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The Patriots turned a castoff wide receiver who played college lacrosse into one of their most dangerous receiving weapons

One of the brightest stars of the NFL's conference championship games was a 28-year-old wide receiver who went undrafted and played four seasons of lacrosse in college.

Leave it to the New England Patriots to unearth a player like Chris Hogan and let him loose for nine catches, 180 yards, and two touchdowns with the Super Bowl on the line.

For a team that often finds diamonds in the rough, Hogan is the latest example of the Patriots turning a player other teams didn't want into a valuable contributor.

Hogan's story is unique. An All-State lacrosse and football player in high school, he had offers from Division I schools to play both sports, and ultimately chose to play lacrosse at Penn State. While he shined for four seasons at Penn State, he told the Boston Globe's Jim McBride that he always had an itch to play football. With a year of eligibility left (because of an injury his sophomore year), he enrolled at Monmouth University to play football.

Hogan's college football career didn't blow anyone away — he had just 12 receptions and one touchdown while playing wide receiver and cornerback for Monmouth. While he wasn't on many teams' radars heading into the 2011 Draft, he made waves at workouts by running a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, benching 225 lb 28 times, and generally blowing away the competition in speed drills, according to the Star-Ledger's Mike Garafolo.

Still, Hogan went undrafted, had brief stays with the Giants and 49ers before landing on the Dolphins' practice squad. During an episode of HBO's "Hard Knocks," which focused on the Dolphins in 2012, it was revealed that Reggie Bush nicknamed Hogan "7/11" because he was "always open." However, Hogan never made the 53-man roster and later joined the Buffalo Bills, where he played three seasons, catching a total of 87 catches for 959 yards and six touchdowns.

The Patriots handed Hogan a three-year, $12 million contract in 2016, raising the eyebrows of some. But as ESPN's James Walker noted, the Patriots were confident in Hogan's ability after playing against him in Buafflo for three years.

The signing has already paid dividends. Hogan caught 38 passes for 680 yards and four touchdowns in 2016. His incredible athleticism has also been present, as he led the NFL with 20.9 yards per catch when there were five or more receivers and five or more defensive backs on the field, according to The Ringer's Kevin Clark. In other words, Hogan can get open, even in minimal space.

The Steelers learned this the hard way on Sunday as Hogan repeatedly burned an already-shaky secondary.

After the Patriots' 36-17 win over the Steelers, Hogan said (via ESPN's Mike Reiss), "I'm just happy to take advantage of this opportunity, to be part of this team. It's been a long journey, but I've worked really hard to get to this point and I just couldn't be happier I get to be part of this team, this whole thing."

Tom Brady added, "He's been incredible. He's made big plays for us all season and he made big plays in the biggest game of the year for us."

The Patriots and Falcons should combine for a high-octane Super Bowl. However, the Falcons' ranked just 19th in pass defense during the season, which means it may be another productive day for Hogan.

11 PHOTOS
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ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers throws as he is hit by Deion Jones #45 of the Atlanta Falcons in the first quarter in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons is hit by Jake Ryan #47 of the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Jared Cook #89 of the Green Bay Packers fails to make a catch in the endzone in the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Logan Ryan #26 of the New England Patriots attempts to break up a pass inteded for Cobi Hamilton #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on from the sideline during the second half against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Jim Nantz interviews Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots after the Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 to win the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Jan 22, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; The Atlanta Falcons after defeating the Green Bay Packers in the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. Atlanta won 44-21. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jan 22, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett (88) celebrates after the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jan 22, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after a touchdown by running back LeGarrette Blount (not pictured) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third quarter in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jan 22, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount celebrates with fans in the stands after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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