There were times last season where Alexandria’s Kristen Hoskins would catch a quick screen to the outside and leave defenders flailing as they tried to bottle him up.

Time and again as he gained confidence as a sophomore, he left opposing defenses trying to figure out ways to keep the ball out of his hands, but that’s the luxury for Alexandria coaches. There’s no one way to do that for the opposition.

Put Hoskins in the backfield, line him up in the slot, throw screens or send him over the middle. Just get him the ball one way or another.

“I hate to make comparisons, but he’s that Wes-Welker type in the slot, catching balls across the middle, get him the ball in bubble screens and jet sweeps,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said, referencing the former 5-foot, 9-inch NFL all-pro wide receiver with the New England Patriots. “Just get the ball in his hands in space, and he’ll make things happen. He’s got that athletic ability that is rare where he can compete with just about anybody in the country.”

Hoskins first broke onto the scene late in his freshman season after he moved up to varsity leading up to the playoffs. That little bit of experience was a prelude to a huge sophomore year that saw him lead Alexandria with 74 catches for 1,009 yards and 11 touchdowns.

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Many of those were of the spectacular variety where Hoskins would get the ball in space before either eluding or simply outrunning defenders for big chunks of yards. That caught the eye of fans in the stands, and now it’s catching the eye of college coaches from around the country who are intrigued by what Hoskins might be able to do at the next level.

“I’ve been talking to the coaches, having virtual meetings and stuff with them showing me around the campuses,” Hoskins said of navigating the recruiting process during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s been really good recruiting wise.”

An emotional first offer

On Sept. 3, Iowa State University out of the Big 12 became the first Division I football program to offer Hoskins a scholarship. The Cyclones, who are off to a 1-1 start this season with a win over Texas Christian University, have been in frequent contact with him since.

“It’s been crazy. This is truly what I’ve worked for,” Hoskins said. “I just always used to doubt myself because of my height, but I can see that the work is finally paying off. I was just shocked (with the Iowa State offer). I just broke down crying. It was crazy. I had all kinds of emotions.”

Kristen Hoskins splits a couple defenders during a catch and run during practice on Sept. 28. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Kristen Hoskins splits a couple defenders during a catch and run during practice on Sept. 28. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Hoskins likes to have fun on the field. An Alexandria practice on Sept. 28 was competitive as the offensive and defensive units for the Cardinals went against each other with Hoskins and his teammates playfully sending verbal jabs each other’s way.

At 5-feet, 10-inches and listed at 165 pounds, Hoskins has grown his confidence by playing varsity basketball and football from a young age and being part of a 4x100-meter relay state championship team in track and field as a freshman.

Hoskins won’t ever be the biggest player on the field, and there have been moments when he thought that might hold him back from being able to play at the highest level in college football.

“I always used to stress out thinking I wouldn’t be able to compete at the next level, which I’m not there yet, but I guarantee that I’ll constantly keep working,” Hoskins said. “The reason for the emotions (after getting the Iowa State offer) is I always would just get in my head because of my height, and I can just see that all the work I’m putting in is coming to the light. I know for a fact that I have the speed and I can catch.”

Watch him play

Empting still hears some concern about Hoskins’ height when he talks with college coaches who are recruiting him but haven’t offered yet.

“I think they’ve got to watch him play because he’s got that next-level speed, quickness, makes people miss,” Empting said. “He’s not going to probably be that outside type receiver, but the program has to be the right fit in an offense that knows how to use him.”

Hoskins’ speed is the first thing that stands out when watching him play. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds as a sophomore, an impressive time even by NFL standards for players coming out of college. He doesn’t slow down when the football pads come on either.

“He’s got the immeasurables like making people miss and all that, but he’s also got all the measurables,” Empting said. “He runs fast. I’ve watched him and timed him in track. I’ve seen times that he’s posted. I’ve watched him jump. He’s explosive. He’s got both the measurables and the immeasurables that make you go, ‘Wow.’”

Hoskins plans on letting the recruiting process play out a bit. He’s hearing from programs all over the country, including plenty in the Big Ten. The Iowa Hawkeyes have been reaching out a lot lately, and the University of Minnesota has also kept in contact.

“I’m staying in touch with Matt Simon, the wide receivers coach (for the Gophers),” Hoskins said. “He’s a really cool coach, and the Gophers are showing heavy interest too.”

Focused on the future

A good season for the Cardinals football team as a whole would likely mean another big year for Hoskins too.

He wants to continue to improve his mental approach on what it takes to get better on a day-to-day basis both in football and in school. On the field, he’s excited to see what this Alexandria team can do with the season opener set for Oct. 9 at home against St. Francis.

“I truly think this group is special. I think we’re being slept on from other teams,” Hoskins said about a Cardinals team that lost 27 seniors from 2019. “The team matters first. I’ll keep doing what I do on the field, same as last year. I’ll keep working hard, but I’m not going to get too big-headed and play as an individual. I’m going to keep playing with this team and I’m not going to do anything to jeopardize that.”

Hoskins’ body of work has already made college coaches pay attention, but it takes commitment and attention to detail to thrive in big-time college football. He is excited about having two years left to get in the weight room and do individual training that will help him not only make a roster, but make an impact when he does get on a college campus.

“He’s just got to concentrate on the little things now,” Empting said. “He’s head and shoulders above a lot of people athletically, so it would be easy to get complacent and settle...There aren’t a lot of guys on our field who can keep up with him. Maybe one or two, and not many opponents have people who can keep up with him. Maybe one or two, so he’s got to find ways to push himself. A lot of that is in the details. How do you set up your breaks? How do I train? Those are small pieces that he can continue to improve upon.”