Gunnar Hoak ready for backup opportunity for Buckeyes

Spencer Holbrook06/02/20
Gunnar Hoak by Birm-Lettermen Row
Gunnar Hoak has a chance to make a difference for Ohio State. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

COLUMBUS — Gunnar Hoak is in a good position as Ohio State enters a quiet summer.

That wasn’t quite the case in the offseason after a recruiting cycle was filled with intrigue at quarterback. Then two fresh faces in the room for winter conditioning. Both C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller grabbed headlines as the future of the Buckeyes program, battling for the backup job behind Heisman Trophy favorite Justin Fields this upcoming season.

And then there’s Hoak, who has flown under the radar since transferring to Ohio State last May. The former Kentucky quarterback was part of the pseudo quarterback competition last year with Fields, but slipped back to the third-stringer as he learned the playbook and worked to find a rhythm in the offense.

Now with minimal spring reps for the two freshmen and an entire playbook studied for a full year, Hoak is ready to be the backup quarterback and do whatever he needs to do in order to see the Buckeyes win.

“Every day, you have to go in and do your job,” Hoak said in December. “That’s how I’ve always gone about football: You have to go in and do your job. You go in and you help the team do whatever you can. You go in every day and have a great attitude, help the guys in front of you and everyone around you. That’s the main goal for us, help us win.”

How can Hoak help the Buckeyes win? Well, it starts with using Chris Chugunov as an example. The graduate transfer Hoak wasn’t thrust into games last season like Chugunov was, but Hoak saw how vital Chugunov was to the Buckeyes. When Justin Fields briefly went down against Michigan, Chugunov had to step in and complete a pass to extend a drive, which later was capped off when Fields threw a touchdown pass upon returning.

If Chugunov didn’t convert on third down, Ohio State wouldn’t have scored on that drive. And that’s the role Hoak will have to play this season behind Fields, especially if Stroud and Miller are behind after the loss of spring ball.

Gunnar Hoak-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Gunnar Hoak has a big opportunity at Ohio State. (Sammy Silverman/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State has the luxury of allowing Stroud and Miller to learn from what Fields and Hoak know.

“I think for the situation that we have, it’s unbelievable because you have Justin and you have Gunnar,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “But other than that, there’s nobody in the program other than some of the other walk-ons who are still developing, and we hope [Stroud and Miller] become candidates to win a backup job or whatever.

“But in terms of scholarship guys, that’s it, because we had the hole in there with Matt [Baldwin] and when Tate [Martell] left. So I think that was exciting to them, and they want to get in here and get developed, and I think they see what we’re doing on offense and it’s exciting to them.”

Hoak was at a disadvantage last summer when he arrived in June and only had a couple of months to learn enough of the playbook to have a chance at playing time. This offseason, however, he can fully dive into Ryan Day’s playbook and learn the full extent of it — all while Stroud and Miller are studying it for the first time.

Maybe that won’t matter. Maybe the highly-regarded freshmen quarterbacks will be able to pick up the system quickly and have enough overwhelming talent to steal the backup job from Hoak.

Or maybe Gunnar Hoak is in too good of a position to relinquish the job, and he’ll be a key part of the Ohio State title push — whenever he’s needed.