Ivy MVP enjoys his anonymity


Photo by Candace diCarlo

It’s hard to think of Gavin Hoffman as somebody’s son. At 6 feet 6 inches, he’s just too tall for that.

But don’t tell his parents, who have flown from their home in Minnesota to every one of his games, including a game in Hawaii.

The other thing about Hoffman’s height is it makes it hard to miss him. On top of that, he’s a sports hero, the starting quarterback of Penn’s championship football team and the Ivy League’s Most Valuable Player for 2000.

But all this success hasn’t gone to his head. He remains philosophic about his accomplishments and the game that’s brought him stardom. And he manages to keep a low profile on campus, noting that people don’t seem to know him before they actually meet him. “I feel completely anonymous here,” Hoffman (W’01) said after the football season.

To him, that’s a relief. Hoffman said that before transferring to Penn from Northwestern in 1999, he felt like more of a spectacle. “Teachers would read out the enrolled students’ names at the beginning of class, and the other students would look around to see the football players.”

Besides enjoying the lower profile he can maintain at Penn, Hoffman has also adjusted to the smaller crowds at Franklin Field. “I only noticed it the first two games or so,” he said. “There is less notoriety and media exposure, but the game means the same. You shouldn’t be playing a sport for the fanfare.”

Fanfare was in ample supply this season, though, as the football team captured the Ivy title for the second time in three years. Hoffman said he values the team’s accomplishments more than his individual MVP accolades. “Being on a championship team is the most fun I’ve ever had playing football. Winning the title meant a lot to me. The MVP stuff isn’t as important now; it’ll be useful down the line to prove to my kids that their old man is not a dork.”

Much of this balanced attitude comes from the support of Hoffman’s parents. When he found the academic program at Penn was more to his liking, they supported his decision to transfer, even though it meant giving up his scholarship at Northwestern and the prestigious position of starting quarterback on a Big Ten team. “They cared enough to see me happy and think it’s worth it that they see a different person here.”

The “different person” Hoffman has become at Penn is interested in his studies at Wharton, and has found friends who are similar to him in “values, humor, and personality.” His social circle mostly revolves around football. “Freshman year I wanted to know everybody. That’s not as important now.”

Hardest for Hoffman has been balancing the athletic, academic and social areas of his life. The time commitment to football is as heavy here as it was at Northwestern, but the academic load at Penn is much greater. “The coaches expect us to make football your life. … They keep us down there [at the football field] as much as they can. But you go into it knowing that’s the expectation.”

While Hoffman still has another year here — he didn’t play freshman year and is therefore eligible for another year on the gridiron — most of his friends are seniors. Following their lead, he is trying to enjoy Penn as if it were his last go-around now. “I’m starting to get nostalgic,” he said with a smile.

Originally published on January 18, 2001