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Nebraska adds 22-year-old German lineman David Hoffken to its 2024 recruiting class

Since he set aside his dream of playing football in the United States, David Hoffken has worked as a woodworker and cared for the elderly. He collected hours from a pharmacy. Specifically, he started coaching kids in the sport he first fell in love with in 2016.

It was there, in the northern German city of Kiel, that Hoffken said he realized he still had enough “fire” left to play football, despite having been away from the sport for several years for reasons related to family problems .

“I saw myself in those kids,” Hoffken said, “and thought, ‘Yeah, that’s kind of the dream.’”

This week, during a whirlwind trip to Texas and a tour of the region with Gridiron Imports — a nonprofit that connects international athletes with American opportunities — the 22-year-old Hoffken was spotted by Nebraska coaches and offered a scholarship as part of the class of 2024.

The 6-foot-4, 255-pound lineman accepted the offer on-site Tuesday at a satellite camp in Houston, the first addition to the roster by Nebraska in what promises to be a busy June.

The Huskers on Wednesday added a commitment from four-star running back Jamarion Parker of St. Louis, their ninth for the Class of 2025, and made the final two, in addition to Alabama, for four-star linebacker Dawson Merritt of Overland Park, Kan.

But the Hoffken pledge is a unique recruiting story in recent memory for the Huskers.

He arrived in the United States late last week, his first trip outside Europe, and is stationed with Gridiron Imports among 48 athletes and six coaches at an Embassy Suites in the Dallas area. They camped at TCU and SMU last weekend, and Hoffken received offers from North Texas and Division II West Texas A&M.

“You can’t miss it,” said Chris Adamson, co-founder of Gridiron Imports. “He walks onto the field and not only is he 6-7, but he has broad shoulders and looks fantastic, both athletically and physically. We had to answer a lot of questions, not necessarily a lot of sales. He speaks for himself with the way he works and the way he behaves.”

The group traveled 140 miles south to Belton, Texas, on Monday for a camp at Mary Hardin-Baylor University. The Nebraska coaches, working the event for the second year in a row, offered 2025 German prospect Konstantin Paschos and started a conversation with Hoffken.

The Huskers made plans to work him out a day later in Houston.

“It happened very quickly,” Adamson said. “They saw him run a 40 and do some agility drills.”

Hoffken measured a 6-foot wingspan and went through individual defensive line work. Nebraska D-line coach Terrance Knighton made the offer. Emotions overcame Hoffken as soon as he accepted.

“I started to realize that this journey is just beginning,” Hoffken said by phone Wednesday evening after the Gridiron Imports group attended a Texas Rangers game in Arlington. “The possibilities are endless. I can go to Nebraska, one of the largest and most successful schools in the country with one of the best coaches you can get.

“If I work hard, I can earn money and support my family. Thats crazy.”

Hoffken plans to return home to Germany early next week to complete the personal requirements for obtaining a student visa. Until then, he is still on the road with Gridiron Imports. Hoffken camped out in Oklahoma on Thursday, but Adamson said the recruitment is over.

“There’s no hemming and hawing,” Adamson said. “They want him, and he wants Nebraska.”

Adamson started Gridiron Imports with Bjoern Werner, the German import who played for Adamson at Salisbury School in Connecticut. After a standout career at Florida State, Werner was a first-round NFL Draft pick of the Colts in 2013.

Gridiron Imports placed NFL players Junior Aho, from France, and Germany’s Kilian Zierer, at American colleges. The organization also helped bring current linemen Paul Rubelt to UCF from Germany and Olaus Alinen from Finland to Alabama, in addition to helping find spots for players in Michigan and Colorado.

An accelerated process this month could land Hoffken in Lincoln after three to four weeks in Germany. He will be eligible immediately, though his skillset is undoubtedly raw. Hoffken expects to play offense in Nebraska. Hofken said O-line coach Donovan Raiola told him that “he will teach me everything from the basics.”

After accepting the offer, Hoffken exchanged messages with Matt Rhule. The second-year Nebraska coach did not attend the Texas camps. On Wednesday, Hoffken said he had been in contact with the Nebraska admissions department and received a to-do list to help with his move.

He said he has watched college football and understands where Nebraska and the Big Ten fit in the sport’s hierarchy.

“It’s incredibly impressive,” Hoffken said.

The experience of the past week has exceeded Hoffken’s expectations. He started talking to Adamson last fall about pursuing this dream again.

“He’s incredibly mature,” Adamson said. “It is clear that as a 22-year-old you have a different view of life than as an 18-year-old. He was overwhelmed that he had offers before Nebraska. As high as his goals were this week, I don’t think he got on that plane in Germany thinking he’d have a shot at going to Nebraska.

Originally from a rural area near Cologne, Germany, Hoffken connected through Gridiron Imports in 2020 to earn a soccer offer from UMass. The COVID-19 pandemic made travel impossible. His parents divorced. It set off a series of events that affected Hoffken’s mental health, he said.

“It was a bit like a midlife crisis at 18,” he said.

If Hoffken had avoided the delay, Adamson said, he might be able to prepare for his senior year of college — or perhaps for a shot at the NFL like others who have gone through the Gridiron program.

That day could yet come.

“It’s quite an inspiring story,” Adamson said, “that he got through all of this and came out the other side.”

(Photo of Nebraska offensive line coach Donovan Raiola, David Hoffken and defensive line coach Terrance Knighton courtesy of Gridiron Imports)

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