Chariton's T.J. Hockenson: Numbers don't lie for record-setting receiver

John Naughton
Chariton's T.J. Hockenson's record-breaking high school career ended Wednesday. He'll play next year at Iowa.

What makes T.J. Hockenson grab the football out of midair when other players can simply lunge and hope?

It could be that he doesn't want to run.

The Chariton senior, who will enter the playoffs Wednesday as a state record-setting receiver, remembers his older brothers playing catch in the family's backyard.

Well, part game and part torture.

His brothers, now in their 30s, would throw the ball so far that 10-year-old T.J. had to run as hard as possible. Should he miss, he had to pay the price with footwork.

"If he didn't catch it, he'd have to run around the block," said Kelly Lynch, a Chariton assistant basketball coach who has become a football guru and mentor to Hockenson.

By the time he reached high school, catching the ball came easily.

Hockenson owns state career records for catches (234), touchdown receptions (49) and is second in yardage (3,455). He'll try to add to those statistics in the postseason, starting with Wednesday's first-round playoff game at Gilbert.

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Hockenson gives credit to the football coaches, teammates and community members that helped him reach those marks and prepare for a football career at Iowa starting next fall.

"There's been a lot of guys who have gotten me to where I'm at," Hockenson said.

Chariton's T.J. Hockenson during a game against Pella on Friday, October 23, 2015, in Pella. "His hands are like a human vacuum," Chariton assistant basketball coach Kelly Lynch said of Hockenson's ability of catching passes.

His numbers this year: 81 catches, 1,114 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Lynch, a Chariton native, coached Hockenson on the eighth-grade basketball team. Since then, Hockenson has been treated like an addition to Lynch's family.

Hockenson even calls Christie Lynch (Kelly's wife) "mom," and shares family vacations with them.

At the Lynch dinner table, Hockenson is a frequent guest. Especially when one of his favorites is on the menu.

"There may be a filet on his plate, and he'll eat the bowl of new potatoes and peas before he even touches it," Lynch said.

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Hockenson has focused himself on improving throughout high school: getting faster, stronger and better.

Chariton head coach Curt Smyser is another figure who has helped T.J. develop.

"He's always been pushing me since freshman year, and he's a big influence," Hockenson said.

Hockenson is 6-6 and weighs 235 pounds. He runs routes with agility and can make acrobatic catches.

"His hands are like a human vacuum," Lynch said.

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The Iowa recruit has worked hard to improve, from logging hours in the weight room to watching film.

He can be a perfectionist at times, too. Hockenson fumbled in a loss to Oskaloosa, then obsessed over the game film, watching it over and over.

He went with Lynch to practice on "non-fumbling" drills for 90 minutes, grasping the ball while Lynch tried to slap it out of his hands.

"That's just him," Lynch said.

Hockenson was asked if he believed he'd play receiver or tight end or even offensive lineman in college.

He's a good fit for "Tight End U," which has produced NFL players like Scott Chandler, C.J. Fiedorowicz and Brandon Myers.

While his gifted hands show potential for catching the ball, he's willing to help out elsewhere if asked.

"I put my full trust in them, in the coaching staff," Hockenson said.

The career numbers are impressive, but Hockenson is focused on the team picture now. Chariton (5-4) will face a tough playoff challenge against an 8-1 Gilbert squad.

"I'm more about winning games," Hockenson said.

Chariton's T.J. Hockenson pulls in a pass over Pella's Will Warner during their game in Pella Friday, October 23, 2015.

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