For Hinder, inspiration is all in the family
This story appeared in the Colorado edition of the November ESPN RISE Magazine.
There is never a shortage of football stories told when Austin Hinder visits his grandfather. And the Steamboat Springs (Steamboat Springs, Colo.) senior happily takes them all in.
"Oh, there are millions of stories," Hinder says. "He could talk for years if you let him. I've heard them all, sometimes more than once."
Hinder's grandfather, Jim Hanifan, has earned the right to repeat himself when talk turns to football. He's won two Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach -- with the Redskins in 1992 and the Rams in 2000 -- and he's not shy about letting people know.
"He wears them all the time," Hinder says. "He says it's too hard to get them, so you have to show them off."
With 30 years of NFL coaching experience to his credit, Hanifan is one of Hinder's biggest football influences. Hanifan's stories of gridiron glory inspired his grandson to take up the game, and Hanifan has since helped mold the career of the best football player to ever come out of Steamboat Springs, a town where kids are much more likely to grow up hitting the slopes than the tackling dummies.
"With the skiers, the ski jumpers and the snowboarders, we're used to world-class athletes," says Steamboat Springs head football coach Aaron Finch.
But Hinder, a University of California commit, is just the second football player in school history to earn a scholarship to a Division I program. Ben DeLine, a sophomore kicker at Colorado State, was the first.
Rated the nation's No. 15 quarterback in the ESPNU 150, Hinder received scholarship offers from programs like Notre Dame, UCLA and Florida State in addition to Cal, his grandfather's alma mater.
A member of Cal's Athletic Hall of Fame, Hanifan has plenty of stories to tell about his three-year stint as a starting defensive end and tight end for the Golden Bears. Hinder has heard all about the 1954 season in which his grandfather captained the team and led the nation in receiving. Hinder grew up cheering for Cal, so getting an opportunity to play there was a chance he couldn't pass up.
For as long as his family can remember, Hinder has been obsessed with football. Hanifan says his grandson used to carry a football everywhere he went. "When we went scuba diving in Mexico, I think he brought the football with him," Hanifan says. And when the family took a vacation to Ireland, Hinder had a pigskin tucked under his arm at all times as well.
Once he was old enough to start learning the game's more advanced concepts, Hinder knew exactly where to turn to learn the ins and outs of reading a defense. "Work those safeties -- move them around with your eyes," was just one of many useful tips Hanifan passed on to his grandson.
"He's taught me so much," Hinder says. "He's probably the most influential person in my life."
Thanks to all that tutelage, the game has always seemed to come easy for Hinder. Despite playing in a low classification (Class 3A), he's made the most of every snap and taken advantage of every opportunity that's come his way.
After Hinder's sophomore season, Finch got a call from renowned quarterback coach Steve Clarkson inviting Hinder to a QB camp in California. Considering Clarkson has worked with NFL signal-callers Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Cassel and college up-and-comers Jimmy Clausen and Matt Barkley, it was an easy invitation to accept.
"They had two groups, one for the elite kids and one for the other kids, and Austin was in the second group," Finch recalls. "After the first day, they moved him to the [elite] group. That was the validation he really needed."
With his recruiting stock on the rise, Hinder returned to Steamboat Springs for his junior season to find letters from colleges pouring in. The attention caused Hinder to start forcing throws, and his numbers suffered as a result. After completing 64.1 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions as a sophomore, he completed 51.8 percent of his passes for 11 TDs and seven INTs as a junior.
"Every game I wanted to make some big play," Hinder says. "But I learned you're not going to win games that way."
Hinder ended his junior year on a positive note by committing to Cal in May and carried that momentum into another summer of national exposure. He started at the Steve Clarkson Super Seven quarterback academy in Hawaii and then went to California for the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp.
At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Hinder has the ideal frame for his position and the athleticism to match.
"His ability to make a throw on the move is unlike anything I've ever seen," Finch says. "He's right-handed, but he might be better moving to his left than his right. It's incredibly impressive."
Those kinds of skills are what have allowed Hinder to match throws with prep quarterbacks like Nick Montana, son of Hall of Fame QB Joe Montana. Hinder shared the field with the younger Montana, a senior at Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.), in Hawaii and California over the summer.
"We're really good friends now, which is cool," Hinder says. "He's going to [Washington] next year, which is going to be really exciting."
Then Hinder unleashes some good-natured Pac-10 banter: "He knows he's gonna lose, though. That's the thing."
It's the type of subtle, well-meaning confidence that could have been pulled from one of his grandfather's many stories. And Hanifan thinks his grandson's self-belief is one of the qualities that sets him apart.
"He's confident in his own abilities, but he's not cocky or arrogant," Hanifan says. "He is a very competitive youngster."
When asked about his Super Bowl rings and the prospect of his grandson winning one of his own, or maybe even matching him ring for ring one day, Hanifan laughs, then quickly gets more serious.
"Yes, sir," he says. "I'd love to see that."
Now that would be a story to tell.
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