go and ask him," Gabbert said.

Hoch has never minded helping out teammates. He's actually an education major and hopes to one day teach middle school math. The impromptu tutoring sessions are just a head start.

"I like how it’s still related directly with numbers and how numbers play into it," Hoch said of math at the middle school level. "And I’d try to find a way to teach students the way that I can think."

Last season, it was Gabbert and a few other freshmen who were the only ones who knew about Hoch's abilities in the classroom. But earlier this season, both Sean Weatherspoon and Derrick Washington caught wind of Hoch's talents as a human calculator, and the quizzes began.

"I heard some guys talking about how he was really good and how he’s been doing in his math classes, so we starting shooting some numbers at him and he was shooting the correct answer right back at you," Weatherspoon said. "In short times. Long division. Multiplication. He spits the numbers right back at you with the decimals and everything."

The quiz sessions are Hoch's only math exams at the moment. He's busy with his required education courses. But that doesn't mean what his skills can provide has become any less important.

"I’ve really looked for every edge," Hoch said. "Once you get to this level everyone’s about the same size, everyone’s got the same strength. It’s all pretty close. You’ve got to look for every advantage that you can."

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