Gunnar Hoak stays focused on the task at hand in his underdog bid to be Ohio State's starting quarterback

Joey Kaufman
Gunnar Hoak has dreamed of playing for Ohio State since his childhood while growing up in Dublin. His dad, Frank, played for the Buckeyes in the mid-1980s. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

Gunnar Hoak found himself in a difficult situation when he transferred to Ohio State this pring.

Hoak joined the Buckeyes in May. Spring practice had ended weeks earlier. The quarterback competition tilted in favor of Justin Fields, the heralded transfer from Georgia.

Those factors leave Hoak with steep odds of emerging as Ohio State’s starter behind center when the season begins at the end of the month.

Through three practices of preseason training camp, Hoak, one of only three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, has a healthy perspective about the competition.

“You've got to come in and compete,” Hoak said. “You can't come in here with the attitude of just you're going to sit back and let somebody else take it. You have to come in with a good attitude and a good mindset.”

Hoak thinks his situation with the Buckeyes is no different than the one he faced at Kentucky before leaving as a graduate transfer. He was the backup last season behind Terry Wilson. Hoak needed to overtake Wilson on the Wildcats’ depth chart.

Playing time was not guaranteed then, nor is it now.

“I left there and came here, and I'm still competing,” he said.

When Hoak put his name in the NCAA transfer portal in late April, giving schools permission to contact him, he said he heard from about a half-dozen, including Rutgers, Texas State and Western Kentucky.

Schools from the non-Power Five conferences promised more favorable situations and less talented quarterback rooms than a perennial College Football Playoff contender. On those rosters, he was more likely to emerge as a front-runner to start.

But Ohio State was among the first schools to contact the Dublin native, soon after Matthew Baldwin informed the school that he was transferring. Hoak said he heard from the coaches only one day after he entered the transfer portal.

That was a big deal.

Hoak grew up an Ohio State fan. His father, Frank, was a tight end for the Buckeyes in the mid-1980s, and an uncle and cousin — Fred Pagac and Fred Pagac Jr. — were also former players. It was the hometown team.

“It's kind of different,” Hoak said. “That's one of the bigger parts of it. The tradition here at Ohio State has always been a dream of mine. As a little kid, I came to a ton of games here. That was a huge part of it, coming here and being a part of this team.”

When Hoak met with reporters Sunday afternoon, it was the first time he had spoken publicly since transferring three months ago.

He first brought up his family connections to the school when asked for the reasoning behind his decision to join the Buckeyes.

“I've got a family legacy here,” Hoak said, “and I wanted to come home.”

Hoak got some playing experience after sitting during his first two seasons at Kentucky. In five games last fall, he completed 13 of 26 passes for 167 yards with two touchdowns with an interception.

If Hoak cannot overtake Fields, he seems to fit the archetype of a backup quarterback, ready to step in on short notice.

When asked for a description of himself as a quarterback, Hoak didn’t hesitate.

“Calm,” he said. “I just stay poised.”

It’s always come naturally, he said.

“I've always been more of a quiet person,” Hoak said. “I'm calm, but if I need to be the confident guy, I can do that too.”


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