STANFORD — Even though Kevin Hogan grew up the son of a lobbyist and attended high school six blocks from the Capitol building, nobody had to do any politicking for him to be Stanford’s starting quarterback.
The way Hogan has played made him a nearly unanimous choice.
In one of the smoothest and least controversial midseason changes any major program will ever have, Hogan has quietly supplanted Josh Nunes under center. Stanford coach David Shaw said the redshirt freshman will make his first start for the No. 16 Cardinal (7-2, 5-1) on Saturday against No. 13 Oregon State (7-1, 5-1) in what is essentially a Pac-12 North semifinal.
The winner will face second-ranked Oregon with a chance — assuming neither loses it’s only other league game left — to advance to the conference championship.
“He’s ready,” Shaw said Tuesday. “There are times when a guy just gets it.”
Hogan had been used mostly as a read-option quarterback in wildcat-type packages this season. Fullback Ryan Hewitt even dubbed Hogan Stanford’s version of “Tim Tebow.”
The strong-armed and fleet-footed quarterback had a breakthrough in Boulder last week when he relieved Nunes after Stanford’s first two drives stalled. Hogan picked apart the nation’s worst defense, throwing for 184 yards and two touchdowns and running for 48 yards in just two quarters of work to lead the Cardinal past Colorado, 48-0.
On Monday, Shaw informed Hogan by phone that he would be Stanford’s new starting quarterback.
Hogan, a quiet and reserved 20-year-old with a demeanor strikingly similar to Andrew Luck — the No. 1 overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts who left gargantuan footsteps to fill on The Farm— said at first he didn’t tell anybody the news. Instead, he waited to inform his parents the next time they talked, part of a personality that even teammates tease never shows any excitement.
“He’s just so cool, like the most interesting man,” wide receiver Jamal-Rashad Patterson said.
Considering the close quarterback competition in the offseason, it’s not all that surprising Stanford will have another player start under center this year — but few ever expected that player to be Hogan.
The race to replace Luck lasted nearly eight months between Nunes and Brett Nottingham, last season’s backup. Shaw trumpeted Hogan’s skills during the final weeks of preseason practice, although most figured the coach was just trying to inject some public pressure on the front-runners.
Shaw doesn’t regret his decision to name Nunes the starter, saying at the time “it wasn’t close.” Hogan was still learning the offense, which both estimate he still only has about 80 percent at his disposal, and Nottingham needed to show coaches more than a powerful right arm.
Even now Nunes remains somewhat of a mystery. He played spectacularly in the second half to upset then-No. 2 Southern California and rallied the Cardinal from a two-touchdown deficit for a 54-48 overtime win against Arizona, but then he looked lost for long stretches in losses at Washington and Notre Dame.
Shaw thanked Nunes for guiding the Cardinal through the first eight games and told him to stay ready.
“You just coach them all, push them all and see what happens,” Shaw said. “I think you get in trouble as a coach when you hope and wish for things to happen. I think you have to push them all and evaluate what happens. And when the guys do what you want them to do, you reward them with more playing time.”
That approach has ushered in the Hogan Era.
The 6-foot-4, 224-pound Hogan’s speed and athleticism gives the Cardinal a dimension they haven’t had since, well, utilizing Luck’s mobility in his first two seasons before protecting the eventual No. 1 pick with more plays from the pocket. Hogan grew up in McLean, Va., and ran often in a spread-style offense at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, where running into Congressional leaders and Senators — some whose children attended the school — occurred frequently
“It was a pretty cool experience,” Hogan said.
Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton discovered Hogan during one of his East Coast recruiting trips. Hamilton came back to Shaw, then an assistant under Jim Harbaugh, and told him there was a quarterback “we’ve got to take a look at. He’s got great physical tools, he’s a tough kid and he’s a very, very bright kid with a high GPA and high test score.”
“All things we like to hear,” Shaw said.
What piqued the interests of Stanford’s staff more than anything was that Hogan played most of his final year in rainy games with sloppy fields, though the weather “never bothered him,” Shaw said. He called Hogan a “mudder” for the way he played through the muck with such ease.
Convincing Hogan to attend Stanford proved more difficult.
Hogan had never been to the quant Silicon Valley campus. He cheered for the Redskins as a kid though he’d attend Virginia or Vanderbilt to stay closer to home. At the urging of his parents, Jerry and Donna, he took a trip to Stanford to explore all of his options.
“I came out and within an hour I was convinced that this was the place I wanted to be,” Hogan said. “The academics, the athletics, there’s no comparison in the country. And the relationship with the coaches, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Hogan committed to Stanford just before Luck announced in January 2011 that he would return for his redshirt junior season. Hogan said, if anything, Luck’s return made him want to be at Stanford more.
Hogan credits Luck for teaching him how to prepare and study defenses, to use his mind more than his arm to breakdown coverages. After a year and eight games, Hogan will finally have that chance to put all that work into action for a full game.
“I was a pretty late commit as far as quarterback go,” Hogan said. “Thank God I waited.”