It’s a shame that some folks never find their true callling.
But it sure is a beautiful thing when they do.
Who knows what would have happened had Chase Knutz never become a quarterback. It’s possible he still would have played a pivotal role in the annals of Hermiston High School football as a linebacker or a running back, the position he played until his freshman year.
But a simple twist of fate — and a freshman football coach named Tayn Kendrick — put him behind center as a ninth-grader. Now, the Bulldogs are preparing to play in their first state football championship game.
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Hermiston (11-1) will face the Silverton Foxes (12-0) for the Oregon Class 5A title at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium. By all accounts, Knutz has been a big part of it.
“It’s every play. It’s how he gets up after hits. It’s how he throws the ball and leads the team,” Bulldogs offensive lineman Dylan Caldwell said. “There’s so many little things he does. (He’ll) give you a high five or just come up and say, ‘Hey, it’s going to be fine.’ ”
Knutz could have been a Richland Bomber, but his family moved to Hermiston before his freshman season. That’s when Kendrick, now the head coach at Waterville High School, saw something in Knutz that might have changed the course of Bulldogs football.
“They liked me when they first saw me (at quarterback), and they didn’t have much above me,” Knutz said. “They were always riding me to get better.”
So that’s what he did.
One of Kendrick’s best pieces of advice was for Knutz to find his swagger, a trait that often comes with good quarterbacks and effective leaders. But Knutz brought more to the role, adding the right dose of humility and a proper amount of character.
“Back when he was a sophomore, I saw some of the things he could do and that he had some really good savvy,” Hermiston coach Mark Hodges said.
Knutz saw a couple of snaps during the playoffs his freshman year, but he got the starting nod as a sophomore and hasn’t looked back.
Knutz completed 138 of 243 passes for 1,794 yards and 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions during the 2012 season, solidifying his starting job.
More than that, Hodges liked what he saw of Knutz off the field.
“He’s very coachable and willing to correct his mistakes. He’s willing to work on the game plan,” Hodges said. “I’ve had the pleasure of coaching some good ones at North Medford, and he’s right up there with the best kids I’ve coached.”
Since his sophomore season, Knutz has learned more about leading the team. It’s a role he embraces comfortably and without fear.
“Last year, we had a lot of seniors, but this year, I felt most comfortable with all the guys since middle school,” he said. “I realize a lot of people look up to me, and whether I realize it or not, they act off my actions and my attitude.
“They’ll respond to me more than anyone else.”
Knutz, a 6-foot-3, 195-pounder who is getting college looks from Western Oregon and Western Washington, certainly hasn’t let them down.
As a junior, he completed 187 of 331 passes for 2,810 yards, 27 touchdowns and 15 interceptions for a 92.8 percent rating. This year, he’s 161-for-283 with 2,549 yards and 14 interceptions, setting career bests in completion percentage (.569), touchdowns (31) and rating (102.9).
But the numbers don’t matter to Knutz or his teammates, as long as he keeps doing what he’s doing.
“I remember our (17-0 win over) Sandy (on Nov. 7). They were rushing him really hard, and that’s tough enough. When you have a receiver like me who drops the ball, that’s even tougher,” Bulldogs senior receiver Carson Morter said of the game in which the Bulldogs didn’t score through three quarters. “He definitely pulled us all together. Not only himself, but he kept us all calm.
“I have complete faith in him, and so does the coaching staff.”
Asked how much credit he would be willing to accept if Hermiston wins its first state title, Knutz would much rather defer the credit to his teammates.
“This is one of the best offensive lines we’ve ever had. That’s the key to a physical run game. And we have one of the best defenses in the state,” Knutz said. “I’d give a lot of the credit to (the defense) and a lot to the O-line. Also to my wide receivers like Carson and Ethan (Snow).
“If I had the choice, I’d throw on every play, because I really like to throw the ball.”
Mostly, Knutz is just excited for the chance to play in a state championship game.
“I’m just excited that we made history,” Knutz said. “I think we’ll be pumped and ready to go.”