One quarterback never imagined he’d be at Kentucky just a few short weeks ago.
Another quarterback has pictured himself wearing UK blue for a long time, but playing for a much different coaching staff.
Circumstances have dramatically changed for Kentucky’s mid-year enrollees at the quarterback position, but both junior-college transfer Stephen Johnson II and true freshman Gunnar Hoak feel like there’s an opportunity to play right away.
With the Cats returning just one quarterback with any game experience in Drew Barker, the newest signal callers think it’s a wide-open competition this spring.
“Absolutely. Absolutely I do,” said Johnson, one of six mid-year enrollees who met with the media on Thursday. “There’s a great group of quarterbacks here with tremendous talent, but I think if I do what I need to do, then I should be just fine.”
Johnson, a dual-threat quarterback who went the junior-college route after two seasons at Grambling, never dreamed he’d be moving from sunny College of the Desert in California to Lexington before the call from new quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw.
Hinshaw, who came with UK’s new assistant head coach for the offense Eddie Gran from Cincinnati, scoured the country looking for some players to compete for the open QB spot.
That’s when he came across video of Johnson, who threw for 3,210 yards and 34 touchdowns and rushed for 429 yards and eight scores last season.
“They just said they saw my film one day and I guess they said I was a diamond in the rough,” Johnson explained. “Exciting to hear from these coaches.”
He’d never been to Kentucky until his visit and knew little about the program.
“It’s been crazy, but it’s definitely been a gift,” he said of his whirlwind recruitment process that started in December. “Patience is something I’ve had to learn to deal with.”
A chance to play in the Southeastern Conference was too big of an opportunity to pass up. Johnson said he “likes to pass the ball, but I’ll use my feet if I have to.”
Coaches already have outlined some things they want Johnson to do before the start of summer training camp. They include improving his throwing motion. Johnson said when he gets in a hurry to throw, his elbow comes down too much.
I only weigh 180 pounds, but I try to play like I’m 250.
junior-college transfer Stephen Johnson II
The goal is to raise his release point.
The other goal for the 6-foot-3 Johnson is to raise his weight.
Johnson arrived on campus at 180 pounds, not quite the size he needs to be to play in the SEC.
“I only weigh 180 pounds, but I try to play like I’m 250,” smiled Johnson, who said he models his play after Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. “So I definitely need to get some weight on me.”
The goal is to get to 195 pounds by the start of fall camp in August. That means eating five meals a day and five snacks a day.
Johnson’s style is different from Hoak, who arrived on campus a semester early to improve his chances for early playing time.
“There was no 2015 quarterback commit, so it was a good opportunity to come in here early and get a little playing time,” explained the 6-foot-4, 190-pound freshman from Dublin, Ohio, who was ranked as the 37th-best pro-style QB in the nation by 247Sports.com.
Hinshaw already was plenty familiar with Hoak, whom he recruited while at Cincinnati.
“I thought he was a quality quarterback,” the new QB coach said of Hoak, who threw for 4,382 yards and 44 touchdowns with nine interceptions in his final two seasons at Dublin Coffman.
“Great motion. Great human being. Great family. Has all the leadership skills that I want, and I thought that was great.”
Hinshaw describes the new offense as a versatile, multi-faceted one that can be tailored to the eventual starting quarterback, whether it’s a dual-threat player like Johnson or more pro-style players like Barker and Hoak.
“Basically, (Coach said) that we run everything from the spread to the pro style and we’re going to do everything we can to win games,” Johnson said, describing his sitdown with Hinshaw where they went over the high-powered offense crafted at Cincinnati.
“Fits really well with what I do, getting first downs and throwing the football,” Johnson said.
With coaches mostly out recruiting until signing day next week, Hinshaw has not handed out a playbook of any kind. Basically, he mapped out the offense’s 30-40 basic routes for each of his quarterback competitors on their first day.
This past week I got to throw to all the receivers. We’ve got a whole lot of talent out there on the field.
true freshman Gunnar Hoak
“He gave us a route tree with basic routes, no plays or anything like that,” Hoak explained. “I assume more will come eventually.”
So for now, Barker, Hoak and Johnson have been spending their time between weight lifting and classes throwing hundreds of balls to the Cats’ wide-outs at the indoor facility.
“We just got done 30 minutes or so ago, throwing in the indoor facility,” Johnson said. “This past week I got to throw to all the receivers. We’ve got a whole lot of talent out there on the field.”
Now coaches just have to figure out which quarterback will be getting the bulk of those throws come September.
And for now, it’s a friendly competition at Kentucky.
“Drew’s helped me out a lot, getting to know these guys,” Hoak said. “It’s been a great time.”
Stay with Kentucky.com throughout the day for all the latest updates as UK wraps up its 2016 recruiting class on national football signing day.