It’s second and goal. The first half is going to end in less than a minute. Miami’s defense has been good today; it held Northwestern to just seven points in the first half. But the offense hasn’t been able to strike.
The RedHawks line up on the 12-yard-line across from the Northwestern Wildcats, down seven in front of a hostile crowd of over 23,000 people. The ball is snapped, a play is made, and the quarterback finds standout wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer in the end zone, tying the game and silencing the crowd.
For some of the RedHawks, who typically see home crowds of only a few thousand people, the immense audience might be overwhelming, but not for Hippenhammer. Unlike his teammates, he spent the first three years of his college football career at Penn State, which he says prepared him for high pressure situations like these.
“When you understand the game you don't really panic,” he said. “I've obviously been around this for a while, especially playing at Penn State in front of like 100,000 people in these games. I'm kind of used to these environments.”
Hippenhammer added that playing in front of large away crowds was actually one his favorite experiences.
“When you know what you're doing, you take it all in,” he said. “Making a big play, especially at an away game, and hearing everybody go silent and celebrating with your teammates is a surreal feeling.”
When Hippenhammer decided to transfer for his fourth and fifth year, he reached out to Israel “Izzy” Woolfork, who coached in multiple positions at Miami from 2013 to 2021 and was the wide receivers’ coach for the final three of his years in Oxford. Woolfork, who is now a part of the offensive coaching staff for the Cleveland Browns, helped recruit Hippenhammer out of high school.
Hippenhammer described his relationship with Woolfork as an instrumental part of his decision to attend Miami.
“When I was leaving Penn State, I hit [Woolfork] up and he was like ‘yeah we'd love to have you,’”Hippenhammer said. “Even though I went to a different school coming out of high school, we just always kept a close relationship and when it was time for me to leave Penn State I reached out to him.”
Now, Hippenhammer leads the RedHawks receiving core with 314 yards and four touchdowns through his first six games this season.
According to Head football Coach Chuck Martin, Hippenhammer is filling a key role left vacant by Jack Sorenson, who led the RedHawks receivers last year, this season. Last year, Sorenson became the third Miami player ever to surpass 1400 receiving yards in a season. He made first team all conference and Hippenhammer made second team.
“Whatever [Hippenhammer] touches he can just do,” Martin said. “He had a great year last year. This is kind of his time to take over that main main role even though he was a huge part of what we did a year ago and the success we had. He's just good at everything. He's a good route runner, he's really really fast, he's really good at catching the ball. He's really smart. Like I said, he's so talented.”
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Hippenhammer’s athletic excellence extends far beyond his success on the football field, however. In addition to football, his long athletic resume includes several years of hockey, soccer, and baseball growing up. It also includes four years of collegiate baseball.
He said that his decision to be a dual sport athlete was influenced by advice from his dad.
“Throughout high school I realized I was probably good enough to play at the next level,” Hippenhammer said. “My dad always told me to just play both as long as I could and I just took that literally.”
He highlighted that baseball was an important piece of the college decision puzzle for him.
“When I was getting recruited, primarily all my offers were football offers but I wanted to play baseball so I made sure that at whatever school I was going to, baseball was part of the deal,” he said. “I ended up being able to play football and baseball at Penn State, which was awesome.”
Despite the difficult hours required to be a two sport athlete, Hippenhammer described the experience as a positive opportunity that he was proud of himself for taking on.
“I impressed myself, honestly. I'm not the type to brag about myself a lot, but I give myself a lot of credit for doing that and keeping good grades at the same time,” he said. “I got to meet personalities from the football team and the baseball team and be around two different environments and my biggest thing was just staying on top of my schoolwork, which I did. It was fun.”
Not only did he impress himself with his ability to juggle schoolwork and two sports, but also his coach.
“So few athletes are good enough for Division I, but he’s Division I at both,” said Martin. “I always marvel at kids that have all the boxes.”
After three seasons at Penn State and one at Miami, Hippenhammer decided it was time to wrap up his baseball career
“My last year of baseball here, I didn’t really do that well,” Hippenhammer said. “So I was like, alright, at some point I'm gonna have to pick one because I'm not Bo Jackson, where I can just go back and forth whenever I want. I think it was time for me to pick one, and after I realized I didn't have such a good year baseball-wise I was like, ‘okay, it's time to hang it up and just put all my beans in football.’”
Martin said he has seen Hippenhammer’s transition away from baseball reflect on the football field. He attributed this to the newfound ability to devote the entire offseason to football.
“He is stronger and faster. He'll be able to handle more,” Martin said. “He was already really good but when he puts his foot in the ground he's just a little quicker, and he's just bigger.”
In addition, Martin said Hippenhammer’s leadership and character would be a big part of the team’s success going forward.
“He's a good leader for us. He works his tail off. He's just such a nice person,” Martin said. “He never gets down on a teammate. He doesn't have that in him to be mad at somebody. He’s an awesome player and an awesome person.”
For Hippenhammer, success this season is about helping out young Quarterback Aveon Smith, who took over for starter Brett Gabbert after an early season injury.
“I'm proud of Aveon for stepping up. He's got things to work on and so do we,” Hippenhammer said. “I think for us as receivers, it's our job that, since Brett [Gabbert] is not with us at the moment, that we have to do everything we can to make Aveon [Smith] right, whatever the situation is.”
He added that he has a lot of faith in the young quarterback.
“I think [Smith] is doing a phenomenal job and I'm excited to see him succeed with us, because I believe he can succeed,” Hippenhammer said.
Once the season comes to a close, Hippenhammer is uncertain what role football will play in the future. While he did not rule out playing professionally, he stressed that his main focus for now is solely on college.
“I'm kind of just focused on doing my thing here and then if it takes me there it takes me there,” Hippenhammer said. “I'm really not worried about it right now. If it's meant to be, it'll happen.”
For him, this season is about finishing strong and enjoying his last moments with his team.
“It's kind of emotional just being out there with all these people, just realizing it's kind of over in six months for me,” he said. “But I'm not really worried about that too much. I’m just tryna have fun with these guys.”