During his time as a quarterback at Gonzaga Prep in Washington D.C., Kevin Hogan developed a reputation as a tough and talented, but somewhat raw prospect. Rivals.com ranked Hogan as the nation's No. 15 pro-style quarterback in the country, but national analyst Mike Farrell recalls not being totally sold on Hogan's college potential.
"I was less convinced of his future success for a few reasons," Farrell told Cardinal Sports Report this week. "We had him as a top 15 quarterback in the country in 2011 and as a high three-star, so we knew he had size and upside, but when I saw him he completed 8 of 22 passes for 90 yards and threw four picks and threw off his back foot consistently. He did run for two scores in that game, but his field vision and decision-making was not great which led to his lower ranking.
"He had a tendency to lock onto his targets and had trouble reading the depth of linebackers. But with all that said, he had size, good agility and he was a smart kid with a solid arm. But I'm still not sold on him as a future star and I am quite surprised at how well he's doing. I expected him to push for the starting job later in his career."
Farrell wasn't the only evaluator who wasn't entirely sold on Hogan. Hogan was mainly a regional recruit - Vanderbilt, Virginia, Clemson and Rutgers were essentially his top offers until Stanford came along later in the process.
But Stanford and assistant coach Pep Hamilton, who is intimately familiar with the Washington D.C. area from his time as a quarterback at Howard University, felt otherwise. Hamilton recalls evaluating Hogan during his first recruiting trip to D.C. as a member of Stanford's staff. One of Hamilton's former college teammates, who is actually now the offensive coordinator at Gonzaga, raved about Hogan, and helped convince Hamilton to take a look at the then-junior quarterback.
"He warned me that Hogan was raw and needed to improve his fundamentals, but that the kid is a fearless competitor," Hamilton said.
Hamilton was impressed when he saw Hogan in person.
"My first impression was very positive," Hamilton said. "I formulated a list of attributes that I felt were necessary to be successful in a pro-style offense during my years as an NFL quarterbacks coach and Kevin met all the criteria. Accuracy/arm talent? Check. Field vision? Check. Toughness? Double check."
Still, there was plenty of skepticism over whether Hogan would be a good fit at a high-major BCS program like Stanford. He was somewhat inconsistent throwing the ball at Stanford's Friday Night Lights camp in the summer of 2010, and his throwing mechanics gave some coaches further pause.
"There was still some apprehension about whether this kid could end up developing into a big time college quarterback," Hamilton said. "His mechanics needed some fine-tuning, but I was willing to stand on the table for his potential and I felt strongly about being able to coach this kid and develop the kid. I felt strongly about the accuracy and arm talent, the toughness. And then, of course, field vision."
Hogan wound up accepting Stanford's scholarship offer in June of 2011. His first year on The Farm was devoted mainly to absorbing Stanford's complicated offense and learning from one of the best players to ever play college football - Andrew Luck.
"His entire freshman year he had one job and one job only," Hamilton said. "I told him that he had an opportunity to watch Andrew go through the process of not only leading our team to a BCS bowl, but he was watching a prodigy and if he was smart he would do and mimic everything that Andrew was doing…That was his assignment.
"I would take time during special teams period during his freshman year (to work with him), but my focus was on Andrew at the time. During the spring we really had to focus on his footwork and shorten up his throwing motion. He worked tirelessly to do that."
Still, after Luck departed for the NFL, Hogan wasn't initially thought to be one of the candidates to replace him. That designation, of course, went to redshirt junior Josh Nunes and redshirt sophomore Brett Nottingham. But towards the end of fall camp, Stanford coach David Shaw first remarked that Hogan was doing his best to make it a three-man competition.
Nunes of course was named starter to begin the year, but his mediocre play - and the accompanying rise of Hogan - prompted Stanford to give the redshirt freshman from D.C. substantial playing time in the team's October game at Colorado.
Hogan took the opportunity and ran with it. He completed 18-23 passes in the win over Colorado, then led the Cardinal to four straight wins over ranked opponents - a stretch that rivals the best in Pac-12, let alone Stanford history. Hogan finished the season with a gaudy 72.9 percent completion rate and threw nine touchdowns against only three turnovers. He also ran for 209 yards.
Hogan's remarkable freshman season culminated in Stanford's 27-24 win over UCLA in the Pac-12 title game. His 16-22 performance earned him game MVP honors, and was an appropriate conclusion to one of the most memorable - and unexpected - debut seasons of any Stanford quarterback in recent memory.
"The competitor in him is what separates him," Hamilton said.