Plenty of kids in a transient sports world and facing the kind of situation Gunnar Hoak was in might have transferred .
Few would have stayed to battle the upperclassman for the job.
Fewer still would have actually stayed and outplayed the incumbent to earn the starting spot, as Hoak did midway through his high school career.
And that memory, perhaps above any singular play, continues to resonate with veteran Dublin Coffman High School coach Mark Crabtree, whose program has evolved into a veritable quarterback factory under his direction.
“He had an opportunity as a sophomore to start a few varsity games, because the kid starting ahead of him was a junior and we inserted Gunnar around Week 3 or halftime Week 2, when the other kid got an injury,” Crabtree told Lettermen Row. “Gunnar stepped in, and he wasn’t quite ready to be honest. But he ended up starting our next three games against probably the best teams on the schedule, and he did a good job. The other kid comes back, finished out the year, and in 2014 we had a returning starter and Gunnar competing. And Gunnar beat him out.
“The thing that stands out to me about Gunnar, he knew we had a guy returning and he had started the year before. But he went out there and worked his butt off and did all the things necessary to earn the position. He never relinquished that. And that kid was always pushing Gunnar, but I attribute that to his attention to detail and the effort that he needed to have and his drive.”
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Hoak blossomed into a four-star prospect for Crabtree’s program, which has produced multiple college quarterbacks including Brady Quinn, Jack Rafferty, Cole and Zack Stoudt.
Hoak’s example still resonates.
“Well, particularly in our school, it’s very important,” Crabtree said. “I can’t speak for every school but our program, the tradition of quarterbacks in our school in particular started long before Gunnar ever showed up and will hopefully continue a long time. Kids see, whoever is playing quarterback for Dublin Coffman, people see that and wanna know who it is. He saw the Brady Quinns or Jack Rafferty or the Stoudt brothers, and he wanted to be part of that.
“God blessed him with tools to be able to reach a level, and he worked to put himself in the same position they were in at one point. He didn’t assume anything. He didn’t take things for granted. He worked extremely hard to be the kind of quarterback he wanted to be. And he performed under pressure. When he needed it the most, that is when he delivered.”
Hoak, who spent three seasons at the University of Kentucky and graduated with two years’ eligibility remaining, returned home to Ohio State, where family ties run deep with Hoak’s father, Frank, and uncle, Fred.
“I guess if I had any input, I did converse with him a little bit before the whole thing, and I know prior to him making the move, he did understand the ramifications, what it really meant to be at Ohio State,” Crabtree said. “Obviously he’s got some history there from his dad and uncle and cousin and all that stuff. He gets it. He understands, just as any kid from Central Ohio gets it, and it’s just magnified even more.”
While that Central Ohio native background imbues in Hoak perspective on playing for the Buckeyes, it does not, Crabtree said, mean that Hoak is going to shrink from any challenge. And he’s certainly facing some significant ones as he tries to learn a new offense and then compete against five-star talent Justin Fields in training camp.
“I think without knowing the inside of what’s going on at Ohio State behind closed doors, I think the thing he brings to the table that he can do well, he is incredibly smart, intelligent — not just academics but from a football perspective,” Crabtree said. “I think the thing Ohio State coaches know, I’m sure he probably understands that offense and what they’re trying to do from scheme point of view and gets it.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen, nobody does [in terms of who becomes the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback], but he’s going to hopefully put his best foot forward.”
In fact, Crabtree has studied the situation and thinks it could lend itself to being more attuned to what Hoak can do between the lines.
“Ironically enough, Ohio State might run the type of offense that best suits his skills even better than Kentucky,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got to find out. I think what we’ve seen from Coach [Ryan] Day, he’s not going to ask his quarterbacks to run the football maybe as much as in the past.
“Strength in Gunnar is his ability to throw and understand the passing game. I’m not disparaging Kentucky by any means, but he might be in situation where it fits his skill-set better.”
And if Crabtree flipped on video of Hoak and needed a game plan, he outlined how he would approach seeing Hoak on the field.
“Again, I’m just going based on what I remember and a little film at Kentucky, and I would look at him and say here’s a big, tall kid, really good arm,” Crabtree said. “I just watched his spring game on ESPN a couple days ago, he made some really nice throws, nice touch, pretty good accuracy. If he’s given time and protection, I think he can do an excellent job in the pocket. He’s not really a running threat at that level, but he’s not a statue back there, either.
“If you kind of compare him to somebody, in terms of his style, I think he’s probably like the kid [Dwayne Haskins] that they had last year at Ohio State. He didn’t run it a lot but he was able to avoid pressure and get out of sacks. I think that’s where Gunnar is kind of at in terms of his potential. I think people will try to pressure him if he ends up playing some, and I think people won’t be afraid to come after him with different schemes and blitzes. Teams will test him in that department. I think that’s probably how I would approach it. I don’t think just letting him sit back and throw it at will be allowed. But if he has time, he can pick you apart.”
And Gunnar Hoak is more than willing to compete for that chance.