PEORIA – It was a moment of celebration but also melancholy as Doug and Shannon Hoffpauir led a crowd in the middle of the Centennial High School football field. They passed by the number 31, now painted the team red and white over the 31-yard line, which will forever represent everything they believed their son Zach valued.
“The sad thing is that Zach loved this: People, fun time, this was who Zach was. He would have been there, messing with everyone,” Doug said. “And so, it was kind of hard because these are the things Zach wanted, this is where he wanted to be.”
Hoffpauir died on May 14, 2020 and was honored on Friday by alma mater during his game against Hamilton. He was 26 years old. The night before his death, his mother said he went to bed after taking Percocet, an oxycodone-acetaminophen sedative Hoffpaiur had taken from a friend, just to sleep his first full night of the week.
The next morning, Hoffpauir did not wake up. Zach’s father, Doug, remembers waking up and knowing something was wrong.
“That morning (May 13) I went fishing,” Doug told a Sports360AZ documentary, “Zach Hoffpauir: The Real Story.” “I got up at 3, we talk a little. He goes ‘I would like to go fishing with you and Dad, but I have a lot of video things going on today with the school.’ So the last thing we talked about was when I just said, ‘Zach, I love you,’ and he says, ‘Yes, I love you too.’
“That’s the last thing he said. . I came back around 11:30, I was really tired and his door was still locked. So I went to sleep, then I woke up and I just had this weird feeling.
“I went into his room and he was gone.”
The pills were coated with fentanyl, according to a report from the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s office. While the official cause of Zach’s death is an accidental overdose, Zach’s mother, Shannon, thinks this label is also insincere.
“To get a report out, ‘Just another athlete who died from a drug overdose,'” Shannon said. “That doesn’t tell the story,”
At the Centennial, Zach was a multi-sport athlete. Football, baseball, basketball and track, it didn’t matter. He was the definition of a natural athlete.
“I did not train him as a first-year student, but I certainly knew about him because he was the (city) speaker,” said Centennial football coach Richard Taylor. “At the time, we did not bring the first student (to the university), but he could certainly have played on the university team as a student.
“I got to know him after the first student football season ended,” because he also started on the university basketball team on his first day as a beginner. And I said, ‘Is this the Hoffpauir kid playing football?’ “
At school, Zach was loved by many who knew him for his ingenuity and attractive personality.
“Zach was the type of person who could only feel the charisma coming out of him,” said Justin Sanchez, a Zach’s teammate on the Centennial football team. “He could enter a room and light the room.”
Matt Rodriguez, another teammate, said: “He did shows, he always talked, he was always masked, he baked everyone, no one talked better about trash, no one was more confident than Zach. He had “A Greek personality and we all loved him. He was ours – he was kind of like our heartbeat honestly, he was the team personality.”
He was also the school personality, said Diane Dunham, a history teacher at Centennial. Despite never having Zach as a student, she knew him well during his time there.
“You knew when (Zach) was coming down the hall. He was going to talk to anyone,” she said.
People enjoyed being near him.
On the field, Zach excelled in baseball and football, and won All-American honors for both. Although he had plenty of offers from Division I colleges for baseball or football, Zach wanted to play both. This narrowed his choice to two colleges: Arizona State and Stanford.
Zach’s heart was with ASU, Shannon said in the documentary, But pressure from his family, his friends and himself, influenced Zach to choose Stanford.
“The pressure was on. “You do not lose Stanford,” Shannon said.
At Stanford, Zach flourished on the football and baseball fields. But as he played during those first three years, he began to feel the effects of playing two sports at an elite collegial level, also meeting the academic standards of a college like Stanford.
When Zach took that step from high school athletics to college athletics, Zach began to feel like he was losing his passion for the game, his father said.
“Now all of a sudden, sport became a business,” Doug said in the documentary Sports360AZ.
Zach struggled with his mental state.
“After the games, it seemed to me, ‘I do not feel happy, I feel relieved,’ but then I’m thinking about the other and I’m stressed again,” Zach said in the September 2019 podcast “Untold with Jordan Simone”.
The same pressure that pushed him to Stanford is what kept him there for three years. Zach admitted that he felt the weight of those who had relied on him, those who dreamed so much about him and could not bear the thought of letting them down.
Then came the emergence of Zach, in the form of the 2015 MLB Draft. Compiled by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the 646th round of the 22nd selection, Zach split the time between Missoula, Montana and Hillsboro, Oregon. Out of focus, away from studies and pressures around him, Zach found his break and could focus on keeping the peace and playing baseball.
But within a year, he began to feel the itching for football again. So much so that he decided to pack his bags and return to Stanford to finish his senior year and have one more run with Stanford. He came back and regained his starting position in free security, and had a strong start to the season before two concussions in a row ended his season and eventually, his football career.
Zach would return to Arizona, retired from football. He returned to baseball in 2018, once again splitting his time between Montana and Oregon. It should not have been, however, as Zach would put on the gloves one last time and return to Arizona.
Back home, Zach’s parents could see how much their son was hurting under him and after his 21st birthday, he had a failed attempt to kill himself.
Had it not been for his close friend and former Stanford football friend Christian McCaffery, Zach might never have learned the true source for all of his mental health issues. McCaffery, a run designed by the Carolina Panthers in 2017, was told about Zach’s condition and acted without hesitation.
“Christian McCaffrey saved my life,” Zach said on the podcast. “… he calls my dad and says ‘I’ll fly him here, he’ll see Dr. Prusmack who is the chief neurosurgeon for the Denver Broncos.’ “I sit with him for 15 minutes and he tells me I have Lyme disease. My dopamine levels were zero. My testosterone levels were almost gone. My cortisol was through the peak.”
With the right diagnosis and the right treatment, Zach was on his way back. He started working on site, working with high school football teams in the Peoria and Phoenix area, including his old, Centennial field. This eventually led him to take up a coaching job at the University of Northern Colorado, training security.
Then came COVID. Like many others in this country and around the world, Zach was fired due to the pandemic and forced to return to Arizona. Once again, sleepless nights began. While his state of mind never went down to where he was before, it was enough to keep him going night after night.
One night of sleep was all he wanted. This perkoset, which meant his release, turned out to be his end. It was May 14, 2020.
Shortly afterwards, Hoffpauirs sent Zach’s brain to Boston University for research on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, where it was determined that he had already progressed to the second stage of CTE.
This research will be valuable for future generations. Such will be his legacy in the Centennial.
“We remember things through stories and forget things when we take away things that are very important to us, we can no longer tell those stories. … I would hope to see the number of (Zach), share those stories, keep a record here on campus gives us the opportunity not to forget, ”said Adam Larsen, athletic director at Centennial.
At the centennial event, Doug refused to allow the pain of losing his family and community to collapse this holiday night.
“It would be nice to see him here,” he said. “But I’m sure, you know, Zach is looking down on us and knows he’s honored.”