Pete Thamel
Wednesday November 25th, 2015

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Kevin Hogan grew up road tripping in the back of his family's mini-van from the Washington D.C.-area to Notre Dame football games. As a kid, he wore Joe Montana's popular No. 3 jersey, which happened to be the same number his uncle, Coley O'Brien, wore for Notre Dame's 1966 title team. As a teen, he graduated to Brady Quinn's No. 10 jersey and threw imaginary passes to Jeff Samardzija in the Notre Dame Stadium parking lot.

In the Hogan family—after some research—there are 25 family members with degrees from Notre Dame or St. Mary's. That includes Hogan's grandfather, father, sister, nine aunts and uncles and 13 cousins. "When Rudy's parents walk into the stadium and they're like, 'This is the most beautiful sight these ever seen," Hogan recalls of Notre Dame games of his youth. "It's kind of one of those."

When Kevin Hogan spotted former Stanford assistant Pep Hamilton at one of his Gonzaga practices during his junior year of high school, he saw the block S logo and assumed it was an assistant from Syracuse. "To be honest," Hogan says with a smile, "I didn't know where Stanford was."

A football lifetime has passed since then—yearning to be recruited by Charlie Weis, snubbed by Brian Kelly, signing with Jim Harbaugh and backing up Andrew Luck. After five years on The Farm, Hogan has quietly engraved his name all over Stanford's record book, which at the school which produced Luck, John Elway and Jim Plunkett could be considered harder than being the school's best code writer or entrepreneur. Hogan will leave as the Cardinal's all-time leader in wins (33 and counting), and his 76.7 win percentage trails only Luck (81.6). Hogan has cobbled together these honors in a manner befitting of his subdued personality—steadily, quietly and with little fanfare.

It would be difficult to come up with a more compelling scenario for Hogan's senior day on Saturday, as he can foil the playoff dreams of the team he grew up cheering for and hoping to one day play there. No. 9 Stanford hosts No. 6 Notre Dame (10-1) and a convincing victory could give the Cardinal (9-2) a compelling argument for their inclusion in the College Football Playoff.

"What a way to write the last chapter of the book," says Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren. "And I'm excited about the next few weeks. His legend is going to keep building."

Hogan will try and lead Stanford to its third Pac-12 title in his four years as a starter against either UCLA or USC next week in the conference championship game.

Hogan's journey to Stanford lore hasn't been a linear one, as he emerged as a sudden star, fought through bouts of inconsistency and endured the death of his father, Jerry, to cancer last year. Through it all, the stoic Hogan has forged ahead in a manner he learned from his father—consistently putting others before himself.

"You look at what he is and what he's doing, it's amazing," says teammate Graham Shuler. "It's not an easy road. It's not like he's had every little thing handed to him along the way. That man works hard."

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Hogan remembers his father coaching him for one season in youth basketball. Despite Kevin being the best player, Jerry always kept him on the bench for the entire first quarter. "That's how he was," Kevin says. "He cared about everyone enjoying the experience."

Jerry Hogan rarely told anyone he met at Stanford he was the father of the starting quarterback. Instead, he asked them about their families and backgrounds. In a selfie era, Jerry always flipped the script. (For years, Jerry's family declined interviews about Kevin. Only after his death did they do a select few in order to celebrate his memory).

Jerry was an Irishman's Irishman, with an iridescent smile, affinity for Guinness and member of the kilted Irish guard that performed with the band at Notre Dame while in school. He could tell you every Masters and U.S. Open champion for a half century, including the course it was played on. He took all three of his kids, Brian (30), Kelly (27) and Kevin (23), on separate trips to Ireland when they were in their late teens. For more than a week they'd explore their native land, golf and sample some of the local beverages.

Family came first for Jerry, so when Kevin committed to Stanford, the entire rollicking Hogan clan pulled off an unfathomable conversion. The Hogans traded Notre Dame's green and gold for Cardinal red. Kevin still recalls the surreal sight of his uncle, former Notre Dame nose tackle Ivan Brown, wearing a Cardinal T-Shirt at Stanford's game in South Bend last year. When the Irish played for the national title after the 2012 season, Kevin recalls with a smile: "My dad was rooting for Alabama. At that point, it was about recruiting."

Jerry always told friends that he could tell Kevin loved Stanford from his reaction on their visit there. At other schools, Jerry would prod Kevin for his thoughts on the staff, campus and academics. At Stanford, Kevin began prodding Jerry. "He always would tell people at Stanford I went up to him and said, 'What do you think of this place? Can you see me here?'" Kevin says. "Kind of cool how we both knew that at first sight this would be the place for me." Kevin Hogan took a visit to Vanderbilt the week after Stanford because he had said he would go, but called Harbaugh from a Nashville hotel room and committed.

