When former Lakeside thrower Reese Hoffa showed up in Athens as a 19-year-old freshman 20 years ago, he didn’t realize he’d planted roots in the University of Georgia that would last a lifetime.
“I thought I would go to college, get my degree, come back to Augusta and take a coaching position at one of the high schools or middle schools,” Hoffa said.
Two decades later, the former world champion and bronze medalist in the 2012 London Olympics is still living in Athens. Now his legacy will become a permanent fixture in UGA’s Circle of Honor.
“I’ve known about the Circle of Honor since I was in college and was just half-dreaming that I hoped I would be part of that Circle of Honor,” Hoffa said. “I just thought that I never really met the standards for it.”
The standards are high to be recognized as one of the extraordinary athletes or coaches “who, by their performance and conduct, have brought honor to the university and themselves, and who by their actions have contributed to the tradition of the Georgia Bulldogs.”
Recipients must also earn a degree from Georgia, receive all-American honors and be a member of a national team or Olympic medalist.
Hoffa ticks off all the right boxes for “uncommon distinction” to join a group that includes the likes of Charlie Trippi, Vince Dooley, Billy Payne, Pat Dye, Teresa Edwards and Dan Magill. As a young student-athlete without a lot of means, Hoffa entertained himself by perusing all the athletics history and memorabilia that filled UGA’s Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. The video display of the Circle of Honor recipients was one of his favorite attractions.
“It was amazing,” he said. “These are the top athletes that represent UGA not only in college but as professionals. It sparked my interest. I thought you must be really good to get on this list.”
Back when Hoffa was in school, former Richmond Academy star Forrest “Spec” Towns was the only track and field representative in the Circle of Honor. Towns, who became the first Georgian to win an Olympic gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Games in the 110-meter high hurdles, went on to become coach for the Bulldogs for 34 seasons.
Hoffa will become the fourth track and field athlete inducted into the Circle, joining Towns, sprinter Debbie Ferguson and fellow shot put thrower Brent Noon.
“To be one of the people that represent track and field in elite company humbles you,” Hoffa said. “There are some angels that were whispering in their ears to get me in there. It’s almost unbelievable that my accomplishments and how I represented the University of Georgia and conducted myself that they say, ‘We’re going to put you in.’ I don’t think people go out there and do their sport to be in any particular hall of fame. You just do it because you want to be the best you can be. It’s humbling that people recognize all the hard work and what you’ve done as an athlete to put you up there with the greats of all time.”
Hoffa won world indoor and outdoor championships in 2006 and ’07, respectively, and competed in three Olympics – Athens, Beijing and London – during a long career in which he ranked among the world’s top three throwers for 10 years.
He retired in 2016 after narrowly missing out on making the U.S. Olympic team for the Rio Games. He admits that he dragged out sending in his official retirement papers for a few months.
“It’s probably the hardest thing I ever had to do to hang up my shoes because in the back of your mind you think I can still do it one more year,” he said. “But you have to be realistic to your abilities and where your heart is and I just couldn’t put my body through another year.”
As his body heals from all the years of training and pushing himself to the limits, Hoffa is throwing himself head first into the next chapter of his life. This winter he’ll finish school to get certified as a massage therapist while he keeps his hand in throwing by teaching young kids how to perfect the craft.
“I’m just trying to make sure I fill my time with things that I’m passionate about,” he said. “Obviously I’m passionate about teaching kids how to throw and with massage therapy it’s helping people get well because I know what it’s done for me. It allowed me to continue to have a long career. I just want to be part of someone else’s process of being great down the road. Maybe work on a few Olympians or a few state champions.”
Hoffa will be officially inducted with fellow Bulldog all-Americans Thomas Davis (football), Chris Colwill (diving) and Nicole Barber (softball) at a black-tie gala on Feb. 12. But they will be honored publicly at Sanford Stadium during the homecoming football game against Missouri on Oct. 14. He’ll invite 20 guests including his parents and former Lakeside track coach David Machovec, who originally convinced him to try shot put.
“I hope he can come to see one of his creations and watch me be honored on that day,” Hoffa said.