PITTSFORD — Chris Hogan already has had his 15 minutes of fame in the NFL.
That came last summer when he was a “supporting actor” in HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series, which followed the Miami Dolphins’ training camp. Hogan, an undrafted, little-known receiver from Monmouth University, became famous when Dolphins star Reggie Bush labeled him “7-Eleven” –because he’s always open.
Overnight, Hogan was a household name, at least among the million or so weekly viewers of the series.
Fast forward 12 months. The 24-year-old Hogan is in Buffalo Bills training camp, and Bills’ players only occasionally call him “7-Eleven.” The nickname has worn off a little.
But Hogan still is turning heads. He gets open. He has sure hands and good size. In a crowded competition for jobs at receiver on the Bills, lo and behold, Hogan has an outside shot to make it.
Maybe Hogan has more than “15 minutes” of staying power in the NFL.
“He’s done a really good job,” said Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. “He’s one of those guys from a quarterback standpoint, you know right where he’s going to be. He runs very good routes. He made some great plays today. He opens your eyes. You want him in there. The quarterbacks love when he’s out there.”
This is Hogan’s third pro training camp, but it’s his best shot to make a team. He worked mostly with the third-teamers with San Francisco two summers ago and Miami last summer.
With Stevie Johnson nursing a sore hamstring, Hogan got snaps with the first-team as the slot receiver in Sunday’s exhibition game in Indianapolis. He caught two passes.
He had another strong day at training camp Tuesday, catching three passes for about 50 yards and nearly hauling in a 30-yard sideline throw.
“I’m thrilled and excited that the coaches think I can get that chance,” Hogan said. “It’s a good opportunity for me to get those reps with that first team and go against first-team defense and put some good stuff on film and prove to the coaches I can compete with those guys and do well in the slot.”
The suspicion is the Bills will keep six receivers on the 53-man roster. Some teams keep only five. A few keep seven. Besides Johnson, Robert Woods, T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin are locks as the top four. Undrafted rookie Da’Rick Rogers is the next most physically gifted receiver. Veteran Brad Smith is the next most experienced. Hogan probably would have to beat out one of those two, which makes him an underdog.
The fact he’s an underdog with a chance is amazing, considering he played only one year of college football.
Hogan had football scholarship offers out of high school from Rutgers, Temple, Connecticut and Akron. But he was the New Jersey state high school player of the year in lacrosse as a senior.
He had offers from big-time lacrosse powers like Syracuse and Maryland.
It was an agonizing decision between the two sports he loved. He opted to play lacrosse at Penn State, not a lax powerhouse, because he loved the school.
Hogan had a fine, four-year career for the Nittany Lions. He would have loved to try to be a walk-on to the football team, but the Penn State lacrosse coaches wouldn’t let him. He now says if he had it to do over again, he would have chosen college football.
But he found out he could obtain a fifth year of athletic eligibility to play football. He returned to his home state to attend Monmouth, which plays in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
On his first play, he caught a 17-yard touchdown pass. He wound up playing both receiver and cornerback. He played about 13 plays a game on offense and caught 12 passes for the season.
He was light years from the radar of NFL scouts until he showed up at the Fordham University pro day in 2011 and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds. That opened scouts’ eyes. Then he lifted 225 pounds 28 times, phenomenal for a receiver. At 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, he has NFL size.
Hogan enjoyed the notoriety at Dolphins camp last year.
“It was cool; I enjoyed every second of it,” he said. “That thing blew up like crazy. I had no idea it was going on the air. I heard from everyone. All my friends, family, friends I haven’t heard of, friends of friends.”
His mom even bought him a “7-Eleven” T-shirt.
But he got cut at the end of preseason. The Bills signed him to their practice squad in November.
Of his nickname, he says: “I think the guys called me that the first couple weeks I was here last year. I get it every now and then.”
Hogan still has less experience than most college senior receivers.
“When I first started out I had I had a lot to learn,” he said. “I was behind the eight ball compared to a lot of these guys. But I think I also took that to my advantage, because I had so much to learn that every practice I was just soaking everything in and using everything everyone told me.”
He says playing under Bills receivers coach Ike Hilliard, a 12-year NFL veteran, has been an education.
“Now with Ike, every single day I’m learning something, whether it’s on the field or in the film room,” he said.
Hogan will have to produce on special teams and in the slot over the next three exhibitions to force his way onto the 53-man roster.
He’s confident in his catching ability.
“The quarterbacks can be confident when they look my way they can trust me to catch the ball,” he said. “I kind of pride myself on catching the ball.”