When it comes to football in Northeast Nebraska, you’ll struggle to find a bigger name, or person, than Russ Hochstein.
Checking in at 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 235 pounds by the time he graduated, Russ was a 12-time letterman for Hartington Cedar Catholic in the early 1990s and went on to play college at Nebraska as an interior offensive lineman. In his senior year in 2000, he blocked for a running game that averaged 349.2 yards per game, the most in the nation.
Hochstein was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fifth round in 2001. The next season, he was signed by the New England Patriots and won two Super Bowls over the course of 6½ seasons with the team.
He followed up with brief tenures with the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs before retiring after the 2012 season. Hochstein now works as an independent consultant in Massachusetts.
Almost a decade later, Hochstein’s second cousin will be suiting up for his final game at the Northeast Nebraska All-Star Football Classic. However, his path through Cedar Catholic looked different from that of his predecessor.
Kerby Hochstein checks in at 5-foot-5, 155 pounds. It gives him the shortest height and ties him for the second lightest weight among those participating in the annual contest (Adam Miller of Elkhorn Valley weighs 150).
Such measurements planted seeds of doubt in the minds of many of those around him, who thought Hochstein was too short to play a position as intense as middle linebacker, let alone the sport.
“There’ve been times when people tell me I’m too short or I’m not big enough,” he said. “but I like to prove people wrong, and I just kept working hard, trying to prove myself, and I think it paid off.”
To do so, he spent time putting in the extra work on and off the field, sometimes more than even his coaches asked of him.
Living in different parts of the country, Russ and Kerby Hochstein haven’t been able to speak much recently. Nevertheless, the younger Hochstein was able to draw plenty of inspiration from his second cousin’s background and, perhaps more importantly, his work ethic.
“I haven’t talked to him for years, but I can tell you one thing,” Kerby Hochstein said. “It was always pretty cool on Sundays to watch him play on TV and kind of point him out.
“It inspired me in that he was a small-town farm kid kind of like me. He worked his butt off to get to the NFL and inspires our kids around here to just work hard and if they work hard, these kids’ dreams will come true.”
In Kerby Hochstein’s case, that inspiration and hard work made him one of Cedar Catholic’s most valuable players on defense. In the 2020 season, the middle linebacker led the team in total tackles (70) and solo tackles (37) and was second in tackles for loss (8).
His efforts headlined a Trojans defense that allowed just 14 points per game and helped the team to an 8-3 record en route to the Class C2 quarterfinals. Up until this past season, Hochstein hadn’t taken on the challenge of being a middle linebacker, which essentially requires him to be to the defense what the quarterback is to the offense.
“It was a different task for me because before my senior year, I never really had that job of being the main guy,” Hochstein said, “but I think I became a better leader after taking that role and got a way better knowledge of the game.”
Hochstein’s football journey will come to an end on Saturday, and he’ll head to Northeast Community College in the fall to pursue a degree in building construction. He’ll make sure to soak in the practices and the game.
“Not everyone gets this opportunity to play one more game, and I’m just going to enjoy every second of it,” Hochstein said.
The Northeast Nebraska All-Star Football Classic returns for its eighth installment Saturday, June 12, after being canceled last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Kickoff is set for noon at Veterans Memorial Field in Norfolk.
The White team has won each of the past two meetings, winning the 2019 contest 20-13. This year, it’ll be coached by BRLD’s Dan Maresh, who will be coaching at North Bend Central in the fall.