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IT'S HARD TO GET CHASE HOOBLER TO TAKE A COMPLIMENT. THE SOFT-SPOKEN SOPHOMORE linebacker is quick to brush off praise, insisting that any talk of personal accomplishment is pointless and premature. "Individual accolades don't matter," he says, "especially in our situation." He's referring to the state of Indiana football, a program coming off its worst season in nearly three decades. The outlook for this year is brighter, though, and Hoobler is a big reason why. As a redshirt freshman in 2011 he rocketed up the depth chart, eventually making eight starts at strongside linebacker and finishing sixth on the team with 48 tackles. After the season he was named to the Yahoo! Sports and BTN.com Big Ten All-Freshman teams.
By now Hoobler should be accustomed to receiving plaudits. Growing up in northern Ohio, he excelled at Orrville High. A linebacker and tight end, he was a two-time conference defensive player of the year, and after his senior season the Akron Beacon Journal and the Wooster Daily Record tabbed him as the area's top player. In addition to the Hoosiers, Hoobler was recruited by MAC schools, as well as by Boston College and West Virginia. He considered signing with Akron before deciding on Indiana, mostly because he wanted to play in the Big Ten.
His numerous awards take up space on an already cluttered family mantel: Three of Hoobler's four brothers and stepbrothers have played or will play college football at Division II Ashland University (his oldest brother, Chad, began his career at Ohio State before injuries ultimately caused him to transfer), and his stepsister, Hannah Brenner, is on the volleyball team at Clemson. "When I go home, we're always doing something athletically," says Hoobler. "If we're not playing football, we're playing volleyball or tennis—anything, really. There's a lot of competition, but we're a very close family."
The typical younger brother who'd tag along with the older kids, Chase saw his first football action during games in the backyard, getting pummeled by his two older brothers. He credits them for teaching him how to play. "They were tough on me," he says with a laugh, "but there's no chance I'm here now without them."
In 2012, Hoobler will be counted on to do more than just hang with the big boys: He'll be a de facto leader on one of the youngest defenses in the country. "I always try to lead by example," he says, "but this year I have to be more vocal." Hoobler might have to really raise his voice. In 2011 the Hoosiers' defense ranked near the bottom nationally in most statistical categories. Part of the porousness can be chalked up to growing pains: Besides Hoobler, six other freshmen started at least one game. "The difference between now and last year is that last year I was just trying physically to keep up, and I think a lot of the other guys were too," says Hoobler. "Now we understand the scheme, we're playing with confidence."
Like the youthful Indiana team as a whole, Hoobler has shown flashes of just how good he can be. Last November against Ohio State he had the best game of his burgeoning career, twice sacking quarterback Braxton Miller and finishing with nine total tackles. The Hoosiers named him defensive player of the game.
When asked about that performance, he's quick to point out that the team lost 34--20. When pressed, however, he eventually lightens up. "I guess," he says, "I played all right."