Though it has been almost two decades since Gavin Hoffman was a Quaker, his legacy persists in Penn’s record books.
The list is long. Most career passing yards, most career pass attempts, most career completions, highest single-season completion percentage — all achieved in just three years at Penn. Even for passing records Hoffman no longer holds, chances are his name is still found in the top three.
The 2001 Wharton graduate first started his collegiate career at Northwestern in 1998 and immediately made an impact as starting quarterback.
Although the Wildcats put up a record of 3-9 that year, dropping each of their eight conference matchups, Hoffman’s individual statistics pointed towards a promising future. He threw for 2,199 total yards with 13 touchdowns and a 54.5% completion percentage.
Following Hoffman’s first season, Northwestern underwent a coaching change, with coach Gary Barnett leaving to take the reins at Colorado. The next fall, Hoffman would depart as well, joining a Penn football team fresh off a 1998 Ivy League title.
“There’s a high bar set [by the Penn football program] in terms of performance and dedication to it,” Hoffman said. “And that just gave me a lot of comfort because football was so important to me at the time. I felt like I wasn't going to lose much, in that sense, while maintaining a high-quality degree.”
With his Big Ten experience, Hoffman immediately took over the starting job under coach Al Bagnoli.
In 1999, Hoffman threw for 2,328 total yards in addition to 14 more touchdowns. Naturally, he drew comparisons to 1998 Wharton graduate Matt Rader, a quarterback who had also transferred to Penn from a Division I-A program. Rader, who spent the first two years of his collegiate career at Duke, helped the Quakers to their 1998 title.
Although Hoffman’s completion percentage rose to 59.5% in his sophomore year, his numbers were down from Rader’s 1998 stats. Compared to Hoffman’s 12 interceptions, Rader had posted a 61.6% completion percentage against only eight interceptions during his senior year.
That season, Hoffman proved all skeptics wrong as he single-handedly rewrote the Penn record books. His 70.5% completion rate was good for the best in the nation, and his 3,213 total passing yards broke the Penn record for most in a single season, a mark he still holds 20 years later.
Hoffman’s touchdowns that season skyrocketed to 24, tying the Penn record. That ceiling would later be broken by 2003 Wharton graduate Mike Mitchell, who notched 26 touchdowns in 2003.
On top of his stellar stats, Hoffman ended the season with some distinguished hardware. The Quakers won their 11th Ivy title, and Hoffman was honored with the Asa S. Bushnell Cup as the 2000 Ivy League Player of the Year.
“It’s a unique accomplishment, and I was also pretty fortunate to be on the team with a lot of talented guys, particularly on the offense,” Hoffman said of his 2000 conference title. “At the time, it really felt like a team reward. Being the quarterback, you get a lot of credit when things go well, and it certainly did that year. Looking back, it is something I’m proud of still, for sure.”
Hoffman’s legacy on Franklin Field was so prevalent that when Penn quarterback coach Larry Woods retired in 2014, he named Hoffman as a highlight of his coaching career in an interview with the Pennsylvania Gazette.
“Gavin was a real student of the game from the time he came in here,” Woods told the Gazette. “He came in here with a Division I mentality. He had transferred from Northwestern and really came in knowing how to play the position and, more importantly, how to prepare to be a starting quarterback.”
After graduating, Hoffman joined an elite group of Penn football alumni who went on to sign with an NFL team. He signed a two-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie free agent in 2002, but ultimately left his football career to turn his focus to entrepreneurship.
Between working for startups and starting his own footwear company, Austen Heller, the lessons Hoffman learned on the field translated to success in the business world. '
“There’s a lot of parallels if you want to be successful at any sport,” Hoffman said. “Eliminate distractions, really commit yourself to being better in incremental steps — that certainly works in the business world and in startups. It can be an emotional rollercoaster, and you can have setbacks, but as long as you have the perseverance to keep working at it every day, you can crack through the obstacles in front of you.”
Hoffman still keeps up with his fellow former Quakers, who never fail to remind him when an active player gets close to one of his records.
“Twenty years later, I’m in constant contact with more than a handful of my ex-teammates, and they've all gone on to do interesting things in life and have great families,” Hoffman said. “They’re just a really solid set of people that I would not have met without transferring to Penn and being a part of the football team.”
While Hoffman’s records are etched in stone for now, time will tell if future Penn quarterbacks will be able to emulate his success and whether a new name will someday challenge for the top of the list.
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