By Jim Daves
If wide receiver Ben Hogg was going to script his final season at UVA, it probably would not play out like it has. Instead of running pass routes on offense and acting like a human guided missile on special teams, Hogg has been relegated to the sidelines.
After suffering his third right knee injury in five years during practice last spring, Hogg was determined to make one final comeback this fall. With the Miami game (Oct. 11) circled on his calendar as the day he expected to return to action, the unexpected happened. This time it wasn’t an injury. A mechanical issue with a pin in his knee required another surgery. The procedure ended his Cavalier career.
“There were times where I had doubts and I just didn’t know,” Hogg said about underdoing three knee operations over five years. “I had my first knee surgery on the sixth day of practice my first year and I had a good summer of training before that. That was the most uneasy period after that first surgery.”
Then-offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild approached Hogg and told him, “Just get back. You can play at this level.”
“Coach Fairchild, he never bull-crapped anyone,” Hogg said. “I never forgot that. I don’t think that was the reason that I stayed but I was at a little bit of a low place. It was like, ‘Okay, that’s all I needed.’ “
Hogg came to Virginia in 2014 as a recruited walk-on player from Lynchburg’s Brookville High School. A standout athlete with a passion for basketball, baseball and football, Hogg figured he would attend a smaller school closer to home. But when a pair of college recruiters suggested he pass up the opportunity to go to UVA because he would “ride the bench and get some gear for four years,” that greatly impacted his decision to come to Virginia and see what he could do at the highest level of college football.
After redshirting the 2014 season, Hogg spent his second year at UVA with the scout team. At the end of the season Mike London was let go as head coach and Bronco Mendenhall took over the program. A player who knew he would have to outwork the bigger and faster receivers on the roster, Hogg immediately embraced Mendenhall’s approach.
“I remember the first meeting he came in and told us he didn’t care about where we came from or what kind of stars we had. He just wanted to train and train and train and train and then train some more,” Hogg said. “I remember sitting in that meeting room and thinking, ‘This is what I needed.’ Fortunately, Coach Mendenhall stuck to his word and I think that really provided an opportunity for me.”
That fall, Hogg found himself at the team’s inaugural jersey selection ceremony, anxious to see if he had performed well enough in camp to get to pick a number. He got that and more.
“Coach Mendenhall starts talking about less drama more work and next thing I know he asks, ‘Is Ben Hogg here?’ ” Hogg said. “I walk up and he had a piece of paper and before he could finish the first sentence of the scholarship letter people were jumping on me and it was awesome.”
Hogg immediately called home with the news.
“We got my dad on the phone and I was like, ‘Dad the time I put in …’ and then I just broke down. When I can give back to my parents, who have given me so much to help me pay for the first year and a half of school, being able to give that back, I’ll never forget it. I’m eternally grateful to Coach Mendenhall and all of the people that have provided me with the opportunity.”
That season Hogg played in nine of 12 games. In 2017, he worked his way into the depth chart and started two of UVA’s first four games, recording his first career reception on the team’s first offensive play of the season. Then, during practice prior to the Duke game, he suffered his second knee injury.
Last year Hogg played in 10 of 13 games and capped what turned out to be his final game as a Cavalier with an 18-yard catch in the Belk Bowl win against South Carolina.
“What an amazing day that was,” Hogg said. “I just remember how we felt afterwards. Some of those guys who had been here since 2014, we were talking about it on the field after the game. All the things we had been through. The 2-10 season. The winter workouts in the dark and cold when we weren’t sure we were going to make it. To go through all of that, and to help to build the program to that point, I’ll never forget that feeling. All of those guys who came in in 2014, we have a special connection.”
For Hogg, that connection includes a newfound commitment to community service he learned from Mendenhall and a passion for improving as a leader.
“Coach Mendenhall is very service-oriented and that’s something I admire,” Hogg said. “In addition to that, his focus on leadership and development of young people, that’s really his M.O. and what he strives to do on a daily basis and that is regardless of football. I’ve learned so much here. I’ve just tried to be a sponge and soak it all in and hopefully, someday, I will give that back to other people wherever I go.”
That’s why Hogg’s story does not finish on a down note. He has plenty of more chapters to write.