Hogan eyeing starting role


JONESBORO — Stephen Hogan came to Arkansas State as a wide receiver with a promise.

Former ASU coach Hugh Freeze recruited and signed the 6-foot-4 Hogan from the traditionally pass-oriented Greenwood Bulldogs three years ago. Hogan had the frame, long arms and speed that Freeze believed would fit his hurry-up, no-huddle system perfectly, so he offered Hogan a scholarship to play for the Red Wolves.

But before Hogan was ready to commit to Arkansas State, he wanted one thing in return from Freeze. Hogan wanted Freeze’s word that he would have the opportunity to compete for quarterback position.

Freeze made that promise and Hogan’s future at Arkansas State was sealed.

“When I was at Greenwood, I played wide receiver during my sophomore and junior years and I played quarterback my senior year,” Hogan recalled. “Even when I wasn’t the quarterback, I was always working on it with my coach, sort of working in the background until I became a senior. That was something that I wanted to do and was important to me. It was also important that I get that chance when I came to Arkansas State.”

As it worked out, Hogan didn’t have to wait long to test the waters of being a collegiate quarterback.

A preseason knee injury to backup quarterback Phillip Butterfield left the Red Wolves shorthanded, so Hogan was immediately inserted into the rotation. He spent the rest of his freshman year working behind center throwing balls rather than catching them while running the scout team.

After Freeze accepted the head coaching job at Ole Miss, Hogan was moved back to receiver last fall under ASU coach Gus Malzahn. Hogan was well down the Red Wolves’ list of receivers, though, and managed to only play in one game and didn’t have any receptions.

So when Arkansas State underwent another coaching change and hired Bryan Harsin last December, Hogan found himself with an opportunity to move back to quarterback.

Two-time Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Ryan Aplin had used up his eligibility and Harsin was looking for a guy to take his place. Hogan was one of the first people Harsin turned to in his search.

Now Hogan is embroiled in a quarterback competition that includes six candidates for the starting job. He’s excited for the opportunity to have been presented again and trying to play smart and keep focused.

“You can’t worry about who is going to be the guy today or tomorrow. You can’t really let that affect you,” Hogan said. “You just have to come out everyday, and the reps you get, you have to make count. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, when the guy is named, that’s out of our hands. It’s my job to learn the offense, lead the team and go compete.”

While his experience level may be limited, Hogan has proven he has the ability to be strong behind center.

As a senior at Greenwood, Hogan led the Bulldogs to a 12-2 record and the Class 5A state championship in his only year as the starting quarterback. He completed 70.8 percent of his passes (221-of-328) for 2,831 yards and 22 touchdowns en route to the 5A crown.

There are some concerns among ASU’s coaching staff, but there is some confidence that Hogan could guide the Red Wolves this season.

“I think Stephen Hogan has tremendous physical ability,” ASU quarterbacks coach Bush Hamdan said. “He needs to limit some of his mental mistakes, and I know it kind of sounds like a broken recorder.”

Hogan entered spring practices having not taken a snap since his freshman year with the scout team. Over the course of the 15 workouts, he began to find that same ability that made him a successful quarterback at Greenwood.

By the time spring football ended, Hogan was working almost exclusively with the first-team offense. He had regained his confidence and his coaches were suddenly taking a much harder look at him as the possible starter.

“I thought Stephen Hogan, coming out of spring, was really good,” Harsin said. “I thought the way he finished it, we felt very good about it. Because he played wide receiver, I thought he had the furthest to go because he hadn’t played the position.”

In fact, Hogan probably left the greatest impression of anybody in the team’s spring game in April.

Hogan was 17-of-22 passing for 126 yards and also rushed five times for 30 yards. He led two scoring drives that resulted in touchdowns.

No other quarterback came close to duplicating his production.

“He’s just an athletic guy that got himself into a rhythm and he can throw it,” Harsin added. “He hadn’t done it for a while, but we were really pleased with him coming out of spring.”

Hogan decided that one of the most important things he needed to do was get an understanding for ASU’s new offense.

So Hogan spent most of the summer studying film and learning the playbook. He also worked on his mechanics, including his footwork and throwing motion.

But it was studying the offense that Hogan emphasized. Now he’s much more confident about what he can do in it.

“Most of what I did this summer was film preparation,” Hogan said. “I got in and watched everything, all the film from the spring and I learned our base concepts better. I went back to the basics of just learning what will make a play work and what won’t and how to go through that read.”

Hogan isn’t just limited to passing the football. He also rushed for 699 yards and 16 touchdowns during his senior season at Greenwood.

But it’s the experience as a receiver as a sophomore and junior there that Hogan believes helped him develop as a quarterback and continues to help.

“I’ve had plenty of time at the position to learn and understand the game from it,” Hogan said. “I also think playing receiver has helped me be a better quarterback. It has given me a better idea of where the ball needs to be and the timing of plays. I think that can only benefit me.”

While he isn’t sure whether he’ll be the starting quarterback, Hogan does believe he’ll have an opportunity to play. He might be back at his old position of receiver.

Hogan is hoping to earn the starting quarterback job, but he’ll accept whatever role he’s given.

“It just comes down to doing what they need us to do,” Hogan said. “They’re going to figure something out. Coach Harsin is creative with the things he does. He’s talked to us about some things we’re going to do and it’s exciting to hear about. Whatever the situation may be, I have full trust in the coaches. Whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do it.”