Keller Chryst and Spencer Drazovich make an odd friendship pairing, but a perfect quarterback-center combo.
By MITCH STEPHENS | Contributor
Quarterback Keller Chryst had just arrived at Palo Alto High School by way of North Carolina at the end of his freshman year. It was his first day at the school and he was lost.
He finally entered room 216 and sat in for the entire hour. One problem. He was supposed to be in room 215.
“It was a class for juniors,” Chryst said. “I had no idea where to go.”
Luckily for Chryst, Spencer Drazovich was in the vicinity. He was the starting center and the only sophomore on Palo Alto’s CIF State Bowl Division I championship team in 2010.
Coach Earl Hansen warned the team that Chryst — the son of 49ers quarterback coach Jeep Chryst — was arriving on campus and to be on the lookout. Not that Chryst, at the time 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, was hard to spot.
As always, Drazovich was the right man at the right spot at the right time. Just as he was earlier that season, filling in a vital gap at midseason for two older injured players.
“When I first saw him, it was like, ‘Whoa, who is that guy?’” Drazovich said. “Then I remembered what coach Hansen said. I went up, introduced myself and got him where he needed to go.”
And that is the fitting start to this beautiful, but unlikely relationship.
Fitting because the center to quarterback exchange is supposed to be the starting point for where all offenses are directed.
Unlikely because, on the surface, this duo had little in common.
Beautiful because they make up one of the best football snaps in the state for one of the Central Coast Section’s top teams.
DIFFERENT BUT EQUALS
Chryst — now a strapping 6-4, 225-pound junior — is a top Division I prospect, ranked No. 14 for his class in the country by 247sports.com.
He’s agile and fluid and he plans to play at the rim for the Vikings’ basketball team in the winter.
“By the time he’s done he’ll be the best quarterback in Northern California,” Hansen said. “He might be so right now but he has two more years left. Everyone is after him.”
Drazovich is a squatty but extremely strong and fit 6-foot, 255-pound two-way senior. He’s an Ivy League prospect, Hansen said, and in his spare time flings the discus, heaves the shot put and grunts on the wrestling mat.
“One of the best leaders we’ve ever had,” Hansen said. “He’s just so smart and a great worker. He’s just got better and better and better.”
Chryst, quiet by nature, was born in Chicago and like an Army brat, went from city-to-city following his dad’s coaching career: Chicago to Phoenix to San Diego back to Phoenix to Madison (Wis.) to Matthews (N.C.) before landing in Palo Alto.
“He’s been some places and done some things,” Drazovich said.
Drazovich, a social magnet, was born, raised and flourished in Palo Alto.
“He knows everyone in this town,” Chryst said. “He could be the mayor.”
Chryst’s sports bloodline is rich.
His grandfather coached at the University of Wisconsin, his uncle Paul is head coach at the University of Pittsburgh and his dad — a former linebacker and baseball player at Princeton and long snapper in the USFL — coached and coordinated in the NFL with the Cardinals, Chargers and five years at the Panthers before joining the 49ers. Keller is the oldest of three children.
“It’s definitely given me a great opportunity to do stuff,” Chryst said of his family ties. “But at the end of the day, it’s still a game of fun and you still have to get out on the field and play.”
The athletic DNA for Drazovich, the middle of three children, is a little thin.
“I think my dad played pickup basketball in high school,” he said. “I think he’d rather see me be an engineer (more than an athlete). But he’s more than totally supportive.”
Where the two connect is in an unbridled commitment to work and to lead. Drazovich uses a more verbal approach and Chryst by example, though his social skills, like his chest size and recruiting rating, are rapidly expanding.
“Socially, he’s progressed incredibly,” Drazovich said. “He was really shy when he first got here but now he talks to everyone. He’s a real figure on campus. Guys listen to him. They totally respect him.
“Physically, he was a great talent even before he got here. But he always wants to improve himself. He leads everyone in the weight room. He organizes the receivers, works with them after practice and is the last one to leave.
“He just puts his head down and works.”
Which is something Drazovich knows all about.
Drazovich was brought up to a senior-dominated team in 2010 to fill holes. Not so much in the games, but at practice.
