When college football teams around the country began to recruit Gunnar Hoak during his sophomore year at Dublin Coffman High School, Frank Hoak told his son that Ohio State might not be a fit for him.
Even though Frank Hoak played for Ohio State from 1984-88 and has what he describes as a “deep love for the university” that is just a short drive away from where the Hoak family lives, he recognized that the Buckeyes – then coached by Urban Meyer – were primarily recruiting dual-threat quarterbacks at the time, and his son – who went on to be ranked as the No. 40 overall pro-style quarterback in the class of 2016 – would probably have better opportunities to play at other schools.
After receiving scholarship offers from several other Football Bowl Subdivision programs (not including Ohio State, who ended up signing Dwayne Haskins in his recruiting class), Gunnar Hoak committed to Kentucky, which he believed was the school that would give him the best opportunity to succeed. After three seasons with the Wildcats in which he did not start a single game, however, Hoak started to think it might be time to move on from Kentucky.
When Hoak officially put his name into the NCAA transfer portal on April 23, Ohio State was the first school to contact him.
Hoak wasn’t even sure he was going to leave Kentucky when he made the decision two days earlier, after a discussion with his family on Easter, to enter the transfer portal. He knew it was possible that Ohio State would be interested in him, because Matthew Baldwin had announced his decision to transfer from the Buckeyes just a few days earlier, but he wanted to explore his options and see how they stacked up not only against each other, but against the option he already had of simply staying at Kentucky.
Once Ohio State contacted Hoak, though, the process moved quickly. Hoak visited Ohio State to meet with Ryan Day and the Buckeyes’ coaching staff just three days after entering the transfer portal, and just one day later, Hoak announced in a Twitter post that he was “coming home” to play for a school that had been a part of his life since he was a child. In addition to his dad being a former Buckeye, his uncle Fred Pagac was an assistant coach for the Buckeyes from 1978-2000 (and previously played for the Buckeyes from 1971-73) and his cousin Fred Pagac Jr. played for the Buckeyes from 1999-2003.
“Ever since I was born at OSU hospital, some aspect of my life has always involved scarlet and gray,” Hoak said in his statement. “I’ve heard my Dad’s football stories with Coach Bruce. I’ve seen my Uncle coach countless Buckeyes games in The ‘Shoe, and watched my cousin win a National Championship. And while I have gained so much experience during my time in Lexington, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to continue a family legacy.”
Coing hoe!! pic.twitter.com/XsGbsskISL
— Gunnar Hoak (@GunnarHoak12) April 28, 2019
Like many kids in the state of Ohio, Hoak had childhood dreams of playing football for Ohio State, and like most kids who have those dreams, he didn’t have that opportunity coming out of high school – at least not as a scholarship player who would have a chance to compete for significant playing time.
But now that Ohio State has a new head coach who has brought pro-style passing concepts to the Buckeyes’ offense in Day, and a sudden need for a graduate transfer quarterback arose on the roster, Hoak received that opportunity – and he chose to go for it.
“It’s kind of funny how things turn around and change, because now Coach Day’s there and his evaluation process of quarterbacks is different, and Gunnar’s skill set fits more with what he does,” Frank Hoak told Eleven Warriors. “So we’ve told our kids forever that God has a plan for them, and it’s funny how things work out. So hopefully this is his plan.”
Dublin Coffman head coach Mark Crabtree has seen no shortage of great quarterbacks come through his program. Since he became the Shamrocks’ head coach in 2001, Dublin Coffman has produced seven Division I quarterbacks; most notably, former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, who went on to be a first-round NFL draft pick.
Crabtree says Hoak is as good as any quarterback he’s coached.
“When you go back and look at our team records, Gunnar Hoak’s name is right there with everybody and is better than everybody in some cases,” Crabtree told Eleven Warriors. “He stacks up with everybody in terms of his best quality, he’s got two best attributes: he’s got a really live arm, and his football intelligence is off the charts.”
Hoak earned offensive player of the year honors for Ohio’s Central District in 2014, and threw for more than 4,000 yards with 44 touchdowns and only nine interceptions between his junior and senior seasons at Coffman. His performance with the Rocks led to offers from Bowling Green, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Kent State, Syracuse and Toledo in addition to Kentucky.
