Rudel: Concussions end Hoenstine’s career

For as many walk-ons who venture into the upper levels of college football with stars in their eyes, hoping to someday make a contribution on the grandest of stages, just as many see their careers end on terms other than theirs.

Such is the plight of Alex Hoenstine.

The former Central High School all-state standout and 2017 Mirror athlete of the year went to Penn State as a preferred walk-on, but his playing career is apparently finished due to a series of concussions.

“I was really looking forward to this season, but unfortunately things didn’t work out,” Hoenstine said earlier this week as the Nittany Lions prepared for today’s season opener with Idaho.

During winter workouts, Hoenstine envisioned himself as a potential contributor, on special teams or maybe as a backup receiver.

But after he was concussed in a drill three practices into the spring, those plans changed. He missed the remainder of the spring and couldn’t play in the Blue-White Game.

Worse, the headaches caused him to miss several weeks of classes as he had difficulty concentrating.

“I was just running the ball and lowered my head and ran into a defensive lineman and got my bell rung,” Hoenstine said. “I didn’t feel right after that. It was hard for me to get back in the swing of things.”

He spent most of the summer at home, debating his football future and awaiting medical clearance that never came.

Doctors factored in the “eight to 10” concussions Hoenstine said he’s suffered dating back to high school.

“Since having this last concussion and how serious it was, I’ve learned so much about it and how serious they are,” Hoenstine said. “I’ve learned every one you have it takes longer to recover from.”

Hoenstine’s family concurred.

“He’s had a few head injuries in high school,” Alex’s father, Dave, said. “He suffered a couple up there. It took him a while this time, longer than the other times, and they recommended him not playing, at least this year.”

Thankfully, Alex Hoenstine said, “I’m feeling a lot better.”

A junior academically, Hoenstine was able to make up his classes and remains in good standing as a rehabilitation and health services major.

“It was a full two months until I was feeling 100 percent,” he said. “I talked with all the doctors, and they said this is the best thing for me. And I just really want what’s best for my future. As of now, I really doubt suiting back up is in the cards.”

Penn State coach James Franklin this past week was named in a lawsuit by former PSU doctor Scott Lynch, who accused the coach of trying to rush players back from injury.

The Hoenstine family, though, saw no such thing.

“Franklin was really great about it,” Dave Hoenstine said.

Alex, like some in his situation, was offered a chance to serve as a student coach, which he’s been doing as a mentor to the young wide receivers.

“I’ve been going to practice, and right now I’m just kind of watching and see how things work and getting used to my role as a student-coach,” Hoenstine said. “I’ve been talking to Coach Franklin a good deal. We’ve actually become closer since this happened. He’s been very worried and concerned about how I’ve been doing and what my situation is. He’s been very understanding and helpful.”

They’ve even discussed a tryout with the baseball team. Franklin has a good rapport with Nittany Lion baseball coach Rob Cooper, and that possibility may be something Hoenstine, a baseball standout at Central whose dad played in the Cincinnati Reds’ organization, considers.

Fellow PSU receiver Mac Hippenhammer played on the baseball team this past spring.

“I was appreciative of Coach Franklin to offer that,” Alex said.

Dave Hoenstine said his son “never missed a practice or a workout. Football has always been a big part of his life so he was kind of depressed,” but Franklin’s offer to remain part of the program “put a smile on his face,” Dave said.

Hoenstine was popular with his teammates who were hoping he’d be able to make a comeback.

“We love Hoey,” receivers coach Gerad Parker said over the summer. “He’s a great kid who obviously had great production in his high school career.”

Even though he did not get in a PSU game, Alex knows he faces a void.

“I’m definitely going to miss it,” he said. “I miss it already. I still love football. The experiences I’ve had have been awesome. I’m still really grateful to be part of something so special. And I’m still looking forward to having future experiences, maybe as a coach in some aspect.”

He doesn’t regret taking a different route and going to a smaller program.

“It definitely sucks not being able to prove myself, but I don’t think I would have changed my decision at all,” Hoenstine said. “I like being up here.”

Hoenstine has high hopes for this year’s squad.

“I think we’ll do really well — I think just as good if not better than last year,” he said. “Our defense is really impressive. There’s some studs on the defense, and there’s some much speed, it’s ridiculous. I think we’ll be a fast group that will give us an advantage.”

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.