As one of the top high school football programs in the state, the Saint Ignatius Wildcats aren’t new to getting national attention.
Through six weeks of the 2019 season and facing one of the toughest schedules in the country, the Wildcats sit at 3-3. It wasn’t their team performance(s) that gained national praise this time. Rather, it was the play of starting quarterback, senior Griffin Hanna.
Following the Wildcats’ week three 42-41 victory against Archbishop Hoban (Akron), Hanna was one of 15 players nominated for the USA Today “Super Top-25 Star” of the week. Against the Knights, Hanna threw for 269 yards and four touchdowns.
Going up against other players from high school football powerhouse states such as Florida, California and Texas, Hanna finished second in the poll with 25,604 votes behind Jimmy Holiday from Madison Central (Mississippi). Holiday received 29,170 votes after rushing for 225 yards and four touchdowns and adding 160 yards and one touchdown through the air.
Despite not winning, Hanna was just excited to be recognized nationally.
“It was very cool to be nominated in something like USA Today among some of the best high school players in the country,” Hanna said. “Growing up watching Saint Ignatius football, now being able to be nominated for something like that was really cool.”
Hanna, a Rocky River resident, has spent all four years with Saint Ignatius but this season is his first starting for the Wildcats. Hanna had always wanted to play for Saint Ignatius, referencing that his father was a graduate and how closely he followed and looked up to the team and players in grade school.
When he first joined the Wildcats, however, he immediately faced his share of adversity.
Near the end of his eighth grade basketball season, Hanna suffered a knee injury that required surgery. This kept him out his entire freshman season but not away from the team entirely. Longtime Saint Ignatius coach Chuck Kyle said Hanna was at all the practices and drills, doing anything he was physically able to do.
Come the start of his sophomore season, Hanna was back in full force catching up on the time he lost the year prior. Even in his first two years with the team, Kyle said that Hanna used – and is still using – that experience to be a strong senior leader with the team.
“I have always respected his patience with that because there’s a progression, especially at the quarterback position, at least in our program, the freshman year, the sophomore year, the junior year, there is a clear progression that’s important,” Kyle said. “I think there was a stronger appreciation, a stronger dedication to (getting healthy and playing again). So I think that’s a good example for a lot of athletes because everything doesn’t always go according to plan. It’s how you respond to that and Griffin’s a great example of taking that disappointment and really channeling that determination into having this kind of senior year.”
Kyle said that at first, he didn’t realize just how impressive Hanna’s stat line against Archbishop Hoban was.
“It certainly brings a smile to your face (to see you players recognized),” he said. “But, to be honest with you, the very next morning you start working on the next game. Maybe I didn’t realize at that moment how profoundly Griffin played in the game. Looking back, yes, (he was) quite deserving.”
In his six starts this season, Hanna has completed just over 50% of his passes (82 of 158) for 1,313 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s also scored four times on the ground, rushing for 80 yards.
Though this is his first year getting significant playing time, Hanna has embraced that senior leadership role. He credits not only his coaching staff but also the player classes that came before him.
“Being around the program since a freshman, being around coach Kyle and coach (Nick) Restifo who have been great coaches in helping me progress as a football player and as a person,” Hanna said. “Along with my teammates before me that I’ve had, because they showed great examples of what it means to be a leader and upperclassmen helped leading a younger kid and how important it is to provide a good example so they have a good foundation for years to come.”
On the field, Kyle prides Hanna on not just being a great quarterback, but a great athlete. The coach, now in his 37th year, said Hanna’s ability to time the ball into tight windows is one of the things that makes him stand out.
“What’s really important is to be the quarterback in your mind,” Kyle said. “That’s the thing that I think is really impressive this year. (The) quick decisions he’s making, good reads and the ability to, sometimes, tuck the ball under (his) arm, take off and get what you can get.”
Though Hanna is unsure of his future plans, he said he is most looking forward to spending the rest of his final season with his “best friends and teammates.” Outside of that, there’s one goal that seems almost annual at Saint Ignatius that Hanna, Kyle and the entire team and school share.
“My main focus is on trying to get back to the State championship game,” Hanna said.
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