The winding football journey of Krishawn Hogan, the only NAIA draft prospect at the combine

Between stops on his indirect path, Krishawn Hogan worked as a janitor in the very same building where he will interview with NFL teams this week as part of the 2017 combine. How did he get from tiny Marian University to the cusp of the pros?
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INDIANAPOLIS — The unlikely NFL hopeful reclines at a conference table inside his agent’s office on Wednesday morning, nine stories above the downtown sprawl. The streets below buzz with activity, a mishmash of commuters, construction workers and football prospects, the latter identified by their wide chests, defined biceps and the numbers on their T-shirts—all reminders that the NFL scouting combine/cattle call has begun.

Sometimes, even the unlikely NFL hopeful wonders how he ended up here, halfway between two buildings that frame the story of his life. His name is Krishawn Hogan, and he’s aware that even the locals below may not have heard about him, unless they follow NAIA football or caught his recent segments on the local news.

Anyway, back to the buildings. One is the Indiana Convention Center, the expansive maze of hallways and meeting rooms located across the street. Four years ago, between colleges, his football career stalled, Hogan worked there as a janitor, mopping floors and cleaning toilets from midnight to 8 a.m. From there, he’d nap (quickly), attend community college classes and work at Monkey Joe’s, one of those inflatable play centers for children that double as insane asylums for adults.

Hogan did all that so he could return to football, which led him to Marian University, a second chance and ultimately to the combine, where he’s the only NAIA player in 2017 to receive an invite. Which brings Hogan to another nearby building, the imposing Lucas Oil Stadium that looms behind him. That’s where he can cement his status as the rare small-school draft pick, should his combine performance align with his plans.

Imagine that. An athlete who hardly played on his high school football team before his senior season, a wideout jettisoned by Walsh University in Ohio, the first player from Marian even invited to the combine, will run and jump and lift with stars expected to be drafted in the first round. Two league scouts who traded honesty for anonymity said that a strong performance in the so-called Underwear Olympics—say, a sub 4.5-second 40-yard dash to supplement Hogan’s NFL-ready 6' 3", 224-pound frame—would boost him toward a draft slot in the late rounds. Either way, he’s expected to at worst be signed as an undrafted free agent.

“When I’m here, I look back and just think my path was a little bit different than everybody else’s,” Hogan says. “But what matters is we’re all here, in the same place.”

He’s asked if he expected this, a real shot at the NFL. “I always wanted to play there,” Hogan says. “But you have to be realistic. I mean, when you barely play in high school, it’s like, let’s just see how college goes.”

The strange path of the unlikely NFL hopeful wound through Ohio, where, as Hogan remembers it, the Walsh coaches liked his athleticism and potential, if not his statistics (a full 20 passes caught and one touchdown scored in his senior season at Warren Central High School in Indy). He had literally grown into playing wide receiver, transitioning from quarterback as he sprouted. His father, Lonnie Hogan, says his son grew five inches between his junior and senior year.

Hogan told a cousin he would start at Walsh as a freshman, in 2013, and he did, after an injury to a starter. Looking back, even Hogan admits he didn’t handle that season well. When coaches doled out advice, he often sat there, silent, stewing, his body language speaking (poorly) for him. Immature, he says of his behavior, adding that his attitude “would affect my play in games.”

Near the end of the season, a coach told Hogan to run harder in practice.

“I am,” he responded.

The coach kicked him off the field. The team later suspended him for the remainder of the year. He tried to stick around at first. He sent one coach a text message in January—“Happy New Year’s”and didn’t receive a response. Then, for the one credit hour he received for playing football, his coaches gave him a … C. Imagine that: This year’s unlikely NFL hopeful got a C in football.

So Hogan left. Became a janitor. Operated inflatable slides. Worked at a YMCA. Bought a car. Went to class. Gained weight. Trained harder. For the 2014 season, he landed at Marian and told the same cousin the same thing. He planned to start. He did, immediately, scoring 11 touchdowns.

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Between his sophomore and junior seasons, Hogan went to Acceleration Indiana to improve his speed. His coach at Marian, Mark Henninger, says that work changed everything for Hogan. Before, he could always out-jump or out-position defenders with his size. When he also could out-run them, even one All-America track sprinter who played cornerback, Hogan became impossible at that level to defend.

“I’m not saying they never guarded me,” Hogan says.

To which Henninger laughs. “I can say this with all honesty,” he says. “We haven’t been able to cover him in two years.”

The scouts started to show up then, many requiring Google Maps to find Marian. Hogan caught 253 passes, scored 68 total touchdowns and recorded 4,395 receiving yards. He also made the team’s Scholar Ballers, for players who posted a 3.0 GPA or better, and was voted a team captain. “That showed me anything is possible,” Hogan says.

This winter, while training for an NFL tryout, Hogan received a call from his agent, Buddy Baker, who told Hogan to check his email. He had received the rare NAIA invite to the Combine. He called his pregnant girlfriend, Natalia Font, and then his parents, and then his coaches. “At the same time, I was really nervous,” he says. “Like, now this is real pressure.”

To his father, who long ago dressed his one-year-old son in a Colts onesie, the NFL dream “started to feel real then,” Lonnie says.

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While a college like Purdue had no players invited to the combine, Marian—Marian!—had one. What most worried Hogan was his wife’s due date: March 5, right after the combine. But she gave birth to their son Krishawn Jr., or K.J., two weeks early. Senior stayed with his child every night until the drills started.

For now, Hogan tries not to think about being drafted, making an NFL roster, or earning the minimum base salary of $465,000 next season. He has been working out at EXOS for the past eight weeks, getting faster, stronger, ready for his moment.

He left Baker’s office later Wednesday morning and headed over to Lucas Oil Stadium to check in. He wasn’t there to clean the floors. He was there to run on them, away from his past, into the NFL. The former janitor who received a Cin football wanted to prove himself again.