Andrew Luck, Clayton Kershaw train with the Summit High football team in July
Retired NFL superstar and avid skier Luck was ‘just one of the boys’ after asking coaches if he could come to practice
After three-time Major League Baseball Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw departed a Summit High School football weight room session a month ago, Tigers coaches and players joked, “You never know what you might miss if you skip practice.”
“It’s going to be Michael Jordan, or this guy or that guy,” Summit head coach James Wagner said. “And, sure enough, within five days we got a call about Andrew Luck showing up.”
In July, the Summit High School varsity football team may have had the greatest singular week of working out with American sports superstars of any group of high school boys in summer workout history. And at the core of that dream-like week was a truly surreal, for-the-love-of-the-game evening at Tiger Stadium with one of the greatest gunslingers in the world.
It was Summit High School assistant football coach Rob Gannon who looked down at his iPhone on a Tuesday in July to see an Indianapolis phone number he didn’t recognize. He let the call go to voicemail. When he listened back, he heard the voice of a 31-year-old who also loves skiing in Summit County: retired Indianapolis Colts franchise quarterback Andrew Luck.
Gannon had initially met Luck the winter prior through mutual friends at a ski patrol shack at Breckenridge Ski Resort. Luck told Gannon, the Tigers defensive backs coach, he’d love to come out to a practice one day.
That day manifested last month as the Summit coaches told players the night before a Thursday practice a former No. 1 overall pick was coming to practice the next day. That sent Tigers junior starting quarterback Jack Schierholz into an analysis of the list of No. 1 NFL draft picks. The names included the likes of three generational quarterbacks drafted by the Colts: Denver Broncos legend John Elway, in 1983, Broncos Super Bowl winner Peyton Manning, in 1998, and Luck, in 2012.
“And then I remembered hearing something about Andrew Luck skiing at A-Basin,” Schierholz said. “So I thought, ‘Maybe it’s him.’ That would make sense. But as soon as I walked in, it was surreal.”
What was especially surreal to each Tiger athlete and coach in attendance was how affable and attentive Luck was. Tigers offensive coordinator Sean Mase had never met Luck before that day, though, a former Arapahoe Basin Ski Area employee, Mase had met other members of Luck’s family at the ski area, which they’ve enjoyed skiing at for decades.
“I’ve never seen Andrew Luck ski, but I assume he rips,” Mase said.
Once at practice, as Luck sat down with coaches by the whiteboard, Mase and Wagner soon saw Luck was in no rush to do anything but chat football. Organically the conversation evolved into Luck — a superstar that retired in his prime that many NFL teams would love to have in training camp right now — helping them diagram pass protection and how to swing their running backs out to improve their offensive quick game.
That was far from where Luck’s contributions ended. As the four-time Pro Bowler and 2018 NFL Comeback Player of the Year began chatting with the assembled Tigers in the team’s locker room, Mase and Wagner soon realized the planned 15 minutes of kids asking questions may end up taking up all of practice.
Luck was honest and thoughtful in all his responses, whether it be Tiger center Graham Kalaf asking him to choose between skiing or snowboarding (skiing, although Luck said he used to snowboard) or his thoughts on playing at Mile High Stadium (Luck told the Tigers it was one of the loudest, rowdiest environments he experienced).
To Wagner, seeing Luck give each and every player’s question all the time in the world was a reminder that football unites — whether you are a 15-year-old that’s brand new to the sport or a superstar quarterback.
“That’s the great thing about football is it brings us all together and you have an even playing field, that common ground to be in that locker room and to just have him simply be one of the boys,” Wagner said. “Football is still football, no matter where you are at. I think he was so happy to be out here on the field again being around the game. And that was really cool for me to see that in him.”
Luck then joined the Tigers out on the practice field. He shared tips with Schierholz, such as holding the football with a looser grip to improve consistency. For Summit senior wide receiver Aidan Collins and other Tigers, Luck made it clear the eagle-claw grip is the only way to carry the football.
Wagner even looked up at one point from coaching the first-team defense to see Luck quarterbacking the scout team offense for the junior varsity team, slinging passes all over the field.
“The kids are all trying to get picks on Andrew so they could say that,” Wagner said. “We almost had one.”
As for Kershaw, the 33-year-old, eight-time All-Star and reigning World Series champion found his way to the Tiger weight room while he and his family stayed in town during the All-Star break and ensuing series versus the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Denver. Like other fathers on vacation, Kershaw needed to find a place to get in extra work outside of family time. His doctor asked Wagner if the future Hall of Famer could continue to rehab from an injury at the Tigers’ weight room.
Wagner said the common ground element of sports also came out for his team in this setting, as the Tigers youngsters saw the Los Angeles Dodger great engaging in some of the same exercises as them.
Wagner said when he asked Kershaw to talk to the boys, he said they wouldn’t believe how many players make it to the majors on talent alone. But talent, Kershaw said, only gets them so far. It’s the guys who put in the work and compete every single day who maintain the highest level.
Schierholz — who said the fellow southpaw Kershaw is his favorite baseball player — saw Kershaw’s work ethic firsthand, as he switched up his typical lifting spot to post up next to the 2014 National League Most Valuable Player.
“It just shows it’s work ethic,” Schierholz said. “It’s nothing crazy they are doing to get to that level. It showed he’s at a high level and he’s accomplished a lot, but he still has that drive to get better.”
Ella Johnson gave thought to the risk when she decided to close out her senior year at Glenwood Springs High School playing soccer and make a bid for another shot at the Class 4A state track meet podium finish.
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