It is hard to believe there was a time when Andrew Hoffman's mother wouldn't let him play youth football, for fear he would get hurt.

But it's true. Hoffman, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound rising senior at Park View High School, had to develop his passion for the game by playing street football. He started playing organized football as a freshman. And now, the lineman who is called "Paul Bunyan" by his teammates because of his size and strength, will attend the University of Virginia on a full football scholarship.

"I don't know what to think. I'm overwhelmed at this point. I never expected this," said Hoffman, who was recruited as a defensive tackle. "I made the decision [Wednesday]. I gave [Virginia assistant coach Art] Markos a call, and he told me about Virginia, what the deal was, and that I could think about it. I asked him, `What if I take it now?` "

Hoffman will sign officially with the Cavaliers in February. He has made a verbal commitment to the school, which in turn has made a written commitment to Hoffman. He is the first player to sign early with a Division I school in Park View Coach Mickey Thompson's nine-year tenure. "With the quality of Virginia's program, and the type of athletes they recruit now and the type of athletes who play for them, it's quite a compliment to Andrew" that he's signing early, Thompson said. "They say the same things we say about Andrew -- he's big, he can move and he can cover a lot of ground."

Hoffman missed the start of the 1998 season with a broken foot but recovered to start at defensive tackle. He had 17 first hit tackles and was third on the team with two sacks.

At Virginia, Hoffman will join a program that has developed into one of the country's best -- last fall, the Cavaliers finished the season ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll with a 9-3 record. Thompson also attended Virginia on a football scholarship; he graduated in 1981.

"I couldn't be happier to go to my coach's alma mater. I need to talk to him and tell him how much it means to me," Hoffman said. "I can't explain it. I'm just overwhelmed by the whole thing."