Hoover continuing family legacy with EIU football


Rob Le Cates

Cole Hoover (right), a graduate assistant for the Eastern football team, talks to Jack Valente (66), a sophomore offensive lineman, before the start of the Alumni Social Spring Game on April 23 at O’Brien Field.

Autumn Schulz, Assistant Sports Editor

Filling the stands at O’Brien field each fall to see the Eastern football team take on its opponents each fall is a seemingly ordinary act for many. But, for Cole Hoover, O’Brien Field represents a family legacy that started almost sixteen years ago.  

Hoover is no stranger to the Charleston area and its football history. He graduated from Charleston High School in 2016 where he played football as both a tight end and linebacker. He then followed his late father’s footsteps, Jeff Hoover, to O’Brien Field to join the Panthers as an offensive lineman, playing from 2016 to 2020. 

Hoover, while reflecting upon the time he spent at O’Brien as a child, said that he cannot pinpoint when his passion for football began because it was all he knew.  

“That’s hard because I don’t know a time that I was not around it. With my dad being a college football coach, I was just always around practices, going to games,” Hoover said. “I didn’t really know anything different. Like it was just normal, moving around the country for different schools, doing different stuff. As soon as I could play football, I started playing football.” 

Jeff Hoover served as an assistant offensive line coach for the Panthers from 2006 to 2009 before dying in a car accident during the 2009 season. Today, Hoover embodies the same passion for coaching that his father once had as he now serves as an offensive graduate assistant for the Panthers. Hoover said that it does not seem real to do what his father did in the same place that he did it. 

“It’s incredibly weird. Every day I walk past his old office and the name tag is different of who’s it is, but I remember drawing up plays on the board or writing my name or playing games on the white board and to now see some of the other coach’s kids do that is really weird, but really cool,” Hoover said. “To be on the sidelines talking to players and coaching, it’s amazing, but still weird. It doesn’t feel real to kind of do what he did where he did it.” 

Hoover also said that he spent a lot of time as a child watching film with his father and going out to practices.  

“Basically, when we moved here that’s when I really started to get into playing football, not just playing video games,” Hoover said. “So, I was just in the offices all the time, watching film with my dad, watching movies on the projectors and then going out to practices. It was really fun being around O’Brien, being around the guys.” 

If it was not for late former Eastern head coach Bob Spoo and his staff, Hoover would not have the same connection to EIU as he does today. Hoover said that being allowed to come back to O’Brien after his father passed changed his life.  

“The biggest thing that drew me to Eastern when I was in the recruiting process was after my dad passed, I was still given the opportunity to be around the team and be around football. Just the people, Coach Spoo was still here, guys on his staff, Coach Spoo still kinda let me be a part of the team and come to practices. People like Sandy King, Clint Bays, Roc Bellantoni, Mike Lynch, Roy Wittke, all those guys would still let me come to practices and draw stupid plays on their white boards. Bringing me in and still letting me come was awesome. They didn’t have to do anything, but they still made the effort to, and it really changed my life.” 

Transitioning from being a player to a coach may be difficult for some. However, Hoover said that with the help of head coach Chris Wilkerson and offensive coordinator Joe Davis, the transition has been easy. 

“It’s been pretty cool. Coach Wilkerson and Coach Davis, the whole staff, have been awesome of welcoming me and asking for my input, kind of like if I was a player and if I was still on the team, like how would you respond to this, kind of get my perspective,” Hoover said. “I still look at things sometimes still from a player’s perspective. I am still in the transition of being a coach, it is nice that they still ask me a little bit of what I think about stuff. I am still learning; I am just trying to get as much knowledge as I can from them because they are just unbelievable.” 

Wilkerson said that Hoover was one of the first people he met at Eastern and since then, Hoover has made an impact not only on potential Panthers, but the Charleston community as a whole. 

“Cole is an amazing person with a huge heart and a ton of passion.  When I was hired, Cole was one of the first people I got to meet on campus,” Wilkerson said. “Watching him interact with people has been incredible.  Anyone he comes in contact with is taken aback immediately by his authentic, caring and genuine nature.  The first weekend I was here we had some prospects on campus and in my meetings with them and their families they all said the same thing, ‘Coach Hoover is amazing!’ I also had the chance to reconnect with so many people in the community and I knew Cole had touched so many people with some of his community outreach. He is coordinating all our team-based volunteer and community service efforts.”    

Hoover is a special education major and he said that being at Eastern has allowed him to have the best of both worlds because he can help kids and still be involved with football.  

“I would like to stay at Eastern for as long as I can, that is my goal. If I could just be a Panther forever, that is what I want. I feel like I am getting the best of both worlds,” Hoover said. “We’re doing some community service, going to some schools and getting the guys out to hang out at recess or read books. I still get to be around the kids that way and make an impact on kids’ lives and I still get the football part of it. I am getting the best of both worlds right now and Eastern is allowing me to do that. As long as I can continue that, I want to be here.” 

 Wilkerson said that Hoover has a bright future and that he is on the path to being a good coach.  

“I am so blessed to have Cole as part of our staff.  This is a special place to me, and I know how special it is Cole as well,” Wilkerson said. “We often talk here about bleeding blue and understanding that the difference here is people.  Nobody epitomizes that more than Cole.  I know he is a special young man with a very bright future.  He will be successful at anything he chooses, and I know he is on the path to being a remarkable coach.” 


Autumn Schulz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].