Spartan Nation Caught Up with Former MSU and Current Cleveland Browns QB Brian Hoyer!
Three teams and four seasons later, former Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer is back at home. The North Olmsted, Ohio native has returned to his old stomping grounds to play quarterback for his boyhood team: the Cleveland Browns.
Every young boy who dreams of playing professional sports naturally dreams of playing for his hometown team. As natives from Northeast Ohio will attest, Cleveland is a city connected closely with its sports teams. One should not be surprised that in a city of crazed Browns fans, Brian Hoyer once dreamed of donning the team’s beloved orange helmet and taking the field as quarterback Bernie Kosar did in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. On Thursday, May 16, Hoyer’s dream came true, as the Browns signed the former MSU star to a two-year, $1.965 million contract.
“I haven’t played for them in a game yet, so until then I don’t think it will really hit me. When I first got here and put on an orange helmet, it definitely brought back memories of being a fan growing up,” Hoyer said in a recent interview with Spartan Nation.
A graduate of Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Hoyer’s goal of playing in the NFL began to seem attainable as he progressed through his teenage years. He started at quarterback for two years at Ignatius, a national football powerhouse that has won 11 state championships since 1988. Under the tutelage of long-time head coach Chuck Kyle, a revered figure in Northeast Ohio, Hoyer notched a 16-7 record. The youngster threw for 2,130 yards and 18 touchdowns in his junior campaign and recorded 2,570 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2003.
Hoyer thoroughly impressed coaches from programs such as MSU, South Carolina, Wake Forest, Cincinnati and Maryland. The pro-style quarterback with a rocket arm and a deft football mind drew significant attention from a number of schools. A Midwesterner at heart, Hoyer chose the Big Ten and Michigan State in July of 2003. East Lansing would prove to be the perfect fit for Hoyer, and the young QB would prove to be a huge catch for the MSU football program.
As many young college quarterbacks must do, Hoyer had to wait his turn. With talented starter Drew Stanton ahead of him on the depth chart, Hoyer sat on the bench and watched Stanton lead the Spartan offense. As valuable as his starting experience at MSU was, Hoyer indicates that his time as a backup might have been even more helpful once he moved on to the pros.
“The thing that helped me the most was knowing how to be a backup. You have some guys who are fortunate enough to start all four years and they get thrust into a backup role in the NFL and it’s totally different to them,” the new Browns quarterback explained. “The way you have to prepare is definitely a different way, because you have to prepare knowing that you could be the starter after one week. You could come in the first play of the game. You don’t get as many reps. You have to do a lot of book work, film work, just because you’re not getting the actual reps.”
After sitting on the bench for a few seasons, Hoyer claimed the starting role for the 2007 season, the first year of the Mark Dantonio era. As many devoted Spartan fans will recall, Hoyer led the Green and White to consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1989-1990. Hoyer completed over 59% of his passes, racking up 2,725 yards and 20 touchdowns. The junior signal caller led the Spartans to the team’s first bowl appearance since 2003. Though his stats were not as high during his senior campaign (2,404 yards and nine touchdowns), the veteran led the squad to a 9-3 regular season record and an appearance in the Capital One Bowl.
Thanks in part to Dantonio, Hoyer grew into a talented quarterback with a chance at achieving his goal of playing quarterback in the NFL. Hoyer would not be picked in the 2009 NFL Draft, but the New England Patriots would snatch the playmaker with a free agent contract, giving him an opportunity to forge a legacy in the pros.
For a young quarterback looking to make his way in the NFL, landing with a team like the New England Patriots was ideal. Hoyer received a golden opportunity to learn from future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. Hoyer did not allow his big break to go to waste. The Spartan coaching staff prepared Hoyer well for his shot in the pros. “Coach Dantonio gets you ready for the next level just by instilling discipline and hard work…As a whole, as a college program, they really get you ready for that next level.”
Hoyer peppered Brady with questions, absorbing as much as he could from the three-time Super Bowl champ. The evolving young backup put those lessons to use on the practice field. Hoyer’s development and work ethic eventually impressed New England head coach Bill Belichick to the degree that he trusted Hoyer to be Brady’s lone backup.
