From Hutto to Los Angeles, game remains the same for QB Chase Griffin

During his senior season, Hutto quarterback Chase Griffin tossed 51 touchdown passes with only five interceptions to lead the Hippos to an 11-1 record. (Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman)

By Rick Cantu
Published January 11, 2019

Chase Griffin learned something about poise and precision when he began to play the violin at age 4.

As parents Will and Christine Griffin offered encouragement, it took him time and practice to hit the right notes. The more Griffin improved, the more competitive he became. And although he would play the violin only a few years, his willingness to learn and strive for more would carry on.

Griffin is best known in Central Texas as a three-year starting quarterback for the Hutto High School football team. During that span he threw 123 touchdown passes and only 22 interceptions. He passed for 11,093 yards, led the Hippos to a 29-7 record and caught UCLA coach Chip Kelly’s watchful eye.

When Kelly offered Griffin a scholarship last summer to play quarterback for the Bruins, the straight-A student quickly accepted. He finished his final class at Hutto last month and has already completed his first week as a student at UCLA.

“I always wanted to go to school in L.A.,” said Griffin, who was born in nearby Santa Monica. “I love the city.”

This will be a year of transition for the 5-foot-10 Griffin, who recently finished his high school days with a season for the ages. During his senior year he completed 51 touchdown passes with only five interceptions, averaged 338 yards passing a game, completed 72 percent of his passes and guided the Hippos to an 11-1 record.

Griffin has been named the All-Central Texas Player of the Year by the Austin American-Statesman.

Griffin will play for UCLA in the fall - as an early enrolled, he has already completed two weeks of school. (John Gutierrez for American-Statesman)

Hutto coach Brad LaPlante said his quarterback is more than just a gifted athlete.

“He has the most intrinsic motivation (of) any player I have ever coached,” LaPlante said.

In Central Texas, Griffin was the lead dog in the Year of the Quarterback. From gunslingers such as Lake Travis junior Hudson Card and Lampasas sophomore Ace Whitehead to dual-threat weapons such as Round Rock senior Ryan O’Keefe and Westlake senior Taylor Anderson, quarterback was the glamour position of the area.

“Central Texas has always had great quarterbacks,” Griffin said. “I think it comes from great high school coaches here, and the maturity shows.”

The NFL has taken note of Texas quarterbacks. too. Of the eight still competing this weekend in the playoffs, four played high school football in the state: New Orleans’ Drew Brees (Westlake), Philadelphia’s Nick Foles (Westlake), Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck (Houston Stratford) and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (Whitehouse).

“In my 33 years as a coach, the passing game continues to be more and more dynamic in Texas high school football,” Westlake coach Todd Dodge said.

Perhaps the seeds for great quarterbacks from Texas in the modern era were planted by Brees in 1996. He led Westlake to its only state championship — a 55-15 victory over Abilene Cooper at Texas Stadium — before embarking on a brilliant college career at Purdue and a Hall of Fame career with the Saints.

For the better part of two decades, area coaches have seen the sport change in Texas. Many now subscribe to the theory that it’s easier to jump-start offense with a pass than to bank on finding Earl Campbell-like running back bruisers.

“High school teams have developed college/NFL concepts, and almost all of them have moved to some sort of shotgun formation,” Vandegrift coach Drew Sanders said. “Now we have teams that pass more than they run. Twenty years ago, we had more run-first schools. In turn, defenses have had to find more complex answers to all the new offensive developments.”

Westlake quarterback Taylor Anderson was a dual-threat offensive weapon while leading the Chaparrals to the state semifinals. (Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman)

Austin High coach Mike Rosenthal has witnessed changes at every level. An All-America offensive tackle at Notre Dame before embarking on an eight-year NFL career with the New York Giants, he has bought into a pass-first offense. Led by sophomore quarterback Charles Wright, who threw 26 touchdown passes in 10 games, the Maroons got 66 percent of their offense through the air.

“Ten years ago, I hated when people would throw the football on short-yardage plays,” he said. “It meant that the coach didn’t have faith in the O-line or the running backs. Now I’m the one who wants to throw the ball all the time. Unless you have a big line or dynamic backs, it is much harder to run the ball on short yardage.”

Such was the case at Hutto. The Hippos scored 80 touchdowns last fall, 51 on pass plays. Griffin passed for at least 300 yards in eight of Hutto’s 12 games, including a season-best 480 yards in a 65-21 victory over Cedar Park.

Griffin is looking forward to the next chapter of his young life. He eats with his Bruin teammates three times a day at UCLA’s training table. The squad will open spring football in March, and Griffin aspires to be a contributor in his first year on campus. Instead of Hutto Memorial Stadium, his home games will be at the Rose Bowl.

“The main part of spring is to mentally and physically set the tone for the season,” Griffin said.

It’s his job to hit the right notes.

Round Rock senior Ryan O'Keefe was the main signal caller for the Dragons, bullying his way to 1,844 rushing yards and 28 TDs in 2018. (Henry Huey/for American-Statesman)