Jerry Hogan got diagnosed with colon cancer right before Kevin left for Stanford. He waited two months to tell his kids, in part because he wanted Kevin to go to Stanford without second thoughts. From there, Kevin Hogan adopted his dad's selfless resolve. "My dad requested we not tell anyone, so I didn't tell a single person," Kevin says. "Nobody knew. Like he did that his whole life for us, so the least we could do is help him live a normal life."

Last season, as Jerry's health slipped so did Kevin's play. Stanford lost three games by three points while breaking in an inexperienced offensive line, and Hogan shouldered the brunt of the blame. Coaches and teammates noticed Jerry's tall and sturdy frame looking noticeably more frail, and he wore a hat to cover his thinning hair. Jerry soon stopped flying out for Kevin's games, and at the team's banquet in December, Hogan looked down at his phone and saw a note from his mother that she'd booked him the next flight to Washington D.C. Hogan briefly buried his face in his hands and walked out clandestinely, where his ride to the airport awaited him.

Kevin got to spend the final night in the hospital with Jerry, who held on long enough to talk to Kevin one final time. He passed the next day and Kevin delivered a eulogy at the funeral later that week.

"His dad taught him that you do your job the best possible way you can," Shuler said. "There's other people relying on you. That carried him through. He really wanted to do well for his dad."

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Harry How/Getty Images

Since Jerry's passing, Kevin has punctuated his touchdowns with a quick point to the sky to acknowledge his father. There's been plenty to celebrate on the field this season. After looking hapless in a 16—6 season-opening loss to Northwestern, Stanford has rebounded for a strong season by rediscovering its hard-nosed identity. Hogan has been at the forefront of that, making a decisive jump in his final season to lead the Pac-12 in pass efficiency.

Hogan finished last season with some of his best games, as Stanford finished the season with three straight victories. He thought long and hard about leaving school for the NFL, where he projected as a sixth-round pick. Hogan said there was a time when he was "very close" to declaring. But after leading Stanford to a Pac-12 title in each of his first two seasons, his 8-5 junior year record left a nagging feeling.

"At the end of the day I didn't feel comfortable leaving on those terms," he says. "I wasn't ready to leave Stanford, I love this place, and I think what we built here is here to stay and last year was a hiccup."

To lead Stanford back, Hogan had to break out of his comfort zone. Stanford coach David Shaw says that Hogan reminds him of himself when he played at Stanford in the early 1990s. Bloomgren jokes that it's hard to make fun of Hogan because he's so serious all the time.

"The same words that would describe Kevin describe me," Shaw says. "Quiet. Pensive. Thoughtful. He's not flighty. He's very serious."

Quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard describes Hogan as "present," meaning he does a good job adapting to situations from the huddle to the film room to the locker room. Bloomgren marvels how the offense can be installing Stanford's bread-and-butter 96 Power play for the 30th time in a season and Hogan is paying attention like it's his first. "That spreads to the rest of the room," he says. "And that's leadership."

Coaches noticed a change in Hogan in the spring, as he would go out of his way to chew out a receiver for a bad route or a lineman for a missed assignment before coaches got a chance. That was a departure from Hogan's first three seasons when he led by example. "He's not doing it in a malicious way," says Bloomgren. "He's basically saying, 'I'm going to uphold the standard, that's what I'm here to do.'"

Hogan has done his part, as he's completed 67% of his passes and has 19 touchdowns with at least three games to play. (His career high is 20). Bloomgren points to a third-and-18 from against Colorado earlier this season. Stanford planned to run the ball from the Colorado 43 to set up a field goal, but Hogan didn't like the defensive look. So he audibled to a safe pass play and then when a safety crept over to the middle of the field he changed the play again by giving receiver Michael Rector a quick hand signal to run a go route. Hogan lobbed a perfect ball, which Rector ran under for a 43-yard touchdown that gave Stanford a 14—7 lead on the way to a 42—10 blowout.

It's that type of play that has scouts intrigued, as two told SI that Hogan projects as a late-round pick and has the smarts, arm and character to be an ideal NFL back-up. The kind of player who hangs around a lot of years and makes a lot of money.

"This season has meant everything, individually as a player and as a leader and a person," Hogan says. "Just kind of for me to mature and bring my game all around together. And I feel like it's been great for our team, we're playing really well."

There will be 15 members of Hogan's family at Stanford for Senior Day, all decked out in Cardinal red. They'll be cheering for Kevin, toasting Jerry's memory and laughing at how their allegiances changed when Kevin took the 3,000-mile trek to a place that was once foreign to him. Hogan admits he's struggled at times this season missing his father, taking time to pray to him and thank him.

He's also taken his lead, staying true to the steady model of humility and leadership he saw every day growing up.

And as he readies for Senior Day against Notre Dame, he's grateful that he and his father fell in love with Stanford at first sight. "He's with me all the time and I'm thankful for everything he did for me," Hogan says. "I wouldn't be who I am without him."

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