“For how I came into the league, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to go,” Hoyer said. “In my opinion, [Brady’s] the best. I got to sit there with him, day in and day out, and see how he approaches things, how he runs a team, how strict he is on himself and holds himself to the highest standard.”
Following his third season in New England, Hoyer became a restricted free agent. The Patriots tendered him with a second-round draft pick, making his base salary $1.9 million for 2012. But when a less expensive alternative ¬¬– Ryan Mallet – appeared, the Patriots let Hoyer go. He remained a free agent until the Steelers signed him on November 20. But once Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks healed, the team released Hoyer. The Cardinals soon signed him, giving him a chance to start Arizona’s season finale against the 49ers. Hoyer performed well, completing 19 of 34 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown against the eventual Super Bowl runner-up.
“You realize how much you miss being ‘the guy,’ being the guy who’s going in, knowing that you’re starting that football game and you’re going the whole way through it,” Hoyer said. “When you get back out there and realize you’re playing a team that goes to the Super Bowl and you can move the ball up and down the field a little bit, you realize that it’s football and you just want to get back out there.”
The Cardinals seemed willing to give Hoyer the opportunity to be ‘the guy’ in 2013, tendering Hoyer with a second round draft pick. But following a busy offseason that included the arrival of Drew Stanton and Carson Palmer, the Cardinals released Hoyer on May 13. Only a few days passed before the Browns snatched the 27-year-old quarterback.
Ever since he signed with the Browns, Hoyer has been hard at work. He has relentlessly studied the playbook and absorbed every bit of information available from head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, as well as fellow quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell.
“This is literally my fourth offense in 12 months. This one’s probably the most different of the [four],” Hoyer said. “The other three were similar to what I’ve always known. I’ve definitely been spending a lot of extra time trying to learn this one. The more you see it, the more you get a chance to go out, practice it and do it, the easier it comes. This one will definitely be the most challenging for me.”
Hoyer faces stiff odds in his quest to become an NFL starter. Weeden is currently entrenched as Cleveland’s starting quarterback and Campbell currently possesses the primary backup role behind Weeden. Hoyer must also quickly learn the playbook and adjust to his new team. Despite this, the former Spartan believes he has what it takes to be the starting quarterback for the Browns, or any other team.
“If you don’t feel like you’re capable of being a starting quarterback, I don’t think you really belong in this league. This is the best of the best. If you’re here, you’re here for a reason. You can’t down yourself for one moment, whether you’ve started 30 games or you’ve started one,” Hoyer explained. “For me, it’s a combination of many things. You know that it takes a lot of preparation, obviously. With the physical skillset, if you didn’t have it, you wouldn’t be here to begin with. That’s not something I’m too concerned about. It’s more about preparation and knowing the system and knowing what the defense is trying to do.”
But Hoyer is not concerned with winning the starting quarterback role at the moment. His primary concern is simply becoming proficient in the offense and learning all he can from those around him. “If you can’t take the opportunity to soak up as much as you can and learn from the people who know what they’re talking about, it’s a waste of time. Right now, I’m learning from Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden, because these guys have been doing it longer than I have in this system and those are guys I can ask questions,” Hoyer said. “They’ve been helpful. Any question I’ve had, they’ve been ready to answer.”
Hoyer continued to explain his overall philosophy, “It’s all about if you want to figure it out yourself or take the initiative to go out and ask the questions that need to be asked instead of just thinking that you got it. That’s always been my approach. When you do that, you get an opportunity to learn from a lot of different people. You take what you can from them and always try to make yourself better.”
The Spartan Nation will certainly be cheering him on as he fights his way up the depth chart of his hometown team. But Hoyer, a true team player and class act, is concerned only with helping the team in any way he can.
“Being from Cleveland, I know how Cleveland fans are. Whatever I can do to help this team be successful, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing the most,” Hoyer said. “Whatever that role might be, it’s still yet to be determined, I’ll just make sure I go out every day and practice my best, work my hardest to help the team in any way I can.”