For those who think tight ends are becoming extinct at the high school level, let me introduce you to Decker DeGraaf, who is 6 feet 5, 235 pounds and a senior at Glendora High.
“It’s an awesome time to be a tight end,” he says. “It’s thriving at the upper levels.”
DeGraaf has a point. Travis Kelce of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and George Kittle of the Super Bowl contending San Francisco 49ers are doing their best to promote the position.
Southern California has produced the likes of Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez (Huntington Beach, Chiefs) and Bob Klein (St. Monica, Rams). Rob Gronkowski became so popular with the New England Patriots he parlayed his success into commercials and media exposure.
The rise of spread offenses at the high school level has left the tight end position losing its luster, though. Tight ends at one time were only used for blocking. Now they’re needed for catching passes. And to move on to the next level, you have to be able to do both.
Luckily at Glendora, DeGraaf is at a school where coach Brandon Rohrer says, “We love tight ends. We’re not as athletic as most teams, but those guys are the great equalizer. Decker can do it all — run, block, catch. He’s a tough matchup for a corner.”
DeGraaf entered this week having caught 43 passes for 756 yards and nine touchdowns.
Committed to Washington, DeGraaf enjoys a position that requires someone to be aggressive, versatile and unsympathetic when facing smaller opponents.
“You have to be super smart and know all the run plays and read the coverage and be mentally tough to block someone and run past someone,” he said. “It’s a cool position. I think I enjoy catching touchdowns and running routes more than blocking, but I also love blocking.”
DeGraaf continues to play defensive end, which shows off his athleticism. His most memorable game came last season against South Hills. Glendora fell behind 41-14 in the fourth quarter and won 48-47 in overtime.
“They went for two, ran it to my side and I stuffed it,” he said. “It was awesome. It was so cool.”
DeGraaf’s size presents problems, but don’t smaller defensive backs have an advantage with quickness and by preventing him from getting off the line?
“I haven’t been pressed for a while,” he said. “I’m begging for one to press me.”
It’s a sight to behold when DeGraaf gets the ball and defenders try to tackle him. He carried players into the end zone last month late in the fourth quarter to send a game into overtime against Diamond Ranch.
“As a tight end, you should never get tackled by one person,” he said. “My goal is to make the whole team bring me down.”
There’s another outstanding tight end in Ryner Swanson of Laguna Beach, a Brigham Young commit who also plays defense, surfs and doesn’t let one person bring him down. He leads the team with seven touchdown receptions.
“Just his catch radius is incredible,” Rohrer said of DeGraaf. “He’s so big. He’s got deceiving speed. He gets on a safety so fast and you don’t expect it because of how big he is. He’s a monster in the weight room. I think Washington is getting a great kid.”
Tight ends like to stick together, so keep watch of DeGraaf and Swanson for the future. They’re keeping the position alive and prospering in Southern California.
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