Myths abound about red-heads, but they are not all true about BYU defensive tackle Chris Hoke.
Ornery and feisty do not describe the 295-pound Hoke, who is a colorful character. He likes to wear orange clothes and a personality test shows he is a "yellow" and his wife is a "blue."
The 6-2 senior from Santa Ana, Calif., crops his head of red hair to stubble-length for ease in the football season, risking further damage from the sun by exposing a sensitive scalp.
Hoke is having his day in the sun anyway this season.
Both this season and last year he was named defensive lineman of the Virginia games by the BYU coaches.
"I was nervous about Virginia last year, because Rob (Morris) always took us to that next level," said Hoke.
Last year Hoke had two sacks in the loss to the Cavaliers, but helped the Cougars get revenge at Virginia last month when they won in overtime. This year it is partly Hoke's responsibility to take BYU to the next level without Morris.
Nicknamed Rudolph (because of a sunburned red nose), Viking (his mother's ancestry is from Scandinavia), and Hokester, the jokester tries to take it to the next level with fellow defensive tackle Hans Olsen, whose wife cuts Hoke's red hair. Hoke and Olsen are two of the three red-heads on this year's BYU football team. The Hokes (rhymes with hoax) often do things together with Olsen and his wife, but the pranks are the work of Chris and Hans.
"We feed off each other," Hoke told a local newspaper, relating they hide cleats and other equipment of teammates.
A couple weeks ago during the UNLV game, trainers rushed to aid Hoke and Olsen who were sprawled on the field after they collided with no Rebel quarterback in between them. Hoke complained his head hurt because he had hit Hans in the stomach. Olsen told the trainers his stomach hurt because of Hoke's head.
While the two are quite a pair, Hoke has been performing antics before and away from Olsen.
A missionary companion of Hoke's in France was former BYU basketball guard Danny Bower. The two developed a unique approach to contact shy prospects by getting on the subway and sitting in different places. Bower would strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to him by saying he knew someone who was stronger than boxer Mike Tyson. On cue from something like Bower crossing his legs, Hoke would then stand up and flex his muscles.
Bower indicates he never ate more on his mission than when he was paired with Hoke because people would invite them over just to watch Chris eat. Bower also saw Hoke's hard work and pain when therapists would bend his arm to improve flexibility.
Other contacts came on a college campus in France where Hoke got therapy on a wrist he broke while playing basketball in the Missionary Training Center. He used his size to full advantage by physically bumping into total strangers while walking on campus just to say, "Don't I know you?"
Now Hoke bumps into opposing linemen with another "method to his madness." While he doesn't possess a quick temper that red-heads are accused of having, if there has been more than a tussle between Chris and his opponent, he first stares him down. Next, Hoke lets his opponent know he means business. Then he really goes after the opponent, keeping in mind not to loose his cool.
"If you fight you get tired more easily," cautions Hoke. "Then you get out of your game."
Football has presented some unique obstacles for the red-headed Hoke, who has to smear a lot of sunscreen on his body during two-a-day practices.
"When I get sunburned I can't sleep at night because all my freckles become one," said Chris.
But there is more than pigment to this pigskin prowler.
Hoke has big, thick thighs and unusual strength, measured by his heft of 725 pounds in a back squat-no wonder his thrust can lift the two offensive linemen who double-team him every game.
However, the biggest challenge Hoke has faced was two years ago when he had to split time with seven other quality defensive linemen-that meant all of this year's starters were running second unit. Hoke survived that 1998 season even though he didn't get to play as much as he wanted, but he is used to sharing.
He is one of 15 siblings from two blended families. He is the second and only red-head of three children from his biological mom and dad who have reddish hair, but they divorced when Chris was three years old. There are actually good feelings between his parents who remarried other spouses when Chris was eight. In fact, when Hoke finished his LDS Church mission to Belgium and France, three of his four parents traveled together with him through Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Italy and England.
During this European tour, Chris' father Ed helped break his son back into the "real world," by shouting "Who-Ah," as a secret signal every time they would pass by a pretty girl.
