The 6-foot-4 sophomore tight end has impressed in his first fall camp with UW.

Share story

A little-known walk-on tight end who played basketball at Gonzaga for the past two years has emerged this month as the most intriguing talent for the Washington Huskies, and that doesn’t surprise Connor Griffin’s high school coach in the least.

Ever since he’s known Griffin, Steve Coury has told him he has a future in football.

“What I’ve been trying to tell him for past six years finally sunk it: ‘You’re more of a football guy than a basketball guy,’” said Coury, the longtime coach at Lake Oswego High School in suburban Portland. “And if he sticks with it, a year from now he’ll be a ‘wow’ guy for them.”

Griffin hasn’t played football in nearly three years, but he’s shown potential as a pass-catching tight end in his first three weeks at UW practices. A 6-foot-4, 235-pound sophomore, Griffin has three years of eligibility left, having already used his redshirt season at Gonzaga.

“He made a sweet catch today — it would’ve been awesome for you guys to see it,” UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said after a closed practice earlier this week. “He’s been intriguing, and he’s done a good job. He’s really delving into the playbook and learned it, for being brand new. So he’s exciting.”

As a high school junior, Griffin tore his ACL during a dunk contest in December 2010 and missed the basketball season. He recovered in time to help Lake Oswego win the 2011 state championship in Oregon’s highest classification. As a senior, he earned all-state recognition as a receiver, posting 14 touchdown receptions and helping Lake Oswego reach the state-title game again.

Griffin had football scholarship offers from Portland State and Northern Colorado. Alas, basketball was his first love, and he earned a spot on Gonzaga’s bench after an open tryout in 2013.

This past season, he appeared in 15 games, totaling 52 minutes and scoring nine points for a Gonzaga team that reached the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight, where it lost to eventual national champion Duke.

“He was a big-time basketball school, and he was a 6-4 guy who wasn’t a guard, wasn’t a shooter,” Coury said. “But he’s a great athlete and he was great for their practice squad. … He came to the realization that, ‘Hey, maybe it’s time to switch (to football); it’s now or never.’”

Montana and Portland State wanted Griffin this summer, and Coury reached out to Smith to gauge UW’s interest. The Huskies were already deep at tight end, with veterans Joshua Perkins and Darrell Daniels both poised for a strong season. But after Griffin made an unofficial visit to UW in June, and after several conversations with Smith, he accepted an invitation to walk on.

UW coach Chris Petersen also spoke to Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who offered an encouraging recommendation.

“He was just all about him,” Petersen said of his conversation with Few.

“We were kind of curious because it is such a tough position mentally,” Petersen added. “Then we asked him to do everything — block, catch. The one thing you can see is his athleticism, and it’s been really impressive. I think the other thing that has been really impressive is really how well he has picked this up. He had no spring ball. So he has a ways to go. But it really is a demanding position. He hangs in there and battles, so he’ll be an interesting guy to watch.”

In the couple months he was back in Lake Oswego earlier this summer, Griffin committed himself to the weight room, Coury said. Griffin, listed at 212 pounds on the Gonzaga roster last season, is up 23 pounds on UW’s roster.

With sophomore David Ajamu and redshirt freshman Drew Sample also fighting for playing time, Griffin isn’t expected to be a significant contributor for UW immediately. But if Griffin commits himself to UW’s weight-training program for a full year, as Coury believes he will, there is potential there.

“I wish he had spent the time here doing that,” Coury said, “but now he’s making up that time. He’s got so much ahead of him. If he’s patient enough, and if they’re patient enough with him, he’s got a chance to be special.”