In his three years in Lexington, Hoak’s only playing time came last season, when he completed just 13 of 26 passing attempts for 167 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Hoak never got the opportunity to actually play a full game for the Wildcats, though, so he hasn’t necessarily had the chance to show what he’s truly capable of.
“The thing about Gunnar that’s so hard to evaluate is that he’s never been in a spot where he could start a game and kind of work through some mistakes,” said Derek Terry, who covers Kentucky football for 247Sports. “He’s always kind of been thrown in there, and it’s tough to just go in the middle of a game and expect to perform really well. So that’s kind of the one thing I’ve been curious about with Gunnar is if he did get a chance, especially with some good playmakers around him.”
Even so, Hoak has had the opportunity to gain some valuable experience playing against high-level competition in the SEC, and playing at Kentucky meant going up against plenty of talented defenders on the practice field, too. Kentucky had three defensive players selected in the first three rounds of this year’s NFL draft – defensive end Josh Allen, cornerback Lonnie Johnson and safety Mike Edwards – and a total of five defensive backs who were either selected in this year’s draft or signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents.
Crabtree expects that experience, combined with the attributes he already had coming out of Coffman, to enable Hoak to be an asset in the Buckeyes’ quarterback room.
“He’s a kid with experience,” Crabtree said of Hoak. “He’s a kid that’s got a good arm. He’s incredibly intelligent when it comes to football, in my opinion. He’s a really good classroom kid, always has been. I think he’s exactly what you want in a quarterback, and I think Ohio State is going to find out they’re very fortunate to have a kid like that come into their program. I’m not saying he’s ready-made to come in and play right away, because there’s a lot of learning to do. But physically, he’s a ready-made guy.”
“When you go back and look at our team records, Gunnar Hoak’s name is right there with everybody and is better than everybody in some cases.”– Mark Crabtree, Gunnar Hoak's coach at Dublin Coffman High School
How much Hoak will actually play for the Buckeyes is still to be determined. Justin Fields has been widely expected to be Ohio State’s starting quarterback since he transferred in from Georgia in January, and became the clear-cut frontrunner to start once Baldwin made his decision to leave the program. That said, Hoak is expected to get an opportunity to compete for the job in preseason camp, and Crabtree expects Hoak to put his best foot forward.
“I know that a lot of people are saying, he’s going to be a quality backup and all that other stuff, but I think probably in his mind, he’s gonna make this a competition the best way he can,” Crabtree said. “And he’s not just satisfied with being a backup at Ohio State, he wants the opportunity to see if he can go out and compete and take the starting job, so at least that’s how I look at it for him.”
Regardless of how the competition plays out, Hoak will be an important part of Ohio State’s quarterback room this season. The Buckeyes only have three scholarship quarterbacks, and Chris Chugunov – who came to Ohio State last summer as a graduate transfer from West Virginia – was expected to be the third-string quarterback, so even if Hoak doesn’t win the starting job, he’s likely to be the next man up after Fields.
He’ll need to learn quickly once he arrives at Ohio State this summer, as he’ll have just a few months to get acclimated to the Buckeyes’ offense before their season opener against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31, but Frank Hoak believes his son will be in good hands as he continues to develop as a quarterback under the tutelage of Day, quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.
“I think (Day) brings a little different perspective from an offensive standpoint that can help teach Gunnar more of how to be a quarterback,” Frank Hoak said. “He’s coached in the NFL, his resume is pretty good and Coach Yurcich has a pretty deep resume coaching quarterbacks, and so does Coach Wilson.”
Set to graduate from Kentucky this weekend with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics, Gunnar Hoak will be immediately eligible to play for the Buckeyes and has two remaining years of collegiate eligibility, during which he will pursue a master’s degree at Ohio State.
There were perhaps other schools Hoak could have transferred to where he would have been an immediate frontrunner to start, or Hoak could have stayed at Kentucky and hoped his time eventually came there; his family told him they would support whatever decision he made.
Hoak ultimately decided, though, that he would return to his home state and wear the scarlet and gray in Ohio Stadium like his father, uncle and cousin did before him – and they’re certainly thrilled that dream is finally becoming reality.
“I don’t know how to put it in words,” Frank Hoak said. “I’m really looking forward to him taking that first trip out of the tunnel, because you don’t get many feelings like that across the country.”