He played tackle on offense but mostly “I was a tackling dummy the first half of the season,” he said. “I did a lot of work on the scout team. I wasn’t really contributing in games, but there was an honor and pride thing. I figured I was making the older guys better.”
But the team’s top two centers went down in the sixth game against Los Gatos. Drazovich, who was nursing his own knee injury, was being treated on a trainer’s table when Hansen approached.
“You ever snapped the ball before?” Hansen asked Drazovich, who shook his head. “Well you’re learning today.”
He hasn’t missed a start since.
Despite his youth, knee injury and introduction to the position, Drazovich helped anchor a line that went on to win seven more games, finish 14-0 and shocked most of the state — and nation — with a 15-13 win over heavily-favored and nationally-ranked Centennial-Corona in the Division I title game.
Along the way, Palo Alto also defeated three consecutive West Catholic Athletic League squads in the CCS Open Division playoffs, an accomplishment on par with the Centennial victory.
“No fear in that kid,” Hansen said. “We don’t win either of those titles if he doesn’t step up.”
When a blocked field goal by Kevin Anderson — now at Stanford — clinched the win, Drazovich —on the sideline — said time stood still.
“I was ecstatic,” he said. “No words can do it justice. Incredible.”
He recalled before the season, a friend approached and asked if Palo Alto would win the state championship.
“She was kind of kidding so I said ‘of course we are,’” Drazovich said. “Of course I never even thought it possible back then. None of us did. Not through week five or six when we were undefeated. It was just one game at a time and the more and more we kept winning, the more it all became a reality.
“By the time we got to the state game, we definitely had the mentality we were coming back with the trophy. … It was all a perfect combination of two classes (juniors and seniors) who had components that the other was missing.”
But life and football doesn’t end at age 16. Drazovich and a talented junior class from that team had to figure out what to do for an encore in 2011 with much of its leadership gone, along with three-year starting quarterback Christoph Bono.
OFF THE CHARTS
Chryst acclimated quickly and by summer league 7-on-7s, it was clear there wasn’t going to be much of a drop-off at quarterback.
Athletically, Chryst was off the charts. He had a big arm, nice touch, and moved well for a big kid.
Adjusting to a complex West Coast offense and making reads took some time. So did being away from Weddington High in N.C., where he might have had to backup incumbent starter Drew Podrebarac.
“I knew it was a great opportunity coming out here,” Chryst said. “I thought other than our last game (a 41-13 CCS semifinal loss to champion Bellarmine) it was a great year.”
The Vikings finished 10-3 and Chryst was impressive, throwing for 2,165 yards, 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His accuracy wasn’t pinpoint, completing 112 of 223, but his improvement was steady.
His upside, Drazovich says, is scary.
“With all due respect to Christoph, he’s the best I’ve ever seen,” said Drazovich. “Physically, he’s an animal, a specimen. … His strength is he can sling it anywhere on the field. His weakness is he needs to make quicker reads, but that just comes with experience. He’s got two more years. His potential is incredible.”
With all the skill players Chryst has to work with, the same could be said of Palo Alto’s offense this season.
The running back trio of co-captains Matt Tolbert and Erik Anderson, along with Justin Gates-Mouton should keep defenses honest.
The receiving brigade of Jayshawn Gates-Mouton, Keesean Johnson and Malcolm Davis should be explosive and quick striking.
“These guys have great hands and speed to burn,” Chryst said. “They’ve been doing a great job.”
It’s Drazovich’s job to teach and mentor a young but big and promising offensive line.
He’s the only returning starter, but with the brawn of tackles Jack Anderson (6-4, 255) and Justin Rittman (6-2, 240) with the skill of guards Drew Rider (5-11, 215) and Nick Beeson (5-10, 240), Drazovich isn’t too worried.
“I’m very excited about the offensive line and where we’re going,” he said.
And with Drazovich giving directions, the Vikings should never get lost, Chryst said.
“He sets the pace for everyone,” Chryst said. “He plays and works super hard and gets the guys to do the same. He might not be the biggest guy around, but he’ll always get the job done.”
Mitch Stephens is a national columnist for MaxPreps.com.
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