Kevin Hogan, CFB's active wins leader, quietly endures loss of father

STANFORD, California -- Kevin Hogan always made it look easy. As a redshirt freshman quarterback in 2012, he took over a veteran offensive huddle midway through the season and led Stanford to its first Rose Bowl victory in 41 years.

"He's always been pretty quiet," said Minnesota Vikings guard David Yankey, an All-American for the Cardinal that year. "But he just had that kind of natural confidence in his demeanor."

Hogan followed that by leading Stanford to a second consecutive Pac-12 championship in 2013. You could ask a lot of college football fans which quarterback begins this season with the most career FBS victories among active players and not get the right answer. It's not Connor Cook of Michigan State, not Keenan Reynolds of Navy or Cody Kessler of USC or sixth-year man Chuckie Keeton of Utah State or Everett Golson of Notre Dame/Florida State. Once Braxton Miller of Ohio State took his 26 wins to H-back, Hogan moved into first place with 24.

"It just means I'm old," Hogan said. "I've been around a long time."

The calendar isn't always what ages us. It can be what happens along the way.

Stanford struggled for 10 games to find itself last season before winning its final three games. Head coach David Shaw analyzed the difference in Hogan from last year to the captain and on-field coach he has seen this season.

"His shoulders dropped," Shaw said.

A quarterback's shoulders determine the accuracy of his throws. But that's not what Shaw meant. He demonstrated, exhaling loudly and dropping his shoulders. Hogan is not pressing this season. He's no longer trying to match the standard the Cardinal set in his first two seasons. He has gained a perspective for which he paid a dear price.

"You grow up really fast when you know your parent's dying," said Donna Hogan, Kevin's mom.

"You put so much focus and effort into this game when there are more important things going on in life. It's kind of awakened me to this. It's a game." Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan

Her husband, Jerry, died in December in McLean, Virginia, at age 64. He made colon cancer work almost five years to take him. Few people outside his family knew. Kevin Hogan told no one at Stanford, in or out of the football program, that his dad had cancer. That is what Jerry Hogan wanted.

"We just felt we wanted to live life and we did not want to be confronted with talking about it every day," Donna said. "When we went out to socialize, we wanted to talk about everything but that."

Jerry Hogan worked for AT&T in government relations in Washington, D.C. You know, he was a lobby- ...

Kevin Hogan winced.

"There's just a stigma that goes with 'lobbyist,'" he said. "I don't want him to be portrayed as the bad kind."

The bad kind don't get a goodbye column in Roll Call, the newspaper that covers all things Capitol Hill. They aren't memorialized by several congressmen on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Jerry Hogan built relationships.

Greg Walden is the chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. He is from Oregon.

In 2012, shortly after three-touchdown-underdog Stanford upset No. 1 Oregon 17-14 in overtime at Autzen Stadium, Rep. Walden said during a subcommittee hearing, "I will try not to hold it against Kevin Hogan's dad and AT&T that Stanford beat the Ducks."

The usual response Jerry gave when someone would talk about his son's achievements was, "Yeah, he's doing great. He's happy." That's all that mattered to Jerry, said Wendy Donoho, an AT&T assistant vice president who worked alongside him for 18 years.

"He loved Kevin so much," Donoho said, "that his success was really more about just being the person that he was, even though he was an incredible football player... He wasn't the type to run around and say, 'Look at my kid!'"

Jerry Hogan came from the era before people had a brand. He was a practicing Catholic who practiced humility and tended his friendships with the attention that green thumbs pay to their rose bushes. He was passionate about golf and about his boyhood idol, Mickey Mantle.

"I was born on his birthday [Oct. 7]," Kevin said. "My dad was so happy. He almost named me Mickey."

And, late in life, Jerry was passionate about Stanford football. They say of the three Hogan children, Kevin, the youngest, has the personality most like his dad.

Nina Swanson, a high school friend of Kevin's, played lacrosse at Stanford. "He never missed a home game of mine," she said. "That was something I thought was pretty remarkable about him. He was always at the lax games. He was at all the women's water polo games, basketball games, men's soccer games, women's soccer games, volleyball games. He was the only one at college that I knew that was at every one of his friends' games."

During Kevin Hogan's senior year at Gonzaga College High in Washington, D.C., Jerry Hogan learned he had colon cancer. He waited two months to tell his children. And he wouldn't have stood for his youngest son to renege on his commitment to Stanford.

"You love the school, the academics, the athletics," Jerry told Kevin. "It will make me happy if you go out there."

Kevin's parents crossed the country to see a lot of Cardinal football. Tight end Charlie Hopkins, a classmate of Kevin who graduated and transferred to Virginia for this season, said, "I remember talking to [Jerry], and he would just say he would watch the game walking around the entire stadium. He would never sit and watch."

Jerry came to games even as he dealt with the effects of his chemotherapy. The travel took a lot out of him. But Donna is convinced Stanford football kept him alive.

"Kevin was so far away on the West Coast," she said. "I know it was very hard for him. He did know his dad was sick. We never, ever lost hope. We always, always prayed for a miracle... He always asked how Dad was doing when we would talk on the phone. But Jerry always kept it, 'I'm doing fine.' Always put a positive spin on it for Kev. Kevin was far away. There wasn't anything he could do."

