Andrew Luck quietly returns to football in Palo Alto

Former Stanford star, No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck abruptly retired from playing four years ago

PALO ALTO — Andrew Luck stood across the street from Stanford Stadium, where he attained unfathomable heights a decade ago.

Back-to-back double-digit win seasons and Top 10 finishes for the Cardinal, who had previously struggled. Two Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year awards, and each time a Heisman Trophy runner-up. Soon to be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, he will lead the Indianapolis Colts on playoff runs.

On the west side of El Camino Real, luck ascended in the football world. He abruptly ended his ascent four years ago, at the age of 29, stating that he needed to “remove himself from football.”

Luck is back on the field, but this time on the east side of El Camino Real, assisting in the coaching of Palo Alto High School.

Luck arrived late but quickly caught up.

“We have our entire playbook and he walks in not knowing any of our plays,” Palo Alto senior quarterback Declan Packer said. “He came the next day and knew every single play.” It was insane — he knows everything there is to know about football.”

Luck, 34, returned to the Bay Area last fall to begin a master’s program at Stanford’s school of education. Luck, who is intensely private, declined an interview request for this story, but did discuss his desire to coach in one of his few public comments since retiring.

“What would I bring if I were to coach?” On the scale of football experiences, it’s certainly a semi-unique experience.” Luck told ESPN for a profile published in December of last year. “Perhaps I shouldn’t say semi-unique. Totally unique.”

Palo Alto coach Dave DeGeronimo said Luck first contacted him via email last fall, but he was too preoccupied with the high school football playoffs to respond. It took a phone call from Luck in April to Palo Alto athletic director Jennifer Crane to make the connection.

“I was going to take whatever he could offer,” DeGeronimo explained.

Luck coaches at practices twice a week and spent the entire session on Monday with Palo Alto’s JV team. He progressed from individual passing drills to timing routes with quarterbacks and wide receivers.

As the practice progressed, Luck began to assist the scout team defense. The 6-foot-4 Luck towered over the freshmen and sophomores in the secondary, able to oversee everything and help make minor adjustments.

“It’s great to have someone of that caliber on your staff,” said DeGeronimo. “The kids love it.”

Last season, Packer, a senior, helped the Vikings win the Central Coast Section championship by completing 58% of his passes for 1,728 yards and 19 touchdowns in 13 games.

This year, he’s been even better, completing 66% of his passes for 637 yards and seven touchdowns in three games. Luck has contributed to the growth, but he is not the only former quarterback who is assisting.

Christoph Bono, the star quarterback of Palo Alto’s state championship team in 2010, is also assisting twice a week.

Bono passed for 2,690 yards and 30 touchdowns while playing for legendary Palo Alto coach Earl Hansen and future NFL star Davante Adams as one of his receivers as the Vikings dominated CCS en route to an Open Division title. In the Division I state championship game, the Vikings defeated Centennial-Corona 15-13.

Bono’s father, former 49ers quarterback Steve Bono, coached for the Vikings before, during, and after Christoph’s tenure, inspiring his son to follow in his footsteps.

“He worked with a lot of good quarterbacks who came here,” said Christoph Bono. “That was definitely a part of it for me, seeing what he did and how much fun he had doing it, that I wanted to have the opportunity to do it as well.”

Bono is in his second year as a head coach for the Packers, who say Bono’s calm demeanor “totally translates to my style of play.”

Even at the risk of disrupting that synergy, adding a four-time Pro Bowler is unusual. When Luck’s offer to assist arrived, DeGeronimo and Bono both checked in.

“He wanted to make sure he wasn’t stepping on any of my toes,” Bono explained. “I said, ‘You’re Andrew Luck, you’re not stepping on my toes.'”

Palo Alto freshman quarterback Justin Fung wears Luck’s old No. 12, but not as a tribute; he says he only does so because No. 2 is unavailable. He’s barely old enough to recall Luck playing for the Colts, but he credits Luck with helping him with “the small details” of the position.

“I challenge anyone in the CCS to have better quarterback coaches than Palo Alto,” said DeGeronimo. “Two great guys who work well together are giving [our quarterbacks] a lot of individual attention.”

These minor details extend beyond the quarterbacks. From knowing each child’s name to putting practice pennies on the scout team’s helmets to bringing water to the linemen, it’s all part of the job.

Four years after leaving football for his own good, Luck is back – and giving back to the game he adores.

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