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Brad Hoover: Plodding along in an unlikely long career

By Mike Cranston
Associated Press
CHARLOTTE ó Brad Hoover is undersized, slow afoot and plays fullback, an endangered position in the NFL.
Yet there he was again Wednesday, lumbering off the field after an offseason workout, getting ready to begin his ninth season with the Carolina Panthers after signing a new three-year deal in the offseason.
Not bad for a guy who thought he was getting cut ievery weekî in his first training camp as an undrafted rookie out of Western Carolina.
iIf you would have asked me when I first came into the league that I would have been in the league, I would have said no,î the 31-year-old Hoover said. iThen to stick around, with this coming up on my ninth season, itís crazy.î
Hooverís NFL prospects appeared dim after the Thomasville native and former Ledford High School star finished a stellar career as a tailback for the Catamounts. While he rushed for 3,616 yards and 28 touchdowns, he got little interest from NFL teams before signing with Carolina as a rookie free agent in 2000.
While many players have an outsized opinion of their skills, Hoover never really thought he had a chance to stick around with the Panthers, then coached by George Seifert.
Hoover didnít make a big impression with Seifert ó who accidentally announced Hoover was among of group of players cut ó but he was good enough to make the team. Then late in the season Hoover rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown filling in for the injured Tshimanga Biakabutuka in a win over Green Bay late in the season on Monday Night Football.
A year later, Hoover was switched from running back to fullback, then was plagued by a hamstring injury in the preseason. Again, Hoover thought he was finished.
iIt was a huge adjustment, and I was really awful at what I was doing that year,î Hoover said.
Hoover again made the roster, then survived a miserable 1-15 season. After Seifert was fired and John Fox replaced him, Hoover was worried again before he made final cuts, then settled in as primarily a blocking fullback.
Thatís where Hoover has stayed the past six seasons, despite his 6-foot, 245-pound frame and a trend in the NFL to do away with the fullback position. Hoover signed a new deal in 2003 and another one in February.
He played in all 16 games last season and had only 12 carries. But Hooverís blocking and special teams play is why heís tied for fifth in Panthersí history with 125 games played.
iI just signed this three year deal so Iíd like to think Iíve got at least three years, maybe one more after that,î Hoover said. I donít want to get to the point where Iím just hanging on and canít play. I feel like Iíve still got some good years in me, but not a whole lot.î
Hoover said he had a few other teams interested in him during free agency, but declined to name them. In the end, Hoover wanted to stay in North Carolina, where heís gone from the stateís leading rusher to a star with the Catamounts, to a rugged fullback in the NFL.
iItís great. Not only for me, but for my family,î Hoover said. iMy parents can see me play and my wifeís family is here in Charlotte. Itís a dream come true. Not a lot of guys get to do that.î
While Hooverís role seems secure in 2008, heís spent extra time on conditioning work in the offseason. Itís no surprise after his humble beginnings.
iI think Iíve come out well so far, but that could change in an instant,î Hoover said. iIíve tried to keep my body in shape and get mentally and physically smarter each year to help my game improve, because Iím not getting any younger and they keep bringing in young guys all the time.
iMy strength these days is being smart and knowing whatís going on, using angles and stuff like that. But youíve still got to be physically into it.î

NOTES: DE Julius Peppers again declined an interview request. The Panthers still hope to sign him to a long-term extension despite his poor 2007 season. … Chris Harris said fellow safety Charles Godfrey is progressing as he continues to work with the first team as a rookie. iHeís doing pretty good. Heís very athletic and he brings speed back there,î Harris said. iIf he makes a mistake, we correct it and he normally doesnít make that same mistake again.î … A strong breeze brought some relief after two days of workouts in extreme heat.

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