Ohio State has always held a special place in Gunnar Hoak’s heart.
As a kid growing up just outside of Columbus in Dublin, Ohio, Hoak went to many Ohio State football games as a kid. Several of Hoak’s family members played for the Buckeyes, including his father Frank Hoak, uncle Fred Pagac and cousin Fred Pagac Jr.
So when Ohio State reached out to Hoak within a day of Hoak entering his name into the transfer portal in April, it was tough for Hoak to imagine passing the Buckeyes up.
“I wanted to come home and just be a part of the tradition here,” Hoak said Sunday while meeting with the media for the first time since transferring to Ohio State. “My dad played here, I’ve had a cousin play here, uncle that coached here and just being a part of that legacy and tradition there is at Ohio State, it’s awesome.”
Hoak grew up rooting for Ohio State – he named the Buckeyes’ 42-39 win over Michigan in the 2006 “Game of the Century,” which he attended, as one of his favorite childhood memories – but he wasn’t offered a scholarship by the Buckeyes out of Dublin Coffman High School. His biggest offer came from Kentucky, so he went to the Wildcats with visions of potentially becoming a starting quarterback in the SEC.
After playing in just five games in three years in Lexington and graduating with a degree in agricultural economics this spring, however, Hoak decided to explore his options. Terry Wilson returned from last season as Kentucky’s starting quarterback, and Hoak wanted to see what master’s degree programs other schools had to offer, as well. So he put his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal on April 23.
In the subsequent few days, Hoak was contacted by several other Football Bowl Subdivision schools where he likely would have been the immediate frontrunner to start at quarterback, including Rutgers, Texas State, Eastern Michigan and Western Kentucky.
Even though Matthew Baldwin announced that he would transfer from Ohio State just five days before Hoak put his name in the portal, leaving the Buckeyes in desperate need of another scholarship quarterback, Hoak said his decision to enter the portal when he did wasn’t necessarily tied to Baldwin’s decision. Hoak had already been thinking about transferring from Kentucky before Baldwin made his decision, and he didn’t know until he entered the portal whether Ohio State would even be interested in him.
Once Ohio State reached out to Hoak, however, his decision came quickly. Hoak met with Ryan Day and other members of the Buckeyes’ coaching staff at Ohio State on April 26, and just one day later, Hoak announced he would be transferring to OSU.
“Ohio State came to me and that’s awesome,” said Hoak, who will pursue a master’s degree in sports coaching at Ohio State. “Ever since I started talking to Ohio State, I loved Coach Day. He’s a great guy, and I saw what he did last year with Dwayne (Haskins). So that’s something to be a part of. It’s going to be great.”
“I wanted to come home and just be a part of the tradition here.”– Gunnar Hoak on transferring to Ohio State
Realistically, Hoak’s chances of starting at Ohio State this year might not be much better than they would have been at Kentucky. Justin Fields is expected to be the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback this season, even though he just transferred in from Georgia in January. So while Day has yet to name a starting quarterback, Hoak is likely to be the No. 2 quarterback on Ohio State’s depth chart. And while Hoak has two more years of eligibility, Fields will also be in college for at least two more years, leaving no guarantee that Hoak will ever start a game at Ohio State.
Even so, the opportunity to play at one of college football’s marquee programs – and one that is so close to home and so close to his heart – was more appealing to Hoak than transferring to a smaller school just for a better chance to start. And while he understands that Fields is the frontrunner to start for Ohio State this season, his mentality is to compete as hard as he can.
“I never have that mentality of like, ‘I’m giving up,’” Hoak said. “So you always got to compete every practice. Show the coaches what you got, show the team what you got and go out there and do the best you can. The coaches will decide who the best guy is, and we’ll roll with it.”
Neither Day nor Ohio State quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich has wanted to make any early proclamations on how Fields and Hoak stack up against one another through the first three days of preseason camp. Both of them have said, though, that they have been impressed with how quickly Hoak has grasped the Buckeyes’ offense after just arriving at Ohio State this summer.
“I was impressed,” Day said Friday after the first day of practice. “In a short period of time, I think he’s kind of picked up the offense pretty quick. I think he can diagnose and see the field, kind of has a good feel for it. I thought he kind of moved the ball around pretty good today, made good decisions, and once he gets more reps under his belt, I think he'll get more and more comfortable, play with more confidence.”
Fields has been impressed with the improvement he’s seen from Hoak, too, and has been trying to help Hoak get acclimated to Ohio State even though they’re competing for the same job.
“First, he came here, he was kind of a quiet guy,” Fields said of Hoak. “But he’s opened up to the quarterback room a lot, and he’s definitely been trying to get the offense down, so I’m trying to teach him as much as possible.”
Hoak doesn’t know how the quarterback competition will ultimately play out, but he’s been doing his part to put his best foot forward every day and be as ready to play as possible.
“You got to come in and compete every day,” Hoak said. “You got to take the time and learn the offense and get in the film room as much as we can throughout the summer, which we did, and coming into camp, keep doing it. And go out there every single day with confidence.”