When Peninsula High School senior quarterback Burke Griffin was growing up, he played a year up in most sports. But since he has a summer birthday, he ended up being about a full year-and-half behind his peers, making a stark difference in size.
But Griffin never seemed to mind.
“I was the runt,” he said, plainly. “You kind of get picked on and pushed around. I love that. Football is fun because it’s so physical. I love that physical challenge. ... Being the smallest and youngest, it was an even bigger challenge.”
Those days of being so young and undersized are over. Griffin’s dad took a job in Ireland in the middle of Griffin’s time in high school, forcing him to miss a year and reclassify to the 2019 class.
While he’s still one of the youngest seniors on the team, Griffin is no longer the little guy. This year, he looks the part.
“This year is the first year that if you met him for the first time, you wouldn’t swear up and down he was still in middle school,” Peninsula coach Ross Filkins said. “It really is night and day.”
Griffin has been playing catchup since being named the team’s starting quarterback as a sophomore. As a sophomore, he adjusted to the speed of the varsity game. In the following offseason, he worked on his arm strength and came in as a junior able to make more throws.
And following his junior season, he worked on his athleticism, running hurdles during track season and living in the weight room with his teammates.
He also grew — from about 5-foot-8 as a sophomore, to about 6-feet now. That physical maturity, combined with his steady progression as an athlete and a quarterback, seemed to come to fruition in Friday night’s big 32-20 win over visiting Class 4A power Skyline.
Griffin rushed 23 times for 238 yards and a pair of touchdowns and completed 10-of-13 passes for 128 yards. He was dynamic. Explosive. Poised.
“We felt like (Griffin) was the best athlete on the field,” Filkins said. “We wanted to put that game on his shoulders and let him shine.”
Griffin wasn’t a bad runner before, by any means. But it appears this year, he’s playing on a different level. How’d that happen?
“Nothing crazy,” Griffin said. “I just kept working. Track helped quite a bit.”
In middle school and in the early portion of his high school career, Griffin ran track simply to stay in shape for football. It wasn’t until his junior year when he realized that he could actually be competitive in the hurdles and sprints.
Griffin ran a 4.67 second 40-yard dash at a Nike showcase in Las Vegas over the offseason. During an Ivy League showcase, he jumped a 40-inch vertical.
While Griffin has certainly put in all the work, it’s helped that he’s grown and playing with people his own age.
“He’s just a kid that has really had to bide his time, being a late bloomer,” Filkins said. “He hasn’t just waited. He’s worked as hard as he can.”
While “dual-threat” is often used to describe quarterbacks mobile quarterbacks, it often comes with the caveat that one threat is better than the other. That’s not the case with Griffin.
“There’s not many kids that have a QB mind and the ability to make all the throws,” Filkins said. “He has touch, a good deep ball, hits the short intermediate routes. And then also, having the legs to break people down in space and run by them.”
Griffin’s elusiveness was on display against the Spartans. Over and over, he made defenders miss.
“He’s just a really difficult guy to corral in space,” Filkins said. “It puts an extra strain on a defense.”
Griffin said the elusiveness aspect has developed from the less serious side of practicing.
“I’ve worked on that just through having fun with the guys,” he said. “Guys like Braeden Potter, Shawn Leonoard, we’re always trying to juke each other out. I think along with the physical maturity, just my overall athleticism has gotten a lot better. And I have to give a lot of credit to (Potter) and my offensive line.”
Because of that athleticism, Filkins is beginning to use Griffin in different ways this season. Against Skyline, he was on the field for a few plays at corner.
“He’ll play there at certain times, and he’ll play some wide receiver for us,” Filkins said.
While there’s an inherent injury risk with playing Griffin in different roles, Filkins said they have confidence in backup QB Peyton Bice to come in if Griffin did go down, at some point.
“It’s a role that’s going to increase,” Filkins said. “Because of the trust we have in Peyton Bice and our other QBs, we feel a little more comfortable in utilizing him as needed. (Griffin) is an excellent QB for us, but there’s no saying that’s his best position.”
Make no mistake: Griffin is still a quarterback. But it begs the question: If he wants to play college football, will that be his position in the future?
“I want to play QB,” he said. “I think that’s where I would be the most explosive and best for whatever team I’m on. But at the end of the day, if they want me to play a different position, or they think that’ll be the best spot, I’ll do it. I love playing QB, I love the pressure of it. But I love football a lot more. I think as myself as more of an athlete. I’ll play wherever it is on the field that I need to be.”
Filkins said he believes Griffin would excel in a variety of different positions at the next level.
“The higher level he goes, the more likelihood he’ll play as a corner or a slot receiver,” he said. “When he was just 105-pound freshman, he excelled as a free safety. He had absolutely no fear. He’d go in with anybody for a tackle.”