“I lost my tooth today,” said the tiny 6-year-old in the pink sweatshirt looking up to the 5’10” length of longtime family friend Brandon Hogan. She curved her tongue in the empty hole to show him, “See?” He leaned down and felt the space gently with his over-sized thumb, “Yeah, you did Nay-Nay. Did it hurt?”
A missing tooth was just one of many tactics used to gain the attention of recent NFL draftee Brandon Hogan at a celebration cookout last Sunday in his Manassas hometown. His family friend Neisha, known as Nay-Nay, and about 90 other family members and friends gathered to honor Brandon’s selection as the first pick in the fourth round by the Carolina Panthers.
Already renowned for leading Osbourn High School to a 14-0 record and the Division 6 state championship in 2006, Brandon went on to become the West Virginia Mountaineer three-year starter and defensive standout. Hogan’s star status skyrocketed on April 30 at noon when his name was announced on the televised draft.
“My cell phone started to light up,” said Hogan, who said the realization of his childhood dream hasn’t begun to sink in. “My dream hasn’t come completely true yet,” he said. “This isn’t anything yet. I’ve really got to start working now,” he said. Top priorities for him are to continue rehab on his knee, for which he had surgery in December, and to get into football shape. “I don’t want to get too hyped; just go in there and take care of business,” he said.
Hogan’s level head was evident at the afternoon barbeque hosted by mentor and Osbourn Head Football Coach Steve Schultze. Hogan graciously stood and smiled genuinely, time and again for photos. He listened as friends told him how they heard the news and he repeatedly recounted the moments surrounding his phone call from the Panther coaches seconds before the televised draft.
“He’s the same Brandon we’ve always known—polite, engaging and humble,” said Tim Demeria, one of Osbourn High School’s most dedicated sports fans, an OHS alumnus, longtime WVU football fan and Manassas City School Board member. One of Hogan’s high school teammates, Scott Arvai, added that “Brandon showed every single person there attention, whether it was his 5-year-old cousin or his coach’s mother.”
The entire Manassas community has served as a touchstone for Brandon Hogan. “Whenever I came back here during college, it would give me a boost,” he said. Family, friends and teammates were encouraging and supportive. Hogan wanted to make them proud and fulfill their expectations.
Coming home to Manassas “made me hungry, made me want to work hard when I got back to school,” he said. By the same token, when he made mistakes at college, “I thought I better straighten out or I could never come back here because I would let everyone down. I wouldn’t be the person I said I would be,” he said.
It seems this 23-year-old young man holds the hopes and dreams of many in the community in his hands. “People here love him. They’ve got his back. He has a good heart and they know it,” said Schultze. Hogan, whom he affectionately calls 'B', “doesn’t show his emotions, but he has that sparkle in his eye and is as friendly as heck.”
Hogan has lived in Manassas most of his life. He remembers “messing up my jeans everyday outside playing football.” He slept with a football in his bed and believed the NFL was his destiny. Lots of young boys hold that dream, but Brandon has a way of saying things and then they happen.
For example, in eighth grade, he and the core group of Metz Middle School football players said they were going to go to Osbourn and win it all. The following year, as part of Osbourn’s undefeated freshman team, he and some of his long-time teammates predicted they would be wearing state rings before they graduated. That was a bold proposition at the time since Osbourn’s varsity squad was on a 32-game losing streak and considered one of the worst AAA teams in Virginia.
Two years later, with Hogan as quarterback, the Eagles made it to the regional championship game. While most on the team appreciated the dramatic turnaround, Hogan was upset. “After losing that game Brandon told me, 'Coach, we’re winning it all next year,'” said Schultze. Hogan went on that next year to pass for 2,430 yards and rush for 1,781 yards with 59 total touchdowns. And he led the team to the school’s first state championship.
Such determination helped Hogan—against the odds—achieve the highest level in his chosen sport. Only one in 50 college football seniors is drafted by an NFL team, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and Brandon had other factors to overcome as well. At 5’10” tall and 190 lbs, Hogan’s size is a small compared to most NFL players. And he’s had some maturity issues in the past that he says “are behind me now."
"I’ve started a new chapter, moving forward with my life,” he lamented.
When did he really begin to believe he could make a career of football? “When I was a little kid, like five or six. I never stopped believing that through hard work and dedication it could happen,” he said.
Indeed, Hogan’s speed, physicality and uncanny ability to read the field are legendary in Manassas and Morgantown. So is his pure love for football, as well as his intellect about the game, much of it gained from long hours spent analyzing films and studying plays.
Osbourn teammate Scott Arvai remembers playing with Hogan early on, for the Greater Manassas Football League. “In those days, I was the quarterback and Brandon was the receiver. Just today when we were talking, he brought up a game back then when I threw him a slant pass and he scored a touchdown. He still remembers that and every other play he’s ever had,” Arvai said. Hogan also played Pop Warner football, as running back or wide receiver.
“He had a way of seeing stuff before it happened,” said Lucky Whitehead, who is like a brother to Hogan and the son of Brandon’s godmother, Karen Morris.
Whitehead is a senior at Osbourn and a letterman in four sports—football, basketball, baseball and track. His goal for the future “is the same as Brandon. I’ve been looking up to him for quite some time now,” said Whitehead, who is starting down that path next year when he attends and plays football for Dean—a junior college in the Boston suburbs of Massachusetts.
Until the NFL lockout ends, Hogan is unable to begin contract negotiations and is unsure when he will report for training camp. He plans a trip to the Charlotte area soon to look at housing and begin to become familiar with the area.
For the long term, Hogan sets his sights on nothing less than winning the Super Bowl and entering the Hall of Fame. In the near term, Schultze is excited to see Hogan’s continued development.
“He still has so much room to grow as cornerback. He’s only played that position for three years. He has the chance to be coached up by the best in the world. I see him as an All Pro corner for a lot of years--that’s my prediction,” Schultze said.
His sizable fan base in Manassas “became Carolina Panther fans overnight,” said Schultze. Demeria proved that point Sunday as he showed up at the barbeque wearing a baseball cap he had just bought with the team colors and mascot.
Even though Hogan is being welcomed to the jungle in Carolina Panther country, he will never be far from home in his heart. “Whenever I leave, I feel like I carry Manassas with me, the support and encouragement of my family and friends and a lot of the community really,” he said.
Brandon Hogan is going to be back to visit often. There are too many people in Manassas with whom he has close bonds. Take his little family friend Nay-Nay, for example. She’s going to lose some more baby teeth soon and she’ll need to show and tell Brandon all about it.