Earlier in life, concerned parents provided Chris opportunities twice a summer to attend Boy Scout camps, so Chris became an Eagle Scout at the early age of 13 and ended up with two merit badge palms.
While living between two sets of parents in California towns like Santa Ana, Fountain Valley, Villa Park, Diamond Bar and Anaheim Hills, Chris rubbed shoulders with some pro athletes. Major league baseball players Rod Carew and Donnie Moore of the Anaheim Angles lived close by, but none had the impact on Hoke as did the late Los Angeles Ram all-pro linebacker Carl Ekern.
As a three-year-old, Hoke had been hit by a car and was visited in the hospital by Ekern, who later lost his own life in a car accident. Ekern, who played for the Rams from 1976-88, brought banners, pictures and signs to Hoke, his little Fountain Valley buddy.
That car wreck involving Hoke is one of several close calls during his life. At least twice he should have drowned, another time his head hit on the windshield during a different car accident, and as a missionary he and his companion Elder Bower were jumped at knife-point.
"Another time came the first night on my mission when these Arabs surrounded me on the tram," recalls Hoke. "I put down the groceries I was carrying and said, 'come on!'"
As a missionary Chris loved explaining Mormon doctrines like his birthdate of April 6 being the same as Jesus Christ, the same date the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded.
As a missionary Chris was forbidden to grow a mustache. He briefly joined BYU teammates for a couple days this season growing hair above his lip, but shaved it off after the Florida State game because he couldn't stand it even though he wanted to be supportive of his teammates. He still sings the team's made-up mustache song.
His support also comes in other ways, like through his two brothers Aaron and Ryan who fly to all of the home games from California. Last year in Provo he recovered a fumble against Colorado State, falling on the football for the "sure thing." Later he learned could have scored a touchdown if he had picked up the ball.
Hoke was a high-powered recruit of CSU and other schools. He was on UCLA's sideline when BYU lost to the Bruins in the Freedom Bowl, but in the Holiday Bowl endzone when BYU won the national title in 1984. His dad bought him a full rack of ribs at a restaurant when they were weighing pros and cons, selecting BYU at the consternation of his Born Again high school football coach.
At BYU, Chris met his future wife Jaimee Hennefer, a light brunette who liked the color orange so well she had a room painted that hue. They were living across from each other in the same apartment complex after he returned from his mission. Since they have been married Jaimee has traveled to several games like San Diego State, UNLV and the Liberty and Motor City Bowls.
Even though Jaimee and Chris are expecting a baby on January 16, they wouldn't mind returning to Las Vegas or Memphis for another bowl.
That baby will be a boy named Cade and could be red-headed because of Chris and the two red-headed uncles, two red-headed cousins and a grandpa all on Jaimee's side of the family. The new daddy won't be able to blame lack of sleep on all of his freckles merging into one because of the sun; rather, his sleep loss will be due to his son.
A Barber's Perspective on Red Hair
Graphic by A.J. Rich
Chris Hoke is one of three red-headed football players on the current BYU football team, joining fellow defensive linemen Hans Olsen and Jeff Cowart who share a trait with Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, athletic greats Red Grange, Red Robbins and Red Jacoby as well as sportswriter Red Smith.
While cutting the hair of a red-head is no different than any other color according to barber Gary Dayton, who retired in 1998, there are some peculiarities. Dayton, a long-time Cougar fan who cut hair for 45 years around BYU's campus-37 years in the Wilkinson Center, says a lot of people don't know it, but even Brigham Young was red-headed.
Dayton, who cut the hair of former BYU presidents Wilkinson, Holland and Lee and several former BYU athletes and coaches, remembers one of the best red-headed football player's hair he trimmed was that of all conference Curg Belcher (1964-67). Another red-headed football player fans remember is BYU kicker Brent Johnson from the 1979 Holiday Bowl team.
Hoke and other red-heads are beneficiaries of at least one thing-they will never go gray.
"When red-heads age, the graying process looks blond, not gray," says Dayton. And at the end of each day of barbering, when Dayton swept up black, blond, brown, gray and red hair into a pile big enough to vault in, he says "it always looked brown."
The accompanying graph indicates hair color for players on this year's BYU football team.