SAN FRANCISCO — By the time Kevin Hogan walked onto the hallowed Rose Bowl turf in late November, the plan had already gone awry.
The plan had been to return for a third straight Rose Bowl Game, one that this season would place the Stanford Cardinal in the first College Football Playoff. But by the time Hogan and his teammates took the field Nov. 28 to play then-No. 9 UCLA, inconsistencies and injuries had left the Cardinal unranked at 6-5. Expectations had to be recalibrated.
Their season now will end at the Foster Farms Bowl against Maryland on Tuesday night. It’s not the circumstance with which Hogan envisioned his senior season ending. But circumstance has never dictated the approach for Hogan, whether at Stanford or Gonzaga, where he was an All-Met quarterback in 2010. For Hogan, the next play is all that matters.
So there he was, the Friday after Thanksgiving, stepping up in the pocket as the Bruins came at him, like the criticism and questions about his NFL future that dogged him all season. Hogan unleashed a 60-yard strike — into double coverage — and the Cardinal completed a 31-10 dismantling of UCLA. His numbers that day served as rebuke to his doubters: 16 for 19 for 234 yards and two touchdowns and seven rushes for 47 yards.
Hogan does not provide the prolific stats of Andrew Luck, nor the lineage of legendary Stanford quarterbacks before him, nor his more highly touted contemporaries. At 6-foot-4, Hogan has a big arm and able feet, but his reputation is built on those draft-disrupting intangibles, for being steady after stumbles and for undeterred competitiveness. Hogan does not contemplate after failures; he just returns to the huddle.
It always has been this way for Hogan, whether in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference or when he took over as the starter as a redshirt freshman midway through 2012.
No year has tested that steadiness more than this one, in which deep balls always seemed to fly too deep and space in the running game just never seemed to materialize. Now his even-keeled focus will be tested anew: Hogan’s father, Jerry, a former D.C. lobbyist who often made the trips to see his son play, passed away from cancer earlier this month.
“He’s never spent any time being down: not after a bad play, not after a bad game, not after bad games. He’s a fighter, and he comes back ready to go,” Cardinal Coach David Shaw said. “I think his teammates love that about him. He doesn’t have to have the best statistics. The terminology is ‘foxhole guy.’ He’s one of those guys, when you’re in a fight, he’s the guy that you want.”
Hogan, who grew up in McLean, was former Cardinal offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s first recruit to Stanford. Hamilton, now with Luck at Indianapolis, plucked Hogan from the fields of the WCAC, which also produced several of the Terrapins players Hogan will face Tuesday night.
“[The WCAC] really helped prepare me well for when I got out here. I noticed that the game you play in the WCAC is a little bit more mature, a little bit more smash-mouth,” Hogan said. “You go against the Good Counsels, the DeMathas, St. John’s, the McNamaras, you’re going to grow up quickly and learn to play football the right way.”
Hogan, one of four WCAC quarterbacks to earn first-team All-Met honors in the past two and a half decades, has had the most collegiate success of any quarterback to come out of the high school conference recently.
“I remember he kept us up late at night,” said Good Counsel Coach Bob Milloy, who has coached in the conference for 14 years. “He’s a great passer.”
Hogan leapt at the chance to learn behind Luck, who revived the prestigious Stanford quarterback tradition that has produced Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks like Jim Plunkett, John Brodie and John Elway.
Hogan likely will never see his name among that storied Stanford elite, but in two and a half years as Stanford’s starter, he has led it to two Rose Bowls. Neither Plunkett nor Elway nor Luck carried the Cardinal to as many. NFL great and UCLA alum Troy Aikman, whose No. 8 was retired ahead of the Cardinal’s upset of the Bruins, never reached one.
But though Hogan won his first 10 starts and went 10-1 in his first 11 games against ranked teams, his NFL draft position is uncertain, especially after this year’s troubles. Among the quarterbacks expected to be taken ahead of him are Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston (eligible to declare for the draft after this season) and juniors Brett Hundley (UCLA) and Dak Prescott (Mississippi State).
A senior in terms of academic standing, Hogan’s redshirt season means he still has a year of football eligibility remaining. But he is adamant he will not make a decision until this season is over.
Before that decision is made and before NFL evaluators decide how far intangibles, intellect, a strong arm and quick feet might take him, Hogan will lead Stanford against Maryland on Tuesday night.
NFL questions will loom, and scouts looking for answers will file into Levi’s Stadium. Upset-hungry Maryland will be jumping for an opportunity to topple a perennial powerhouse; his Cardinal may be fighting the disappointment of an underachieving season. And Hogan may be fighting not just the Terrapins but his own grief.
Yet as he always done, whether after a touchdown or interception, expect Stanford’s reliably relentless quarterback to jog quietly back into the huddle, ready for the next play.