Basketball, Connor Griffin said, will always be a part of his life.
He was shooting around in the gym earlier this month. It’s how he clears his mind. And if you’re a 6-foot-3 dude who can dunk, well, that’s not something you just stop doing.
“I still like to dunk,” he said with a smile. “That’s going to be a hobby of mine forever, until I can’t.”
It’s a skill that got him noticed during his few appearances as a walk-on at Gonzaga, where he was a part of two NCAA Tournament teams, including the 2014-15 squad that finished with a 35-3 record and advanced to the Elite Eight.
Run a YouTube search for “Connor Griffin dunk,” and you’ll find a clip of Griffin elevating for a one-handed jam in traffic during a blowout win over Pacific.
That same athleticism, he hopes, could help Griffin play his way into more snaps as a walk-on receiver for the Washington Huskies football team.
Griffin, a fourth-year junior, is going through his first spring with the Huskies in preparation for his second season. He spent last year as a reserve tight end, appearing in eight games and recording his first collegiate catch in UW’s Heart of Dallas Bowl victory over Southern Mississippi.
The transition from tight end to receiver, he said, hasn’t been too dramatic. He mostly practices at the “H” spot, a position he played last season in two tight-end sets. Griffin said he’s trying to learn the “Z” position so the Huskies can take advantage of his size on the outside.
His raw skills were apparent from the time he arrived at fall camp last year and started making plays during scrimmages with the third-string offense. But he knows his fundamentals require further development.
“I could go up and make plays. I could catch the ball,” Griffin said. “But when it came down to it, I need to work on my feet, my hands, need to make sure I could break DBs off my routes and stuff like that. So that’s something I really took to heart and really wanted to work on this offseason.”
Griffin prides himself on perfecting the smallest details, receivers coach Bush Hamdan said, part of the reason the coach describes him as “a guy that has so much potential.”
“I think he looks a little bit more smooth and a little bit more natural,” Hamdan said. “I think sometimes with him it’s not even talking about the next-level stuff. It’s just getting into a comfortable stance, and feeling good with releases off the line. So I think the more he can rep those things and make that more normal to him, I think the other stuff comes to him naturally.”
It did at Lake Oswego High School, where Griffin starred as a senior after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee the year prior. He finished his senior season with 919 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns, good enough for all-state honors. He fetched scholarship offers from Portland State and Northern Colorado. But basketball was his passion, and he chose to walk on at Gonzaga.
Griffin says he cherishes the two seasons he spent there, and that’s easy to understand. He played for one of the best teams in Gonzaga history and made a lot of good friends in the process. But, he says, “there’s probably a reason I had offers for football and not basketball.”
Football, he figured, could take him farther. A close friend got him in touch with UW’s coaching staff after the 2014-15 basketball season. He spoke first with defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, then tight ends coach Jordan Paopao, then offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith.
Griffin visited the UW campus and took a tour of the facilities. He said he had “nothing but outside sources telling me how good of a guy coach (Chris Petersen) was, and what kind of program they’re building here.”
The Huskies lack established playmakers at the receiver position. Which means it’s worth wondering if there might be a role on this team for a player such as Griffin.
“I think I have more potential in football,” Griffin said, “and (I’m) kind of excited to see where all this takes me.”