NC State quarterback Bailey Hockman: “I’m excited to get going’
The last time NC. State’s Bailey Hockman was in a football game that counted, that mattered, his father was the head coach and he was the losing quarterback.
That was at McEachern High in Powder Springs, Ga. That was in the 2016 Georgia state playoffs.
Hockman’s football path has taken a number of unexpected twists and turns since that day, that loss, that game. It has brought him to Raleigh, into the fight for the starting QB position on a Wolfpack team where that position is the biggest question mark heading into the 2019 season.
When fall practice first began, Hockman was the third quarterback taking snaps behind Matt McKay and Devin Leary. When the media got another glimpse of practice, Hockman was working with the second unit behind McKay. After one scrimmage, closed to the media, former Wolfpack star Torry Holt tweeted that Hockman had a touchdown pass to Emeka Emezie in the red zone.
A small sample size, but perhaps snapshots.
Hockman is the outlier of the quarterback group and not because he’s a lefthander who spins it differently.
McKay, a redshirt sophomore, was recruited by the Pack. Leary, a redshirt freshman, was recruited by the Pack.
Hockman’s road to NC State
Hockman first committed to Georgia, wound up at Florida State, spent last fall at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas and enrolled at N.C. State in January. He has played in spring football games -- first with the Seminoles, who redshirted him as a freshman, then with the Pack this year -- but has not been in an official football game since 2016 at McEachern, where he was a four-star recruit.
“It was difficult, for sure, and it was a trying time in my career,” Hockman said in an interview. “There were ups and downs and every day I tried to stay consistent. I bless God I’m here now.”
Hockman was talking about last fall at Hutchinson, where he watched a lot of football and practiced with the team but did not play. But his words sum up the past two years, which has at times tested his strong faith and some of the personal decisions he has made.
In good times and bad, Hockman said he turns to his dad, Kyle, who he calls his “biggest hero.” They talk every day, Bailey said, about everything.
“After every practice, every meeting,” Hockman said. “We talk about the plays, talk about what’s going on. We talk about life, talk about girls, everything. He’s really my best friend.”
For daily inspiration, Hockman said, he needs only to glance at the tattoo on his right arm.
On his shoulder is a cross. Below it is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Hockman said that was a favorite Bible verse from another former McEachern star, Rajaan Bennett, another of his heroes.
Bennett, a running back and a four-star recruit, once frolicked with a young Hockman before and after McEachern practices in a big-brother kind of way. Bennett committed to Vanderbilt in 2009 and once thrilled Hockman by signing a helmet as a memento -- Hockman hanging it in his room at home.
Bennett died in February 2010, shot and killed while trying to protect family members in what Powder Springs police called a domestic dispute. Bennett was 18.
“Rajaan was a great kid,” Hockman said. “He was a magnificent person. Straight-A student. On and off the field he just did the right things all the time and I want to be like that. Every single day I just try to live the way he did and don’t be afraid, which is something he said.
“Coming into a new place like this, kind of by myself, on my own, as a transfer ... it’s different. But don’t be afraid. Give everything you’ve got and things will work out for you.”
Lost in the shuffle at Florida State
Hockman passed for more than 9,000 yards and threw for 94 touchdowns in high school, being named a MaxPrep and CBS All-American. But things didn’t work out for him at FSU, where he felt lost in the shuffle with quarterbacks James Blackman and Deondre Francois ahead of him -- Blackman is set to be the Seminoles’ starter this season but Francois since transferred to Hampton.
Hockman said he took a long look at N.C. State because of offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz, who helped develop Ryan Finley into an NFL-caliber quarterback. Drinkwitz left after last season to become head coach at Appalachian State but Hockman said he enjoys and has benefited from working with new quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper.
“There’s nobody better to learn from, from a quarterback standpoint,” Hockman said. “I’m super excited to keep learning.”
Hockman, who does everything righthanded except throw a football, has good size at 6-2 and 208 pounds and good-enough mobility. Being a left-hander can cause a few offensive adjustments, Pack coach Dave Doeren said, but nothing major such as flip-flopping tackles when Hockman is taking the snaps.
“He throws it with a different spin but once you get going you don’t really notice it,” Emezie said. “You just catch it.”
Roper said sitting out the past two seasons, away from the games, hasn’t put Hockman behind.
“His thing is he’s been in a college system, learned about college football, seen a lot of college games on tape and practiced a lot of college football,” Roper said in an interview with The News & Observer. “In my opinion he’s got two years of growth, not two years of absence. He can take that and progress on that.”
That is Hockman’s approach -- continue to build, continue to learn. That’s the path he wants to stay on.
“I’ve been studying really hard, working really hard, building chemistry with the team,” Hockman said. “Everything is day to day, step by step, meeting by meeting, just being locked in and being as focused as I can.
“We’ve got a great quarterback room, great competition. It doesn’t matter who’s taking the reps, who’s getting the snaps. All that matters is we’re making the team better.”