With one look at the quarterback, Jerry Stauffer was immediately transported back to 1985.
That quick release. The easy gait. Even the way the helmet sat high on his head.
“His mannerisms, technique and everything was so much like his father it was almost spooky,” said Stauffer, a now-retired Indiana Football Hall of Fame coach who led Warren Central to state championships in 1984 and ’85. “It was almost eerie when I saw him play.”
Nearly three decades after his father rewrote national high school records as the quarterback at Warren Central, Jeff George Jr. is entrenched as the starter in the same position, at the same school, as his famous father. A senior, he insists he doesn’t feel pressure from the outside, or at home, to live up to the accolades his father achieved in high school, college and a 14-year NFL career.
If there’s any pressure, George Jr. said, it comes from within.
“Obviously my dad was here and he did what he did and achieved what he achieved,” he said. “The 1984-85 state champs set the tone for Warren Central football. That kind of puts pressure on us, but it’s a good pressure. I think it makes me better as a player because I need to prove myself every game and every opportunity I have.
“I’m my own person, but I look at it as a positive more than anything.”
In the mid-1980s, high school football was predominantly a ground-based game. The best teams won by smashing opponents at the line of scrimmage with their run game, maybe mixing a well-timed play-action pass.
That was not the case at Warren Central, where Stauffer had taken a liking to the aerial attack when he took the job in 1973. He and his staff traveled to BYU, Michigan, Tennessee and other college programs to study passing philosophies.
“We always thought the weakest position in high school football was defensive back,” Stauffer said. “That was one of the reasons we wanted to throw. Defensive back is a hard position to teach; wide receiver is not. We were on the cutting edge because there were probably only three or four teams in the state that really threw it a lot. The large majority did not.”
Stauffer was well-aware of George coming up through the system. His son, Eric, played on the same little league football team in sixth grade.
“(George) threw 13 touchdown passes,” Stauffer said. “He was always a little different, a little ahead of everybody else.”
George became the starter as a sophomore and never let go. The Warriors were 36-2 during that span, winning state titles George’s junior and senior seasons, first establishing the program’s reputation as a football power that it still enjoys today.
“Those were some pretty special teams,” George said this week. “Our coaches would travel to different colleges and we’d tweak our offense a little bit every year. They brought a lot of good ideas back.”
In the process, George put up ridiculous numbers. He set national records for touchdowns in a season (45) as a senior and set national career marks for completions (543) and attempts (967). His 8,121 career passing yards set a state record, nearly 2,000 yards ahead of the mark of 6,167 yards set by Ron Moyer of Hamilton Southeastern in 1981.
He was named the national player of the year by Scholastic Coach Magazine and was an ALL-USA selection by USA TODAY. Some considered George as the top recruit in the country.
“This year will be known as the Jeff George-Tony VanZant recruiting class,” recruiting analyst Max Emfinger said in 1986. “Jeff George, for example, probably has the best release of any high school quarterback in history. I don’t think there’s ever been a better high school quarterback. He’s phenomenal.”
George, also a standout in basketball and baseball, was “uncanny at getting the ball from point A to point B,” Stauffer said.
“I was asked a lot about how I developed my release,” George said. “I always thought it was because I played other sports like basketball and baseball. I loved each sport, whichever season it was.”
After an intense recruitment, George picked in-state Purdue over Miami (Fla.) and UCLA. He was thrown into the fire as a freshman starter on a team with no returning skill position players and a weak running game. He passed for 1,217 yards and four touchdowns, but was intercepted 15 times and missed four games with a concussion and fractured lower back.
Purdue finished 3-8 and fired Leon Burtnett and replaced him with Fred Akers. George announced he was headed to Miami, then changed his mind a few months later and enrolled at Illinois.
“No matter how good he was, he shouldn’t have started that first year at Purdue,” Stauffer said. “It was a faster league and things happened so much more quickly.”
George found his stride in two seasons at Illinois and was taken with the No. 1 pick of the 1990 NFL draft by the hometown Indianapolis Colts. His pro career was up and down, a highlight coming in 1999 with the Minnesota Vikings when he replaced Randall Cunningham as the starter and led the team to an 8-2 record and a playoff berth.
“For whatever reason, I really remember Minnesota,” George Jr. said. “I remember the dome and the loud motorcycle. I was little, but I remember that really well.”
Making his own way
George Jr. isn’t the high-profile recruit that his father was, at least not yet. The 6-3, 190-pounder has a gray-shirt offer from Illinois, which means he wouldn’t be on scholarship until the spring following his freshman year.
Other schools, including Indiana, Purdue, Cincinnati, Louisville and SMU, have all said they would like to see more film from his senior season. George Jr. was a part-time starter as a junior at Warren Central after transferring from Brebeuf Jesuit.
Under new coach Jayson West, George Jr. is the starter. In a 21-10 loss to Center Grove in the opener, he was 11-for-20 passing for 87 yards.
“I thought I maybe should have taken a few more shots down the field,” he said. “But the first game, I was trying to get into a rhythm and we hit a lot of short stuff. I probably could have been a little more aggressive with my reads.”
The Warriors try to get on the winning track when they host Cathedral tonight.
George Jr. knew what he was getting into when he transferred to Warren Central. He said the social aspect at smaller Brebeuf wasn’t to his liking.
“Coming here was a good option,” George Jr. said. “We checked into a lot of schools and it seemed right in every aspect.”
George Jr. wears the No. 3 on his jersey like his dad did with Oakland, Minnesota, Washington and Seattle. His father wore No. 12 at Warren Central.
West said George Jr. has the right personality and temperament to handle the pressure of the position and as a legacy.
“We actually talked about that the other day,” West said. “Nobody can really understand that. It’s not something I can help him with or relate to. But he’s so well-adjusted that it’s not an issue. His dad put up Tecmo, Nintendo numbers here. But that’s part of who (Jeff Jr.) is. He’s grown up with that and handles it really well.”
George Sr., 45, talked as recently as three years ago about making an NFL comeback. He said he no longer has those aspirations and admits — George Jr. proudly confirms — that his oldest son now has a better arm.
“I can’t hang with him anymore,” George Sr. said. “The minute I go out there I have to pop in the anti-inflammatory. In your mind, you feel like you’re 20. But I’m passing the torch.”
He and his wife, Teresa, also have a daughter, Jordan, a sophomore at at Brebeuf, Jayden, a seventh-grader at Creekside Middle School. George Sr. says he’s happy to play the role of dad now.
And just dad.
“Sometimes you just have to back off and be parent,” he said. “He hears football every minute of the day and we study it together. I used to tell my parents just to sit up there and relax and everything will be fine. Now I understand that’s not such an easy job.”