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April 7, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Bad decisions still haunting Brandon Hogan

MORGANTOWN — It hadn’t been 48 hours since Bill Stewart had hung up the telephone in his office.

The caller, he said, was from “a very close, local pro football team.”

That would make it, almost certainly, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team with whom Stewart has close ties through coach Mike Tomlin.

“They were in their draft room,” Stewart said, noting they were calling about a West Virginia University player in whom they had interest in the upcoming NFL draft.

His ability they had seen on film.

“They were asking about character,” Stewart said.

Of that they weren’t sure, for the subject of the conversation was Brandon Hogan.

Today Stewart expects a return call.

Brandon Hogan is in trouble with the police again.

“Now you know why I’m mad,” he said. “I tell them about his character, and one day later he’s in trouble. They’ll call and they’ll ask, ‘Bill, how do you explain it?’”

Which was exactly why Stewart had been pulled aside after Wednesday’s initial spring practice in pads, to try and learn just why trouble keeps finding Brandon Hogan, a good kid with a bad reputation.

No one knows him better than Stewart, who recruited him out of Manassas, Va., and coached him at WVU, serving as much as he could as a father figure, offering advice and discipline, always frustrated in that Hogan would seem to want to do the right thing but couldn’t.

“You have to know where he came from,” said Stewart, trying to explain. “Oh, I’ve been in New York City. I’ve been in L.A. I’ve been in Boston recruiting, Philly, all inner city, and that over there is as bad as I’ve seen.”

Hogan was bucking the odds, but Stewart had liked what he’d seen of the person.

“He lived right. He didn’t get in trouble in high school except for mischievous things, maybe a fight here or there. That’s why I went to bat for him. That’s why Rich (Rodriguez) believed in me. That’s why I took him and he said OK to it.”

Hogan had a one-way ticket out, a gift that few others could match. He was an athlete, so talented that he was a high school star on offense, a college star on defense and seemed headed for an early-round pick in the NFL draft.

But there were brushes with the law, the most damaging being a DUI charge he pleaded guilty to in September, leading to his being placed in the state’s DUI deferral program. With it came a license suspension.

Not to belittle DUI, for it is a serious societal problem, but it isn’t exactly holding up a convenience store with a pistol, either, or selling drugs to children.

That problem led to his latest, as he was arrested by Morgantown police for driving a car while his license was suspended after what appears to be a minor accident in Morgantown on Tuesday, one that led to a court appearance, after which he was released on a $2,500 personal-recognizance bond.

More important, it may threaten his freedom due to the guilty plea on DUI, as well as threatening his NFL future, one that was shaky enough to begin with, helped not at all by knee surgery that kept him out of WVU’s Champs Sports Bowl appearence.

Why would this happen again to Hogan, Stewart was asked.

“He doesn’t make good decisions,” Stewart said. “He’s sort of innocent and naïve. He doesn’t look for trouble, but he just does not look at the consequences of the bad decisions he makes.

“For him to come over here and get treatment is routine ... but you can’t drive,” Stewart continued. “The law says you can’t drive. Get a cab, come over here and stay all day. Want to go home? Call me. Call your teammates. You can’t put yourself above the law.”

This is what galls Stewart.

“Do I still love him? Sure. Am I mad at him? You betcha,” Stewart said.

He just hopes the world doesn’t write him off, not yet.

“How many people have done that?” he asked, about to tell a story.

“I played golf the other day. Do you know how many guys I saw at the course go behind the tree or behind the bush? These are grown men, educated men. They know it’s against the rules and should go where they’re supposed to, but they don’t.

“What does that say about them? What does this that say about Hogan? Does it say he’s a bad person? No. It says he does not make good decisions. He’s like a son to me and right now I want to shake him.”

Just be gentle when you shake him, Stew. You might wake him up.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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