Zach Hoffpauir, a two-sport standout at Stanford who was recently hired to coach safeties on the University of Northern Colorado football team, has died at age 26.
The university says he died in his sleep Thursday.
Hoffpauir earned All-Pac 12 honors as a safety in football and played two seasons in the Arizona Diamondbacks' minor league system after starring as an outfielder on the Cardinal baseball team.
He was close friends with Carolina Panthers All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey. It was Christian's father Ed McCaffrey who hired Hoffpauir in February at Northern Colorado.
Hoffpauir's former high school football coach at Centennial High School didn't believe the news when he first heard.
"True shock and sadness," said Richard Taylor. "Zach had just unlimited potential to help people and be successful. And it was just a tragedy."
Hoffpauir was arguably the greatest athlete to come through Peoria Centennial. Taylor remembers him as a kid with super positive energy who made everyone around him better. The coach said he was an intense competitor, but always funny and a prankster.
"We were getting ready for maybe a state championship game, and you could sense that everybody was real tight. The coaches were tight, players were tight. At the first water break, he came up and he said, 'coach, Bobby's quitting after today's practice.' I said, 'What? Why?' He said, 'I don't know, I just talked to him.' At the next break, I see Bobby and I go up and say 'Bobby, is everything okay?' And he goes, 'uh, yeah, sure.' Are you sure? Is there anything you want to talk about? I look over at Zach, and Zach is laughing hilariously. It was just a little joke that Zach was playing."
Taylor recalls Hoffpauir being such a good trash-talker that he could take guys off their game.
"He said, 'Coach, there's an art to trash-talking," Taylor recounts. "I don't like to trash talk, but I'm just not going to stand there and take it."
And Taylor was always amazed by Hoffpauir's football IQ, especially since he never played tackle football before high school. He believed coaching was Hoffpauir's calling, and was so excited when his former player started down that path.
"You could tell he was just a natural coach. He knew he could see what the problem was, how to correct it, and he did it in a positive, sometimes funny manner that the kids liked and listened to."
Hoffpauir had just joined the University of Northern Colorado football coaching staff as a safeties coach in February.
"He touched so many people's lives in a positive way and gave so many people hours of enjoyment and fun," Taylor said. "He's somebody that can't be replaced, you know, it's way too early for him to go. There was a lot of great things left undone when he passed."