After her husband died in December of 2014, Donna Hogan’s home went empty. Her three adult children were spread across the country, and so for more than three years she had been alone.
That changed in April, when her youngest son came home because of an unlikely trade the family had always hoped for but never thought would happen.
The Washington Redskins acquired quarterback Kevin Hogan in a deal with the Cleveland Browns this spring and brought the McLean, Va., native home. His older sister, Kelly, was back from school for the summer, and suddenly Donna had two children living under her roof for the first time since they were in high school. But even though she was thrilled to have them back, there was something missing.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Donna said of missing her husband, Jerry, who died after a long fight with colon cancer. “There is definitely a void in our lives, and his dad would be so thrilled to have him back and playing for the Redskins. But we know he’s watching over us and watching over Kevin and enjoying every minute of it.”
Jerry, the patriarch of the Hogan family, was a Redskins fan, so the rest of the Hogans were, too. Kevin Hogan was a local high school star at Gonzaga in the District before receiving a scholarship to play at Stanford, where he became the winningest quarterback in school history. After professional stops in Kansas City and Cleveland, Hogan is now in a fight for a spot on Washington’s 53-man roster, which will be decided this weekend. He is expected to receive an extended audition during the team’s final preseason game Thursday against the Baltimore Ravens after performing well last week against the Denver Broncos.
It will be another test for a player who had to overcome personal hardship as he embarked upon the start of his professional career.
“Anytime anyone loses someone, it changes your perspective on life,” Hogan said. “Especially my dad. I had just turned 22. There’s a lot of things that were happening at the time and are still happening. … That was tough, but it definitely made me grow up and I’m a better man for it.”
A ‘surreal’ homecoming
Hogan had Redskins jerseys growing up: Joe Theismann, Clinton Portis and Sean Taylor, his favorite. He and Jerry would play catch in the yard and occasionally go to games, the typical father-son fan stuff. The two would meet after high school football practices at The Dubliner restaurant a few blocks from the Capitol for a bite to eat before riding home together.
Hogan’s return has been “surreal” for him and the family, as professional athletes rarely get to play for their hometown teams. Donna couldn’t help but break into laughter when Kevin broke the news.
“She’s ecstatic,” Kelly said. “Just happy. I think one of the Stanford coaches tweeted the best winner of the Cleveland-Redskins trade was Donna Hogan. Because there’s no place like home. There’s nothing like having her son come home. . . . She is thrilled, and she and I and Kevin are definitely making the most of having this time on the East Coast and in D.C. together.”
Hogan has been busy since the start of training camp, but there was plenty of catch-up time during the summer. He went golfing and had dinners with his sister and mother. There was a family reunion in Upstate New York. He is still close with his high school buddies, several of whom made it out for a portion of training camp in Richmond. They are all Redskins, Capitals, Nationals and Wizards fans, so there was a raucous reaction to the news.
“It’s fun, because a lot of our family and friends have been Redskins fans in general,” Kelly said, “but they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, now we’re not going to just watch on TV, now we’re going to get tickets.’”
A numbers game
This is Hogan’s week to make the Redskins’ 53-man roster. Coach Jay Gruden has kept more than two quarterbacks in the past, but he acknowledged this decision could come down to a numbers game. There will be tough calls for him to make at running back, linebacker and defensive back, in particular, so a third quarterback may be a luxury Gruden decides the team can’t afford.
But Hogan should get every opportunity to make an impression this week, as starter Alex Smith won’t play and backup Colt McCoy is likely to sit out with a thumb injury. The Redskins signed quarterback Connor Jessop on Saturday as an insurance policy, but Hogan should play most of the game. He fared well in the third preseason game against the Broncos, completing 7 of 9 passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
“Hogan did a great job, you know, especially when you’re standing on the sideline watching Colt get annihilated play after play after play,” Gruden said. “If I’m the third quarterback, I’m like, ‘I ain’t going in there.’ Hogan jumped in there and stepped up in there and made some key throws, led two touchdown drives, a two-minute drive, so I was impressed with Hogan. He moved around and stood there in the face of some good pass rush.”
“It’s hard for those No. 3 guys to get the reps and for them to show what they really can do on a limited basis, but as far as being attentive and being a good quarterback in the meeting rooms and all that stuff, he’s been very, very good.”
‘He’s just a competitor’
Things changed for Hogan with the death of his father, and there was a feeling of helplessness that came with being thousands of miles away at a time when he wanted to be there to support his mom and siblings. The man he had always gone to for advice was gone. And as all of it was happening, he was trying to excel as a starting quarterback in the Pacific-12.
“The guy was one of the most mentally tough people I’ve ever been around,” Stanford quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard said. “He’s just a competitor. … Whether it’s leadership ability, competitiveness or playmaking, he just kind of has a knack for getting the job done and leading his team to victory.
“That fact of being able to come to work and . . . be a great teammate even in the midst of that storm that he was weathering in his life . . . I think it speaks volumes about his mental makeup and about how he approaches everything he does with great seriousness and passion.”
Donna and Kelly both have seen the change in Hogan since Jerry died. He has matured and assumed some of that patriarchal role. “He became a man,” Kelly explained. Said Hogan himself: “As tragic of a situation as it is, you’ve got to try to make the most out of the life you have.”
Hogan knows he is in a fight to make the roster, but he still thinks this opportunity was meant to be. The Redskins’ current backup, McCoy, is signed through 2019 but has expressed his desire to get another chance at being a starter, which won’t happen in Washington because of the presence of Smith. So there is a chance Hogan could grow within the team’s system for the foreseeable future, although that’s a long view for a player just trying to make the team as the No. 3 quarterback.
Regardless of his immediate future, Hogan feels that there remains a presence that is helping to guide the way.
“I’m a firm believer in God, and I believe that my dad’s watching over me and has my back, looking out for me,” Hogan said. “This is just one of those little things that he and God had a hand in: Getting me back home. I think it’s the place for me to be.”
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