Michael Hoffer Motivated To Win Another National Title For Late Mother And Coach

Michael Hoffer knows what can be done with a little belief and some can-do attitude. 

In a little more than a year, the Shawnee Heights (KS) High athlete added nearly a foot to his high jump best, culminating in a national title at the AAU Junior Olympics last August at Turner Stadium in Humble, Texas, in a height of 6 feet, 10.75 inches. 

But while he experienced unparalleled success on his way to his first big title, Hoffer dealt with personal tragedy that tested his resolve, too.

Last February, Hoffer lost his mother, Shirley Stubbs, after a year-long fight with cervical cancer. And weeks after his national win, his Northeast Kansas Track Club coach, Lance Lenard, died tragically from a car accident.

"They were my biggest supporters," said Hoffer, who goes by "Mikey" around his close friends. "It's hard to know they're not here physically, but I believe they're still here with me spiritually. They want me to be successful, and they know this is something I want to do."

Hoffer still went on to win his second straight Kansas State High School Athletic Association title in May, marking a winning height of 6-8 despite a nagging hamstring injury that sidelined bigger hopes of reaching 7 feet. 

But Hoffer knows that effort may come in time. So, too, could another national title. 

"I definitely want to see if I can get over the 7-foot bar and see if I could hold another national title," he said.

What's somewhat remarkable is the progression the soon-to-be senior has taken in just two years. The versatile three-sport athlete, who also plays football and basketball, stands just 5-foot-10. 

But in his first track meet as a sophomore in April 2015, when he recorded a leap of 5-11.5 inches, Hoffer was only about 5-foot-8. 

And yet, by July 2016 at the AAU Junior Olympics, the Topeka native had added nearly a foot to his personal best, marking 6-10 for the second time his sophomore season. 

"It didn't surprise me that he went 6-10 again," said Brad Nicks, who coaches Shawnee Heights. "His sophomore year was his breakout year."

Hoffer, who know stands 5-foot-10, relates much of his success to Lenard, who taught him the basics, and of which he continues to perfect. At Shawnee Heights, Hoffer also has the benefit of working with Bob Wells, who has coached for 30 years at the program. 

"Coach Lenard, he saw what I could do," Hoffer said. "He's the one that got me into it." 

What's different about Hoffer is his approach. He says most right-handed athletes are traditionally left-footed jumpers. But he approaches from the left and takes off with his right.

"I start with a steady couple of steps and on the curve is where I bring the speed and try to bring myself into the area," he said.

"He likes to walk into it," Nicks said. "So he has marks he has to hit so he knows that he's on stride, and I think for him, it's just a mental thing. He does a great job attacking the curve." 

An unfortunate hamstring injury prevented Hoffer from getting back to 6-10 as a junior, though he did mark 6-8 five times over the season and stood as No. 4 in the state -- three other athletes also jumped that high this season in the state. 

Hoffer, who also long jumps and ran in his team's 4x100m and 4x400m relay, still has time to end in the No. 1 position, though. That mark currently belongs to Richard Newman of Topeka High, who went 6-11 in May. 

"It will be hard, but I will give whatever I have," Hoffer said. "Most of all, I know I can't give up and just give my best."

What's a little different now is Hoffer's motivation. 

He wears a cross around his neck to this day that bears the initials of his mother's name on the back -- it was a gift given to him by a student from nearby Haden Catholic, who saw his story on the news. 

"It was a random act of kindness," Hoffer said. "It was amazing, and I can't thank her enough for it." 

He also writes the date of his coach's and mom's deaths on his shoes as a reminder of what he's competing for and says a prayer before every leap he takes.

"My mom wanted to see my happiness," Hoffer said. "So I want to keep trying for my best and see how high I can go. I'm really anxious to see."

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Contact National Content Producer Cory Mull at cory.mull@flosports.tv or on Twitter @bycorymull