Gunnar Hoak’s path to the Ohio State quarterback room had a few more twists and turns than some of his teammates.
Hoak grew up just outside Columbus, a huge Buckeye fan. As a little kid, he walked through the enormous gray arches and into the Horseshoe to watch his favorite team play.
He was in the stands for the epic No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown between Ohio State and Michigan in 2006. Although Hoak was just 10 at the time, when he was asked about it prior to the Fiesta Bowl, he remembered it like it just happened.
“Team up north, it was like 42-39, it was the one versus two game. That was the best game ever,” he said.
Tickets for that game weren’t easy to come by, but having a dad who played for the Buckeyes certainly helped.
Frank Hoak was a tight end during the Earle Bruce era, rooming with the team’s star linebacker Chris Spielman, and earning a letter during the coach’s final season in 1987.
He told his son stories about his playing days, including winning Gold Pants for victories over Michigan.
For a while, it looked like the kid from Dublin might get a chance to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Gunnar Hoak developed into a star quarterback at Dublin Coffman, throwing for 2,584 yards with 30 touchdowns and only three interceptions as a junior. He went to summer camps at Ohio State, hoping to convince the coaching staff to offer him a scholarship. But that offer never came, and Hoak committed to Kentucky instead.
He spent three seasons as a backup at Kentucky, but was stuck behind an incumbent starter on the depth chart. Hoak earned his degree in agricultural economics in just three years, graduating in May 2019.
At that point, OSU had just lost Tate Martell and Matthew Baldwin to transfers, and had only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. With Hoak able to play immediately and having two seasons of eligibility left, it was an obvious match. There were places that offered a clearer path to the starting job, but Hoak knew why he wanted to be a Buckeye.
“The legacy, the tradition that’s here and winning games and being a part of something great,” he said.
He officially announced in June that he would transfer to Ohio State, and was practicing with the team two months later. That didn’t leave a lot of time to get up to speed with his new team’s playbook.
Hoak was behind both Justin Fields and fellow grad transfer Chris Chugunov on the depth chart, and didn’t play much. He saw action in five games, and finished the year a perfect 6-for-6 passing, including a 61-yard touchdown pass to Jameson Williams against Miami.
While Hoak was enjoying his first season as a Buckeye, he couldn’t help but notice what was happening at his old school. Terry Wilson, the starting quarterback who had played ahead of Hoak at Kentucky, suffered a season-ending knee injury in just the second week of the season. If Hoak was still in Lexington, he likely would have been the new starter.
“You can play the ‘what if?’ game but I’m always big that there’s always a plan. God has a plan for everything,” Hoak said. “So that’s the path I’ve chosen. I love it. I’ve been enjoying it. I’m glad to be here.”
The path Hoak chose has already worked out pretty well. The little boy who heard stories about Gold Pants from his dad has now earned a pair of his own. He’s getting a Big Ten championship ring, too.
And now, with Chugunov gone, he almost certainly enters spring ball as the top backup to Fields. The player who ends up in that role will likely see significant action this fall. Chugunov played in 10 games in 2019, completing more than 60 percent of his passes for 286 yards and 6 scores.
True freshmen C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller will be pushing Hoak for that spot, but he has the advantage of four years of college ball under his belt, as well as a season learning Ohio State’s playbook.
“Just getting to know it. You’ve gotta know it, down quick,” he said.
But he knows there’s more to being a college quarterback than just knowing the plays.
“You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to be confident, you’ve got to be assertive, you’ve got to be that type of leader as a quarterback,” he said. “That’s what you’ve got to do when you to come to Ohio State.”