Chris Hoke, former BYU and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman, was called Feb. 16 to preside over the Pittsburgh North Stake.
Many who follow Cougar football and the National Football League will recognize President Hoke, who played for BYU in the late 1990s and wore a Steelers uniform for 11 seasons from 2000-2011. During that time he was part of two Super Bowl winning teams (Super Bowls XL and XLIII). He also played in Super Bowl XLV, a loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Pittsburgh North Stake have been and will continue to be blessed by President Hoke’s service, said Elder Vai Sikahema, an Area Seventy.
“President Hoke is a good man and a great leader,” Elder Sikahema said. “He is beloved in Pittsburgh.”
President Hoke, originally from Santa Ana, California, served in the Brussels Belgium Mission before playing for the late head coach LaVell Edwards at BYU from 1997-2000.
Following his college career, President Hoke joined the Steelers as an undrafted free agent. He was one of three rookie defensive linemen to make the Steelers' 53-man roster that year, he said.
"I'm sure I was the 53rd guy," he said with a laugh. "I'm sure I was that last one (to make the team)."
President Hoke, who turns 44 in April, retired from professional football in 2012 before starting a TV/radio broadcasting career with the local CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh, where he provides football commentary and analysis of the Steelers.
Within weeks of his retirement, President Hoke was called as the second counselor in his bishopric. He went on to serve as a bishop for five years. At the time of his calling as stake president, President Hoke was serving as the second counselor in the stake presidency.
Elder Hugo Montoya, a General Authority Seventy, presided over the stake’s reoganization and was joined at the meeting by Elder Michael M. Dudley, an Area Seventy.
President Hoke’s family, including his wife, Jaimee, sons Nathan and Lincoln and daughter Aubree, attended the meeting. The couple’s oldest son, Cade, is currently serving in the Rio de Janeiro North Mission. Another daughter, Chloee, was away at a gymnastics competition.
At President Hoke's invitation, seven local community and government officials attended the meeting, he said.
President Hoke said his path of preparation for this calling started when he was a young man. After his last high school football game, he was considering where to play college football when a high school coach tried to persuade him not to go to BYU or serve a mission, he said.
“He wanted me to go to a bigger school. He called me in and challenged my faith and my core principles as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” President Hoke said. “As a 17-year-old young man, when you have a man of authority, a man you respect and look up to, challenge your faith, it will shake you a little bit.”
Gratefully, his parents and the Lord helped President Hoke to stay focused on his spiritual growth and the need to serve a mission. He went to BYU.
"I knew that's where the Lord wanted me to go," he said.
His faith was tested again at BYU. Before leaving on his mission, President Hoke expressed concerns to his football coach about how two years away from the game might affect his future football career.
He remembers coach Edwards promising that if he would go and serve the Lord he would come back a better football player, President Hoke said.
"Sure enough, I went with faith and came home," President Hoke said. "Within a month or two I was bigger, faster and stronger than I was when I left."
These and other experiences prepared President Hoke to live his faith in the NFL, he said.
"There are a large number of influences in an NFL locker room," President Hoke said. "My determination and desire to keep myself worthy of holding and exercising the priesthood was paramount in my decision-making and choices."
The pattern of preparation continued after President Hoke’s retirement as he served in leadership callings and learned from other leaders, he said.
It’s a pattern he hopes will continue. President Hoke looks forward to serving with new leaders, including Elder Sikahema. Given their experiences in college football, the NFL and broadcasting, the two leaders have much in common.
"I love Elder Sikahema and relate to him so much," President Hoke said. "I'm so excited to learn from him, to be trained by him and be able to work with him. It will be a highlight of my ministry."
The feeling is mutual, Elder Sikahema said.
“So much of our experience was forged in the fire of competition,” Elder Sikahema said. “In those extreme conditions, we’ve learned lessons about ourselves, our capacity to execute under fire, think on our feet, to keep our head when turmoil is all around us. All of it under the scrutiny of fans, media and millions of viewers. That’s a pretty unique situation.”
President Hoke's counselors are President David Glover and President Bernd Scanlan.
President Hoke's call to serve as stake president comes one year after Ken Niumatalolo, head football coach of the U.S. Naval Academy, was called to preside over the Annapolis Maryland Stake.
Another former NFL player, Mark Harris, and his wife were recently called to preside over the Georgia Atlanta North Mission. Harris played college football at Ricks College and Stanford University before spending four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers in the late 1990s.