- Erik McKinney, ESPN Staff Writer
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Keller Chryst (Palo Alto, Calif./Palo Alto) has plenty of history to follow.
His grandfather, George Chryst, was a longtime high school football coach and the head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. His father, Geep Chryst, is the quarterback coach of the San Francisco 49ers. His uncle, Paul Chryst, is the head coach at Pittsburgh. Another uncle, Rick Chryst, was the commissioner of the Mid-American Conference for 10 years. And if that wasn’t enough, Chryst was named after a football icon: Michael Keller Ditka, Jr.
Yet, with all the potential fanfare surrounding his family and upbringing, Keller, the No. 2 quarterback in the country, has found a way to stay off the grid, far removed from the usual media and recruiting attention that comes with being one of the nation’s top quarterback recruits.
“I’m just not really into all that stuff,” Chryst said. “I’m just kind of laid back. I understand the media has their job to do and you have to give them something every once in a while.”
If it sounds like the approach of a professional athlete, it’s because Chryst is likely more familiar with that lifestyle than one of a high school student.
His father was named the quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers following the 2010 season. That followed NFL stops in Chicago, Arizona, San Diego, Arizona again, and Carolina. But a long relationship with Jim Harbaugh led Geep Chryst to San Francisco, where Keller is now receiving a Master’s degree in the life of a football player.
Friday evening’s Elite 11 showed why several of the country’s top programs are chasing Chryst, as he put together a strong showing. Chryst did have something of a built-in advantage during the event, as the 49ers practice field -- the location for the event -- served as a calming, familiar location for Chyrst.
“I was just here last weekend, hanging around and eating lunch,” said Chryst, adding that he uses every advantage he can find from the paths taken by his NFL mentors. “They’ve shown me the way they’ve done it, so they know what steps to take to get there.”
Chryst let out a wry smile when asked if the 49ers' head coach had anything to do with him being happy to not give into the hype surrounding his recruitment.
“I’ve got a little bit of Harbaugh in me,” he said. “Maybe.”
Chryst showed he can take after Harbaugh on the field as well, in that he has the potential to be a big-time quarterback at the next two levels. Though no quarterbacks were selected to the Elite 11 Finals or given an MVP Award given, Chryst was one of eight signal-callers chosen to perform in the pressure cooker, a final drill consisting of several throws of varying degrees of difficulty, designed to test the quarterback’s attention to detail, arm strength, touch, competitiveness and stamina. Chryst was one of only a few to post a perfect completion percentage.
Still, Chryst wasn’t completely pleased with his day, and that might be the biggest positive surrounding the 6-foot-4, 225-pound quarterback. With only four years of experience at the position, there is plenty of space to his ceiling left for Chryst to explore, especially with a fairly competent teacher helping lead the way.
Chryst grew up enjoying football and playing in the backyard with his brother and neighbors. But he played a variety of positions until the eighth grade, when his father slotted him at quarterback.
“I’ve always been able to throw the ball, and my dad knows a bit about the position,” Chryst said with a laugh, adding that he didn’t take to it immediately. “Originally, I was kind of rusty. But eventually I got it, although I still have a far way to go.”
That path could lead him to any number of schools, although he is concentrating on four at this point: Alabama, Pittsburgh, Stanford and USC.
His interest in the Crimson Tide needs no explanation and the Cardinal and Trojans are no strangers to battling for top in-state prospects in recent years -- Max Browne had both schools among his heavy favorites before committing to and signing with the Trojans last year. But the Panthers could be an interesting program to watch, as the quarterback said he believes his uncle is moving that program in the right direction.
Stanford could be tough to beat ultimately, though Chryst isn’t ready to tip his hand or finish the process any time soon.
“Stanford is right across the street from my school and I’ve known their coaches for a while,” he said. “I have access any time I want.”
Chryst said recruiting only began to pick up for him last summer and he would like to attend several camps and make official visits before making a decision, although he is unsure of what schools he will get to this summer.
“I definitely want to visit the schools I’m considering, but I’m not sure [of others],” he said. “I’m not going to make a decision I’m not ready for. I want to make sure the school I want to go to is the school I want to go to. I wouldn’t say recruiting is on the back burner -- it’s my future -- but I want to take care of the things at task.”
While his concentration is on finishing his high school career on a strong note -- first in the classroom, then on the field -- Chryst does have an idea of what he’s looking for in his next stop.
“No. 1 is if I feel right there,” he said. “And then with the football program. You don’t want to go to a school you’re unsure of and you want to be able to go win. That’s why they want you there, because they want to win.”
It’s not an easy task to add a new chapter to the Chryst family football legacy. But spoken or unspoken, this young quarterback has an opportunity to make a statement all his own over the next several years.
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