Early in spring football camp before the 2015 season, David Shaw had to stop for a second when he saw Kevin Hogan.
“You’re old,” the coach said to his quarterback.
“Coach, I feel old,” Hogan replied.
To some, it feels like just yesterday when No. 8 took over for Josh Nunes for good at Colorado in 2012; yet to others, it must feel like an eternity has passed since that moment when — unbeknownst to everyone at the time — one of the greatest quarterbacks in Stanford history began writing his legacy.
Four years later, one thing is certain: After 46 starts, today’s Rose Bowl Game will mark the end of an era.
“It’s hard to talk about the whole progression without getting a little emotional,” Shaw said.”
“He’s a guy that’s been through the highs of the highs and the lows of the lows, and he’s gained perspective and he’s gained wisdom.”
Hogan’s journey has been perfect in its imperfection.
Unlike Andrew Luck, he never really had the raw physical tools and football IQ from the start where he could come in and be a polished, finished product immediately — his story has been more of a progression than anything else, and that’s arguably what has made it so meaningful for Stanford fans to follow.
And through it all, the Kevin Hogan story has undeniably been a success story. He’s the first quarterback in Stanford history (in fact, Pac-12 history) to start three Rose Bowls. He won three Pac-12 Championships and one Rose Bowl (so far) as a starter. He will leave Stanford as the all-time wins leader and the all-time leader in total offense.
Not bad for a guy who, according to Shaw, came in as a freshman fairly lost in pretty much every way.
“You’re looking at a guy who came in as a redshirt freshman and — I’ll throw him under the bus here — just barely had any idea what in the world was going on,” Shaw said. “He was just figuring life out. He was still figuring school out. He was still figuring football out.”
Let’s take a look at how those things have panned out.
It’s tough for anyone to “figure life out,” but Hogan had to grow up incredibly quickly while dealing with the illness and eventual passing of his father during his junior season, which has fundamentally changed his mindset on how he approaches the game of football.
“One of the things football-wise is just going out and having fun and enjoying the game I’ve been playing my whole life,” Hogan said. “It’s a game, so treat it like a game. It’s not like you’re going to war.”
That mindset has allowed him to relax, enjoy every play in the moment and execute better without worrying as much.
He’s certainly figured school out, as he’ll have his Stanford degree in science, technology and society to lean on even after he parts ways with football — whenever that may be.
And, well, it’s not hard to see he’s figured this whole football thing out.
At the start of his career, Hogan would run the weekly protection meeting with a shaky voice, almost questioning his coaches observing in the back. Four years later, he’s fully autonomous and commands the room. That’s something not even the fabled Luck did.
“I don’t know anybody that would want to do it in college football because I don’t really know they trust their kids or want to train them the way Kev is trained,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren.
Nowadays, it’s second nature for Hogan to make his pre-snap read, check into the correct play, adjust his protections and get the play off — all while infusing his confidence into all 10 guys in the huddle with him.
“I’m not sure any of us knew that first year what to expect, other than he was steady Kevin and found a way to win these games,” Bloomgren added. “This year, so much of what we do goes through him. He is a coach on the field.”
It’s that three-pronged progression that has combined with his natural calmness and tenacity under pressure that has crafted him into one of the best quarterbacks and leaders in the country as a fifth-year senior.
“That leadership has shown up every time we’ve needed it throughout the year,” Shaw said.
There will undeniably be uncertainty and tears (many of them) once Hogan has taken his last snap under center at the end of the 102nd Rose Bowl Game today. When the clock hits triple zeroes, No. 8 will join his reserved place among the Mount Rushmore of Stanford quarterbacks alongside Luck, Elway and Plunkett.
But before then, he’s got one last job to do: Lead the Stanford Cardinal to victory for a 36th and final time to make sure that the last chapter of his legacy is one that will do justice to all those chapters of success and perseverance that came before.
“We’re going to enjoy this so much,” Hogan said.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.