When he joined Ohio State last summer as a transfer, Gunnar Hoak held some hope he could emerge as the starting quarterback.
The plan never materialized.
Justin Fields, who was then the favorite to grab the spot, won the competition to succeed Dwayne Haskins Jr. and put together a sterling debut season.
It left Hoak as a backup, effectively the third-string QB behind Chris Chugunov, who most often first stepped in for Fields when starters were replaced in blowouts. As Hoak reflected on his season before last month's Fiesta Bowl, he seemed at ease with his place and losing out in the preseason quarterback derby.
“It hasn't been hard,” he said. “That's something that happens when you play football. You come in, compete, have a great attitude, give a good effort. You can't complain.”
For Hoak, the draw of Ohio State involved more than playing time; it also provided a chance to return to his hometown. He was born at the university's medical center, grew up in Dublin and rooted for the Buckeyes as the son of Frank Hoak, an Ohio State tight end who lettered in 1987.
He also sought a chance to join a College Football Playoff contender after three seasons at Kentucky.
“One of the reasons I came here was to be part of something great,” said Hoak, who graduated from Dublin Coffman.
In his fifth season, Hoak will vie to back up Fields. He will compete with Jack Miller and C.J. Stroud, among 14 freshmen who enrolled early to participate in spring practice. Chugunov, a West Virginia transfer, has exhausted his eligibility.
The arrivals of Miller and Stroud provide depth at the position for the Buckeyes, who carried only three scholarship quarterbacks in 2019.
“That room's stronger at this point than it was last year, that's for sure,” coach Ryan Day said. “Those guys will have an opportunity in the spring to learn and grow. Hopefully we can develop some depth there.”
Hoak said last month that he was looking forward to getting to know Miller and Stroud.
“They're good players,” Hoak said. “They've just got to come in, compete and give a good attitude. That's what all the recruits got to do.”
In the pecking order, Hoak has the benefit of experience. Appearing in five games, all in mop-up duty, he completed his six pass attempts for 104 yards and a touchdown, a 61-yard scoring toss to Jameson Williams late in a rout of Miami University.
Since his arrival, Hoak put much of his effort toward his “main goal” of understanding Ohio State's offense: “Getting ready if they ever need me,” he said.
Hoak never had much time to learn it before last season, arriving after spring practice.
“It's not crazy hard,” he said, “but it's definitely different than Kentucky.”