Within seven hours, Caleb Grill won MVP of a football game and set course for Ames, Iowa, to begin his college basketball career in the Big 12.
On his final night as a Kansas high school athlete, Grill put on a show in the 2019 Kansas Shrine Bowl on Saturday in Dodge City. He threw for two touchdowns as the West beat the East 26-7. And by 5 a.m. Sunday, he was on a plane.
Grill’s senior season has been well-documented and for good reason. In the fall, he was named to the Eagle’s All-Metro, All-State and Top 11 teams after throwing for 3,122 yards, which was second-best in Kansas. He helped Maize to the Class 5A state semifinals.
In the winter, he led the Eagles to an undefeated season until the state semifinals. He was named to the Eagle’s All-Metro, All-State and Top 5 teams again, and he was probably the top player in the state.
And in the spring, Grill won his first state championship of his career with a hump jump title with a 6-foot-8 leap. He was All-State and will be named to the Eagle’s All-Metro squad. Only Northwest’s Marcus Hicks had a senior year that came close to what Grill achieved.
But Saturday night send him over the top.
“I think anybody could have gotten MVP on this team because I think everyone here is that good of a player,” Grill said. “It just happened to be my night I guess.”
When Grill got to Salina for the West team’s training camp, it was the first time he had put a helmet in since the fall. While many players were out at camps during the offseason, Grill was still competing. He said it was awkward at first getting back into the football mindset, but when West coach Tyson Bauerle saw Grill in practice for the first time, he said he was blown away.
“Man this kid can sling it,” Bauerle said. “I didn’t think there was any rust at all physically or mentally.”
Bauerle, who coaches at Hesston, never got to watch Grill’s football performances before the Shrine Bowl. He said Grill’s knowledge of the game made his job a lot easier in feeding him more information.
Grill had some help around him in getting back into the groove. Great Bend’s Koy Brack was one of the top passers in Kansas last year and brought a wealth of knowledge to practices. But most important, Grill’s football coach was on the Shrine Bowl staff, too.
Maize coach Gary Guzman has walked with Grill since the start of the spring season, serving as a track assistant and Grill’s top high jump coach. Guzman said Grill is incredible but nothing surprises him anymore.
“When we came out here in an All-Star game, closer to his basketball season, I had no question that he was going to get after it,” he said. “That’s just what he does. He could have said, ‘I’m not interested; I’m getting ready for basketball.’ But that’s not him.”
Grill’s legacy as a high school athlete was, “Why not?” Why not play football and perform in the high jump? Why not come in as a relief pitcher for the baseball team just minutes after a track meet? That’s why he was in Dodge City on Saturday.
Many Division I athletes turned down the Shrine Bowl opportunity because they have already reported to school. Blue Valley North quarterback Graham Mertz and Bishop Carroll tight end Clay Cundiff are at Wisconsin. Hicks are at Oklahoma. And Campus’ Quinton Hicks is at South Dakota State.
But Grill saw the Shrine Bowl as an event he couldn’t miss. In the 1990s, Grill’s father and basketball coach, Chris Grill, competed in the Shrine Bowl for Augusta. Caleb knew the impact it would have on him and said it lived up to expectations even outside of football.
“This whole experience has been something different,” Grill said. “We had a lot of guys that were focused, a lot of leaders on our high school teams, so we picked up things really quick and came together really fast. And once we got to Dodge City and got to see all the patients, we got to see what this game is really about.”
Saturday, Grill threw his two touchdown passes in about a minute of game time. The first came on a slant route to Phillipsburg’s Trey Sides. Grill evaded a defender who jumped in his face; he ducked his head and fired it sidearm. The second came on a seam route to Valley Center’s Larry Wilson, who had an outstanding night himself.
Sides has walked to same path Grill went on. Sides is signed to play Division I basketball at Jacksonville University in the winter. He said getting to be around Grill for the past week was surreal.
Many players on the West team gathered almost every night in hotel lobbies or outdoor courts for pickup basketball. Although he was playing with many kids who never played basketball, Grill took it seriously, Derby’s Hunter Igo said, more seriously than anyone else.
Sides said it’s nothing but a mentality.
“He’s just an athlete,” Sides said. “He does everything the right way, including basketball. He gets people involved, and he’s just a fun guy to be around.”
Grill will leave the Wichita area as one of its most decorated in recent history, but he is ready to set his energy on basketball.
March 29, Grill reopened his college recruitment after South Dakota State coach T.J. Otzelberger left for UNLV. Grill got out of his National Letter of Intent and quickly became one of the hottest recruits in the U.S.
Grill’s phone started blowing up with phone calls, texts and messages on Twitter. One stood out among the rest: an inquiry from an Iowa State football assistant coach. He wanted to gauge his interest in playing quarterback and guard for the Cyclones.
Grill said Saturday was his last football game. Basketball is his love. Guzman said he knows that, but didn’t want Grill’s legacy to be lost because of it.
“He is a football player,” Guzman said. “He is a heck of a football player. He does everything at a high level. He gives you everything he’s got whenever he’s doing what he’s doing.”