Playing football at Ohio State can set a student apart from the pack, and playing quarterback can make that gap even larger.
“I guess there’s a lot of pressure,” former Buckeye quarterback Bobby Hoying told The Lantern on Monday. “You feel it right when you get to campus and everybody looks to the quarterback to kind of be the leader.”
Hoying, a native of St. Henry, Ohio, spent five years at OSU after redshirting his first season before earning the starting job in 1993. By his final year in 1995, Hoying compiled one of the best seasons ever for a Buckeye signal caller with 3,269 passing yards and 29 touchdowns.
He even became a Heisman Trophy candidate along the way, finishing 10th in the voting process, while his backfield partner — Eddie George — picked up the award.
Now heading into the program’s 20th season since Hoying departed, OSU has a Heisman candidate at quarterback once again. Or maybe even three.
Senior quarterback Braxton Miller’s status is up in the air — he’s coming off a missed season because of a shoulder injury. Miller can transfer and play right away or stay at OSU and compete for playing time. Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett finished fifth in last season’s Heisman vote, but fractured his ankle against Michigan, leaving redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones to lead the Buckeyes on a run to the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship.
Hoying and the Buckeye faithful don’t know yet who will earn the starting spot in 2015 out of the three, but Hoying, OSU’s all-time leader in touchdown passes, offered some insight into competing for a starting job and what it takes to earn playing time.
“Fortunately for me, it was a little bit different back when we played,” Hoying said. “Not a lot of guys played right away as a freshman, even sophomores.
“I got redshirted, a lot of guys did,” he added. “And I backed up (Kirk) Herbstreit for a year. So I had a couple years to kind of build my body up in the weight room and study and learn and so I wasn’t forced to play right away.”
Once Hoying won the job as a sophomore, he said he was confident of keeping it as a junior and senior, but he still understood that the pressure to keep improving was always there.
After completing his career in Columbus, Hoying was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the third round of the 1996 NFL Draft. He went on to play five seasons in the league — three with Philadelphia and two with the Oakland Raiders — and started a total of 13 games, including six in 1997 and seven in 1998.
Because he earned his stripes early on as a Buckeye, Hoying said it was his time in the NFL that came with constant competition — not only for playing time, but for a spot on the team in general.
“Every mini camp, every summer conditioning session or fall camp you went into … you were competing for a spot on the roster or trying to be the backup or trying to be the starter,” he said. “So there’s always competition.”
But as a college player, Hoying said he felt the pressure of competition despite holding the starting job, but he never found himself in a situation quite like the one faced by OSU’s current quarterbacks.
When it comes to Miller, Hoying said the Huber Heights, Ohio, native will have to simply make a decision on whether to stay at OSU or move on based on what’s best for himself.
“He’s gonna have to do what he feels is right for him,” Hoying said. “And I know one thing about being an athlete, most athletes at this level have supreme confidence in their own ability.”
But the options go beyond transferring for Miller, who could even decide to switch positions after tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder in August.
“I think it’s a different story when you’re talking about a quarterback and his throwing arm, whether it’s your elbow, shoulder, whatever,” Hoying said. “He’ll have to weigh a bunch of factors and make the best decision for himself.”
With Miller and Barrett both coming off injuries — and Miller’s OSU future still up in the air — Hoying said it’s clear that Jones has the edge to start again after the Cleveland native announced his intentions to forgo the NFL Draft and return to Columbus next season.
“I think you gotta give it initially to Cardale because he is gonna get all the reps this summer and in spring ball,” Hoying said. “And so you gotta think that will go a long way.”
But when it comes down to it, Hoying added the one who gets the reps won’t necessarily be the only deciding factor. Especially at a school like OSU, the talent pool is deep, and the coaching staff is looking to win with its best players on the field.
“To me, it’s gonna be pretty plain and simple come fall camp if all three guys decide they still wanna play quarterback and be at Ohio State,” Hoying said. “It’ll be the best man wins.”
Greg Frey: Miller, Barrett, Jones each stand out
Before any of the current Buckeye quarterbacks were even born, former OSU signal caller Greg Frey was entering his third year as a starter in Columbus.