Last season, Jerry Hogan came to the Farm the second week of the season for the USC game. He was, by all accounts, noticeably thinner. Kevin began to figure out his dad might not beat the cancer.

"To me," Kevin said slowly, exhaling to keep his composure, "it was early on last season. They tried to keep it private from me, just so I could stay focused. But when I'm talking to my mom, and she's telling me, 'Oh, Dad can't make it out this week to the game,' and that trend kind of continued ..."

His voice trailed off.

Kevin had told no one. As the team expected to contend for a third straight conference championship and instead lost a game for every win, he asked for no help with his personal burden.

"It wasn't my [story] to share," Kevin said.

By the beginning of November, Jerry and Donna Hogan made the heart-wrenching decision to bring Kevin home. Stanford had a bye week on Nov. 8. Donna called Shaw and, for the first time, told him of her husband's illness. She called Kevin and asked him to fly across the country for the weekend to see his dad. Part of him thought, "I might be able to come home for Christmas." But part of him understood.

"I kind of felt the urgency in my mom's voice," he said.

It was not Jerry's style to have a cinematic deathbed conversation, to give his son the wisdom of his 64 years. Jerry did that in the way he lived. They watched college football. They watched golf. And they talked.

"He was just talking about the importance of me seeing him and spending time," Kevin said. "At that point, that's when I really understood. It's coming from my dad who's been so strong and steadfast. Nothing breaks him."

"It was very hard for Kevin to leave," Donna said, "although when I dropped him off at the airport, he did say to me, 'I'll see him again.'"

When Kevin returned to school, Shaw noticed him "having kind of a calm about him." Those shoulders had begun to drop. He no longer seemed piano-wire tight.

"You put so much focus and effort into this game when there are more important things going on in life," Kevin said. "It's kind of awakened me to this. It's a game. It's something that I've played my whole life ... I've thrown a curl/flat combination for the past eight years. Why do I need to be so tense and try to get the ball out a second early when I can wait for him to come out of his break?"

As Hogan relaxed, the offensive line began to jell. In the first 10 games of the season, Stanford averaged 378 yards and 24 points per game. The Cardinal went 5-5 with a trio of 3-point losses. In the last three games, they averaged 423 yards per game and 38 points. They won all three by at least three touchdowns.

In the regular-season finale, Stanford dominated No. 9 UCLA at the Rose Bowl 31-10. Hogan completed 16 of 19 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. He had an adjusted QBR of 99.1. And, Shaw said, you could dance to it.

"Forget about the numbers," Shaw said. "As far as just playing the position and throwing the ball accurately, and on time, and operating the huddle, and escaping the pocket and being a great scrambler, it was, as Bill Walsh would say, it was musical. It was perfectly orchestrated."

Jerry Hogan watched the game at home, surrounded by his brothers and sisters and their children. It would be the last game he saw Kevin play. The next weekend, Donna texted Kevin and said, "You've got to get on that 2:00 plane." Late on the night of Sunday, Dec. 7, Kevin walked into his father's bedroom. Jerry had been asleep the entire day.

"He sat right up and said, 'This is my little buddy!" Donna said. "He was so happy to see him. That was 10:30 Sunday night and Jerry died at 3:00 Monday afternoon. Kevin was there. He was able to stay up with him all night and be with him.

"It was a gift," Donna said.

One of Kevin Hogan's off-field passions is the HBO series "Game of Thrones." His favorite character is Jon Snow, the child who follows his father's example and tries to lead with selflessness and honor.

"We watch every episode," center Graham Shuler said. "Kevin'll show it to people and watch it three times with them. He loves the epicness of that. ... I think about Kevin, I think about that epic coming-of-age story. These are not the final chapters but the closing tale of his youth and adolescence. You're getting to see him flourish into the man that he is. It's a really cool thing."

Hogan always led by example. It may have been doing the extra bench-press set or running the notorious drills of strength and conditioning coach Shannon Turley while wearing a weighted vest.

But the coaches asked Hogan for more. They asked him to be a bigger leader on the field. During August practice, offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said when a wide receiver ran the wrong route, Hogan started chewing on him before any of the coaches could.

"He's come out the back side older," Shaw said. "More mature. He's not a college kid anymore. He's an adult."

The guy whose photo dominates the oversized schedule billboard on the edge of campus doesn't carry an ego to match.

"We have freshman walk-ons come in, and maybe the nicest guy on the team to them is the starting quarterback," Shuler said. "That just doesn't happen in a lot of places. Guys who are sometimes easy targets may not immediately jell or fit in. Kevin goes out of his way to look out for them."

Hogan begins his fifth season Saturday for No. 21 Stanford at Northwestern as the elder statesman in his locker room. Kevin's sister Kelly just got a job in San Francisco. Donna Hogan is going to move west for her son's final season.

The pressure of trying to live up to expectations, or two Rose Bowls, or even needing eight wins to pass Andrew Luck for the most wins in Stanford history, all seems far away. It's a game. As he died, Jerry Hogan had one more lesson to teach his son.