Originally created 02/18/99

Ex-Lakeside star makes name as college `thrower'



ATHENS, Ga. -- His coach compares him to Kramer on "Seinfeld." But his competitors are starting to compare him to the best shot-putters in the country.

Reese Hoffa, a 6-foot, 275-pound sophomore shot-putter on the University of Georgia track and field team, is the talk of the team and the shot put community.

After Hoffa threw a personal-best 63-feet, 5 1/2 inches on Feb. 6 in the Frank Sevigne Invitational in Lincoln, Neb., Georgia throw coach Don Babbitt said his phone "was ringing off the hook" with people wanting to talk about Hoffa.

The throw in Lincoln automatically qualified Hoffa, the No. 3 shot-putter in the nation, for the upcoming NCAA Indoor Championships on March 5-6 in Indianapolis.

Now he's preparing to compete in this weekend's SEC Indoor Championships in Gainesville, Fla.

"I knew I had it in me," Hoffa said, referring to his best throw. "I had thrown almost 64 feet in practice before."

Hoffa, who won two states championships in the shot put and one title in the discus for Evans' Lakeside High School, attributes his success to his coaches.

"Coach Mack (Richard Machovec) taught me the spin rotation move at Lakeside," Hoffa said. "It's almost like golf. You learn to do something and you do it repeatedly until you get it right."

Babbit has helped Hoffa get it right at Georgia.

"In practice, (coach Babbitt) is on me, but at the meets he helps build my confidence. He'll say things like, `Everything's all right, you got it.' I like that."

Babbitt said the secret to Hoffa's success lies in is preparation.

"Reese is efficient in his training. There's a difference between working hard and being focused, and just working hard. Reese is focused," Babbitt said.

Besides focusing on his technique, Hoffa also spends time concentrating on the "real" key to throwing -- his superstitions.

"The night before we travel, I have to get some stick-on tattoos. I've gotten a bulldog. I've used Hot Wheels racers from Wal-Mart and Batman `City of Gotham' badges from Kroger."

He likes the stick-ons because they allow him to change his luck.

"If I find one that works, I'll use it. If I have a bad meet with one, I can take it off. I threw my best with the bulldog tattoo. I'll wear it on my chest this weekend and at the nationals."

Hoffa's superstitions don't stop at the track. He can't sleep at night if his closet door is open. When he uses the restroom, he has to run out of the room before the water goes down the toilet.

Hoffa's teammates, who can't stop talking about him, say he's one of a kind.

"There's never a dull moment when Reese Hoffa is around," said fellow thrower Matt Eicholtz. "We always like to see what he's going to do next."