Now, about 25 years later, three Buckeye quarterbacks — Miller, Barrett and Jones — are looking to simply compete to be the starter for an opening game.
Frey, who started for the Buckeyes from 1988-90 told The Lantern on Monday that he thinks Miller, Barrett and Jones each have their own style that sets them apart from the others.
“They all have a little different skill set. I think it is very obvious watching them. Braxton is such a great creator and has exceptional athletic ability. J.T. is very much a technician, he is extremely accurate, he clearly has proven that he can run the football quite well. He is a student of the game, which is so impressive,” Frey said. “(Cardale) is very gifted with his size and his arm. I credit him for finally buying in, getting his personal life under control and really paying attention.”
Frey, who played his high school football at St. Xavier in Cincinnati, was a senior in high school when current OSU coach Urban Meyer was a volunteer assistant at St. Xavier, coaching the defensive backs at the time.
The following season, both Meyer and Frey ended up in Columbus. Frey was a freshman and Meyer a graduate assistant coaching tight ends.
Frey said that while he did not work with Meyer much when he played at OSU, he recognizes the job Meyer did during the 2014 season, coaching up three successful quarterbacks.
“When you look at the last two years and the production at the quarterback position between (former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach) Tom Herman and certainly Urban’s involvement, it is really unprecedented what the results have been,” Frey said. “You think about last year with Kenny Guiton coming in … Braxton got hurt, Guiton was amazing off the bench. You are talking four different guys excelling in the course of two years. That is just unheard of.”
Frey, who founded QB Ohio, a quarterback training program for young athletes, said that while he isn’t sure who will start for the Buckeyes in 2015, he was largely impressed, especially with what Jones and Barrett were able to do in Miller’s absence.
“I was a little bit surprised that Cardale decided to stay, but I was pleased to hear his decisiveness and I respect that. He knows what he wants, he has a vision for his future and I really respect that,” Frey said. “I have talked to a lot of young quarterbacks, when your opportunity comes, you have to be ready and guess what? He was ready. What he has accomplished in the last month, that may never happen again.”
When it comes to Barrett, Frey said he believed the Wichita Falls, Texas, native led the Buckeyes to some of the biggest plays of the season, including one in Barrett’s final game of 2014.
“When he had to make a play, he did. To me, one of the biggest plays of the year was the touchdown he scored right before halftime against Michigan,” Frey said. “(OSU was) playing like crap, and he picked that team up and electrified this team with that TD run.”
Frey added that despite Jones’ performances in OSU’s last three games, the competition is not yet sealed.
“It’s still not (Jones’) job next year, you have to go earn it,” Frey said. “Which I think is great.”
Coming full circle, Frey said he wouldn’t count Miller out from the competition, but had questions about whether he would be able to play full strength in 2015.
“I feel for Braxton because he is like the odd man out because it has been so long. The risk with Braxton is, is he going to be healthy? Can he prove that he is durable? Because that has not happened,” Frey said. “The other two guys have proven they can do the job. There is no doubt about it. It’s a good quandry to have. It is going to be fun to watch it play out.”
After all that, the Buckeyes are set to bring in two top quarterback prospects in the 2015 class: Florida prospect Torrance Gibson and southern Ohio recruit Joe Burrow.
While Frey said he hasn’t seen much of Gibson, he has watched Burrow play in person as a commentator for high school football games in the state and added that he has the ability to one day be the starter at OSU, despite the current logjam at the position.
“I was thoroughly impressed with Joe Burrow. He has got the size, he has got the arm, he has all the tools,” Frey said. “He can run, (has) excellent vision down the field. He is a coach’s son so he knows the game. He can play, there is no doubt about it.”
Frey, who took a redshirt year in his time at OSU, said that both Gibson and Burrow’s time will come if they take a year or two to prepare themselves for the college game both mentally and physically.
“A few years from now, (Miller, Barrett and Jones) are not all going to be here obviously,” Frey said. “Those young guys have to be patient and let things play out.”
No matter who the starter is for the Buckeyes in 2015, they are set to open up against Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 in Blacksburg, Va.