AJ Hoffler knew he wanted to be a Clemson Tiger since last month.
The four-star defensive end out of Woodward Academy (Atlanta, Ga.) finally made that happen as he verbally pledged to Clemson on Tuesday evening over schools like Ohio State and North Carolina.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Hoffler told The Clemson Insider in an exclusive phone interview Monday night. “I kind of knew I was gonna pick Clemson for about a month or so now. I just got to the point where I didn’t need to wait any longer. I already knew where I wanted to go to college.”
“I’d say what made me choose (Clemson) is they were recruiting me the hardest for a while and they just showed my family a bunch of love as well,” he continued. “It wasn’t just me, they were checking up on my mom and my dad and my grandparents all the time, so I knew it was really a family thing and it was more than just football.”
Hoffler made another unofficial visit to Clemson in mid-May. It was an opportunity for him to do some things that he didn’t get to do when he visited with his mother, back on Monday, April 11. While the visit wasn’t a state secret, he didn’t want it to be made public. To his surprise, he had a chance to meet with Clemson’s president, Jim Clements.
“That was the first school to introduce me to the president,” Hoffler said. “The president, he was real excited to see me. He said that he watched my film. He knew all about me. He knew about my mom. I just felt at home there, so that’s why I was ready to make my decision.”
On the car ride home back to the Peach State, that’s when Hoffler knew Clemson was where he wanted to be. His official visit from June 3-5 only confirmed that.
“The day before the official visit, I told Coach (Lemanski Hall) I was gonna commit,” Hoffler said. “I knew before the official, but after the official visit, I felt 100% confident (in my decision). It just reassured (me) that I did want to be there. I already knew going into it that I was gonna commit, but after leaving, I just felt even better about it.”
According to Hoffler, Hall had been telling him prior to the weekend of the official visit that he was the No. 1 guy that Clemson’s defensive ends coach wanted right now. There was a spot for him to commit during the official visit weekend and while the spot was still going to be there afterward, Hall said he couldn’t hold it if someone else wanted to commit.
Hoffler called Hall on June 2 and told him that he was coming to Clemson.
“Him and his wife were screaming on the phone,” Hoffler said. “When I told Coach Swinney, he had the same reaction. Coach Swinney started jumping up and down. So, I felt really good about (my decision). I felt like I was wanted and they didn’t have any hesitation about taking me. They were ready to get me.”
While Hoffler has been silently committed since then, he was originally planning to commit on his birthday at the end of August. Instead, he decided to join Clemson’s 2023 recruiting class on his mom’s birthday, Tuesday.
While Hoffler has had Clemson as his top school for a considerable amount of time, it wasn’t long ago that Ohio State was considered the leader in his recruitment. Hoffler credited the job that both Hall and defensive coordinator Wesley Goodwin did in recruiting him. They made up a lot of ground in a short amount of time.
“I’d say they did a better job than I could’ve imagined,” Hoffler said. “Because even when they first started talking to me, I was like, ‘Oh man, that’s cool, but I’m still going to Ohio State.’ That’s what I was thinking at the time, but they just kept recruiting me and kept showing me love. They did a better job and they showed genuine care. I have a great relationship with both of them and I talk to both of them at least three-to-four times a week…They did a really, really good job recruiting me. I was really impressed.”
What was it about Clemson’s recruiting pitch that resonated with Hoffler the most?
“It was about developing me as a man off the field and it being more than just football,” he said. “It’s more about academics and developing you as a man than the football part. I know that they say that if you take care of everything off the field, on the field will take care of itself. That was kind of the main thing. I was like, ‘This is where I need to be,’ because it’s more than just football for them.”
Having an opportunity to play early is also something that Hoffler looked at considerably. Hoffler’s trainer brought that to his attention before Clemson did because he trains some of the guys on the Tigers’ defensive line.
“He was telling me that they were losing a bunch of guys (Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry, Justin Mascoll and Myles Murphy) and if I went there, I had a really good chance at playing as a freshman, assuming that I develop well and learn the system,” Hoffler said. “And then, Coach Ski, Goodwin, Coach (Nick) Eason and Coach Swinney, they all told me the same thing.”
Hoffler put that into another plus category for Clemson. When it came down to it, having the ability to play early wasn’t something that was high up on his list, but he definitely did consider that as something that he was looking at in a school at the next level.”
While Hoffler would’ve liked to enroll in January 2023, he’ll have to wait until this time next year to arrive on campus.
Once Hoffler does arrive on campus, what can Clemson fans expect out of him?
“I know this is cliche, but I personally believe that I’m the hardest worker,” he said. “I’m never gonna give up, no matter how hard the challenge is. I’m self-motivated. I hate quitting. I’m never gonna give up. I think I’m a versatile pass-rusher that can do all kinds of things. I’m a versatile football player that’s hard-nosed and never gonna give up. I’m gonna give it 100% all the time.”
With Tuesday’s commitment, Hoffler joins a class that includes Briarwood Christian (Birmingham, Ala.) five-star quarterback Christopher Vizzina, Warner Robins (Ga.) four-star Vic Burley, St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.) four-star defensive end David Ojiegbe, Vandegrift (Austin, Texas) four-star offensive lineman Ian Reed, Westlake (Atlanta, Ga.) four-star cornerback Avieon Terrell, First Baptist Academy (Naples, Fla.) four-star tight end Olsen Patt Henry, St. Francis (Alpharetta, Ga.) four-star cornerback Branden Strozier, Sumner (Riverview, Fla.) four-star safety Kylen Webb, Rockwall (Texas) four-star wide receiver Noble Johnson, Mill Creek (Hoschton, Ga.) four-star linebacker Jamal Anderson, Denmark (Alpharetta, Ga.) four-star linebacker Dee Crayton and Archbishop Wood (Warminster, Pa.) three-star tight end Markus Dixon.
Hoffler (6-4, 240) ranked as high as the No. 214 overall prospect in the 2023 class by 247Sports which tabs him as the nation’s No. 34 defensive lineman in his class.