Former Patriots receiver Chris Hogan attacks new career challenge -- lacrosse

Chris Hogan on his transition from the NFL back to lacrosse: "The level of play, the talent, the skill set -- these guys are just incredible." Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Chris Hogan had reached the pinnacle of professional football, playing in three Super Bowls and filling an integral role on two championship teams with the New England Patriots from 2016 to '18. This season would have been his ninth on an active roster.

"Me as a football player, do I think I could still play? Absolutely. There's no doubt in my mind about that," he said.

But Hogan, 32, isn't playing football, where he would earn a minimum base salary of $1.075 million this season. He has traded the pigskin for his other passion -- lacrosse -- and considerably lower wages.

All of which leads to an obvious question: Why?

"I spent the last two years on [injured reserve], which sucked. It's hard on me. It's hard on my family. And I felt like I had accomplished more than I ever could have dreamed of accomplishing in the NFL," said Hogan, who finished with 216 receptions and 18 TD catches in eight NFL seasons.

"I was at a point in my personal life where I felt like it was time for me to be around my kids and wife [Ashley]. She's just beginning her career as a doctor, and it was my time to help her fulfill her dreams."

So Hogan joined the Cannons of the Premier Lacrosse League as an undrafted free agent, which is the same route he took in the NFL a decade earlier. He had been a top lacrosse player at Penn State, before transferring to Monmouth for an extra season of eligibility in which he played football, which ultimately opened the door for him to the NFL.

In that sense, he's come full circle.

"We're not all Tom Bradys. We can't play for 25 years. I felt like it was time to check this off my list of trying to play two professional sports, get back to a sport I love so much, and be around my family," said Hogan, who spent the final seasons of his football career with the Carolina Panthers (2019) and New York Jets (2020).

"I knew the lacrosse thing was not something that would take me away from my family. I'd be home during the week. Maybe traveling here and there, but I could be a dad, a husband, and not spend months away from them at a time and drag them all over the place."

Hogan's arrival came at a time when the PLL was adding the Cannons as an expansion team. Coach Sean Quirk identified Hogan as a player of interest.

"Early on, I had some discussions with Chris, before the entry draft. We had three picks and I was up front with him. I said, 'We're really interested in you. We don't know if we're going to draft you, but if you're not drafted by another team, we want to pick you up on waivers 100%,'" Quirk said.

"Because we're an expansion team, and had nothing coming into this, we really had to do our due diligence on who we were going to select and that sort of thing. But I was a little surprised that the other teams that knew their rosters didn't take a chance on him."

As it turns out, the Cannons -- 1-4 after this weekend's action -- aren't the only team that did. The Whipsnakes acquired Hogan, a reserve midfielder donning familiar No. 15 from his time in the NFL, in a trade on Tuesday.

Whipsnakes coach Jim Stagnitta explained that the two-time defending champions have been attempting to fill the important role of Yale's Ty Warner, a defensive midfielder who was arguably the best in the PLL before enrolling in medical school this year.

"We've kind of been missing that, and they're hard to find. It's kind of a specialty that isn't very deep in the pool. We were having some conversations with the Cannons, they had reached out and offered something for our face-off guy [Kevin Reisman], and I countered and asked for Chris," Stagnitta said.

"Chris is an elite athlete -- big, strong and fast. He's competitive. We feel like given the opportunity, given the way we approach things, and given the way my guys approach things, we felt like we could give him the chance to develop and learn some of these things he needs to brush up on making the transition back to lacrosse."

In his time with the Cannons, Hogan had impressed Quirk with his physical and mental training and stick skills. One of the main things he was focusing on through the first part of the season was, according to Quirk, "learning the nuances of how to play one-on-one defense and team defense."

Hogan's learning curve was reflected in his modest playing time through the first quarter of the season. PLL teams have 25 players on the roster, but only 19 are activated for games, with Hogan appearing in one contest -- a June 12 loss to the Whipsnakes. Hogan didn't record any statistics in the game, but he made an impression that contributed to Tuesday's trade.

"He did some things that a lot of guys do in their first time out -- the game's faster and he hadn't played in a while -- but at the same time he did some really good things," said Stagnitta, who had previously recruited Hogan out of high school at Rutgers. "He didn't just grab our attention, but he grabbed our players' attention, and I certainly value their insights and opinions. They felt like he would be a great addition for us."

From his one game this year, Hogan received some flak on social media that he responded to with a mix of humbleness and sarcasm.

The game is different from what he experienced at Penn State, where in 2009, he led the Nittany Lions with 29 goals and was a first-team All-Eastern College Athletic Conference selection.

"The speed, they've turned it up a notch. The rules have changed as well. They've added a shot clock. Condensed the field," he said. "And the level of play, the talent, the skill set -- these guys are just incredible. I was blown away when I went to my first practice and just watched these guys on offense move the ball, and move without the ball, and shooting.

"All that stuff, it's night and day from when I played. It definitely had me spinning my head a few times my first practice. I'm starting to settle in here."

Quirk has taken notice of how Hogan has immersed himself into his new career challenge.

"He's kind of been that underdog his entire professional career, and his mindset is just that he wants to do it, plain and simple. And what he sets his mind to, he accomplishes it," he said. "There are certainly no reservations in his mind that he can reach the point he wants to reach. I haven't been around too many guys that have it like him."

When Hogan was playing for the Patriots, his connection to lacrosse was noted in how he introduced himself as part of NBC's "Sunday Night Football" broadcasts.

Each player says their name and where they attended college, but some -- like Hogan -- add an unexpected twist.

"Chris Hogan, Penn State lacrosse."

"A lot of people knew my story, but a lot of people didn't," he said. "For me, I was able to say the word 'lacrosse' on a national level. And for people to maybe be like, 'What's lacrosse?' -- if they hadn't heard it before, maybe they turned it on, or got interested in it. It was a fun opportunity for me to give back to Penn State, a place I love to this day, and really to the sport of lacrosse."