Hoak comes home, gets chance to be OSU quarterback

Joey Kaufman
Quarterback Gunnar Hoak of Dublin Coffman scrambles during Kentucky's spring game on April 12. Hoak played in five games for the Wildcats last season, completing 13 of 26 passes for 167 yards with two TDs and one interception. [Bryan Woolston/The Associated Press]

The moment caught Frank Hoak by surprise.

When Hoak was at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on April 27, he listened as Ohio State coach Ryan Day raised a question for his son.

The family had been visiting the school over the weekend as Day’s coaching staff recruited Gunnar Hoak, a graduate transfer quarterback from Kentucky, to join the Buckeyes for his final two seasons of eligibility. OSU needed depth at the position after Matthew Baldwin announced plans to transfer a week earlier.

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Day wanted to gauge Gunnar’s initial impressions.

It was not unexpected. Before their trip, Frank and Gunnar understood the Buckeyes’ coaches would be eager for a decision, left with only two scholarship passers. For his peace of mind, Gunnar told his father he would settle on one by the end of the weekend.

“I think he knew, ‘I either need to know I'm going there or I'm not,’ ” Frank said.

Gunnar didn’t take a day, as Frank had expected. He told Day then he was coming.

The commitment was the latest instance to reshape Ohio State’s quarterback competition this offseason to replace Dwayne Haskins Jr.

Hoak will soon arrive on campus with a chance to compete with Justin Fields for the starting job. Fields, a former top-ranked high school recruit who transferred from Georgia, is widely perceived as the favorite.

“I just want him to do his best and compete and push the room to get better,” Frank said of his son. “If he gets his shot, he gets his shot. And that's icing on the cake.”

Not only must Gunnar edge a talented counterpart come preseason training camp, the challenge involves adapting to a new offense.

Mark Crabtree, his high school coach from Dublin Coffman, didn’t anticipate a steep learning curve.

“He's going to be able to grasp a concept from a scheme point of view as you coach him,” Crabtree said. “Some kids have trouble picking things up, but I don't anticipate Gunnar having any issues picking things up mentally. I think one of his best attributes is his football intelligence.”

Beyond the pursuit of a starting role, his arrival holds deeper significance, marking a homecoming for the Dublin native and fulfillment of a childhood dream.

Gunnar was born in 1997 at Ohio State’s medical center, less than a mile from Ohio Stadium, where he first attended games as a toddler. With his uncle, Fred Pagac, serving as defensive coordinator until 2000, he and Frank received passes to walk the sidelines or enter the locker room.

His bedroom walls were painted scarlet and gray and maize and blue for his love of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Other team paraphernalia, including bobblehead dolls of coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, were in the room.

But by the time Gunnar was a sophomore at Dublin Coffman, he realized he might never play at Ohio State as Frank had as a tight end in the 1980s. Though a promising quarterback and later rated as a three-star recruit by 247Sports, he was a traditional pocket-style passer. Urban Meyer, then the Buckeyes’ coach, preferred dual-threat quarterbacks to direct his spread offense and never offered Gunnar a scholarship.

It was not a daunting fate. Gunnar idolized Brady Quinn, who grew up in the same neighborhood and starred at Dublin Coffman a decade earlier before heading to Notre Dame.

“Seeing Brady at Notre Dame helped him realize not everybody from here just goes to Ohio State,” Frank said.

Gunnar ultimately picked Kentucky. When he committed to the Wildcats, they ran a version of the “Air Raid” under then-offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, a passing-heavy scheme that suited the 6-foot-4 drop-back passer.

But before Gunnar arrived as a freshman in 2016, coach Mark Stoops fired Dawson and replaced him with Eddie Gran, who installed a more running-heavy offense.

Last season, the Wildcats won 10 games for the first time since 1977 while primarily keeping it on the ground, rushing 64.7 percent of the time, 10th most often in the Football Bowl Subdivision, according to CFB Analytics.

Terry Wilson, a more nimble runner, remained Kentucky’s starting quarterback ahead of Gunnar, prompting him to look at other schools when spring practice ended last month.

Gunnar only had to visit one.

“When people say, ‘I'm coming home,’ ” Crabtree said, "he's literally coming home."


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