By Cybele Zhang
Stanford baseball and football alumnus Zach Hoffpauir ’16 passed away Thursday morning at the age of 26, his father told The Arizona Republic.
At the time of his death, Hoffpauir was sheltering in place with his father in Arizona, where he grew up. His father did not share a cause of death with The Arizona Republic.
Hoffpauir, who played three seasons of baseball and four of football at Stanford, had just landed a coaching job at Northern Colorado University under head coach Ed McCaffrey ’91. Ed is the father of former Cardinal star and current Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey ’18.
“I am devastated by the loss of Zach Hoffpauir, a friend to me and my family since his playing days with Christian at Stanford,” Ed wrote on Instagram. “He was like a brother to our boys and recently found his calling as our safeties coach at Northern Colorado. He was a young, intelligent coach with limitless potential. Mostly he loved sharing his life and experiences with our players who he was born to mentor.”
“He was so excited to get back to Northern Colorado and try to influence lives beyond football,” his father told The Arizona Republic. “He loved his head coach, Ed McCaffrey. Christian McCaffrey was his best friend. He had so much to look forward to.”
The communication major first arrived on the Farm in 2012 as a freshman and quickly made an impact on the football field, starting all 14 games on special teams kickoff coverage and punt blocking. On Jan. 1, 2013 he won a Rose Bowl, before transitioning to the baseball diamond as an outfield in the spring. He got his first collegiate hit just three months later against San Jose State and played in 29 games.
“When he comes around you, you fall in love with him because he’s that passionate, energetic guy that’s there for the team,” said head football coach David Shaw ’94 in 2016.
As a sophomore, Hoffpauir soon became an integral part of the defense as a safety. He contributed in Stanford’s 2013 Pac-12 Championship win and in the 2014 Rose Bowl.
The momentum only grew in his junior year, when he was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention and helped the Cardinal to a 2014 Foster Farms Bowl victory over Maryland.
“He brings a life and energy to games — doesn’t matter if he’s playing safety, doesn’t matter if he’s playing nickel, doesn’t matter if he’s playing dime, doesn’t matter if he’s playing special teams,” Shaw said. “He’s got a bounce in his step. He doesn’t care about who gets the credit, he just wants to be one of the guys.”
Meanwhile in Sunken Diamond, Hoffpauir was making even more of an impression. He was Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 as a sophomore and junior. As a sophomore, he started 59 of 61 games, coming in second on the team in batting average (0.324) and home runs (7). Junior year, he started every game when he was not sidelined with a wrist injury and still led Stanford in home runs (4) and came in third on the team in RBI (23).
In 2015, during a Pac-12 Network interview with Hoffpauir, journalist Ashley Adamson recalled: “David Shaw, I’ll never forget, told me when I was talking to him before one of your games last year that Zach Hoffpauir loves life more than anyone else I know. He enjoys life as much as anybody on this planet.”
“You’ve got to love life in everything you do,” Hoffpauir said in response. “You’ve got to play and have a ton of fun doing it. That’s what I try to do.”
With the success on Klein Field, Hoffpauir declared for the 2015 MLB Draft and was selected in the 22nd round (No. 646 overall) by the Arizona Diamondbacks, his home team.
He hit .258 with three home runs and seven RBIs in 62 at-bats between rookie and Single-A ball. But he missed the Farm, and he returned for a fifth year in football. He played in 10 games and was Phil Steele All-Pac-12 preseason third team.
Ultimately, injuries forced him to retire from playing either sport, but he found his calling in coaching. Before accepting the Northern Colorado job, Hoffpauir helped coach at the high school level in Arizona — both at Boulder Creek High School and Centennial High School, his alma mater.
“The thing I will always remember about him, outside of his great abilities in football and baseball, was he always made everybody around him better,” said Centennial coach Richard Taylor. “He always was looking out for the person he could tell was not accepted.
The loss of Hoffpauir quickly made waves across the Stanford community, as many expressed their shock and sadness at his premature passing.
One of Hoffpauir’s closest friends was football teammate Christian McCaffery.
“Yesterday Heaven gained an angel, and I lost one of my best friends in the world,” wrote Christian on Instagram. “Zach showed me the way when I got to college. He did things the right way. He taught me how to enjoy life … I never doubted for a second whether or not he had my back. He was a true friend and a great brother to anyone he knew. He was a walking example of how to care for people, a rare soul.”
“Shook up about this,” wrote NFL tight end Zach Ertz ’13, who played alongside Hoffpauir during the 2012 football season, on Twitter. “Zach could light up a room like it was nothing, and had this amazing, unique personality. Praying for the Hoffpauir family during this time.”
Baseball teammate Tyler Thorne ’17 shared his condolences on Instagram:
“You were truly one of kind,” wrote Alameen Murphy ’17 on Twitter. The pair played for two years in the Stanford football secondary together. “I’m blessed to have been able to call you my friend and my brother. We love and miss you Hoff. Keep dancing in heaven.”
Malik Antonie ’19, who backed up Hoffpauir at safety on the baseball team in 2016, and Barry Sanders ’15, who played all four years of football with Hoffpauir, shared similar sentiments.
“This is like a nightmare and I just can’t seem to wake up,” wrote Dallas Lloyd ’15, a fellow safety, who played all four years of football with Hoffpauir, on Instagram. “You were only 26 years old. You lived with authenticity and pushed others to chase their passions, regardless of what people would say or think…You dealt with so much pain and I am so proud of you for battling like a warrior.”
Hoffpauir is survived by his father Doug, mother Shannon and sister Hillary.
Contact Cybele Zhang at cybelez ‘at’ stanford.edu.