Approaching 10,000 career yards passing Pinnacle’s quarterback, Spencer Rattler, is attracting national attention.
Spencer Rattler’s biggest equipment addition this high school football season has been a microphone taped to his midsection.
A five-man camera crew follows him — from his home to Phoenix Pinnacle High School, to the team-meeting rooms, to the practice fields, to the Friday night lights.
It’s the way of the world these days for maybe the most popular high school football player in America, the nation’s No. 1-ranked senior quarterback who has received local media requests to follow and film him this season from ESPN, an Oklahoma outlet and local news outlets.
The Rattler family and Pinnacle have let Netflix’s documentary series, “QB1: Beyond the Lights,” come in to follow Rattler throughout the season.
It’s sort of the “Hard Knocks” of elite high schools quarterbacks in the country. Rattler is part of Season 3, one of three quarterbacks in the nation followed during their last high school season before moving on to Division I college football.
“He loves the QB1 group and the attention the team is getting,” said Mike Rattler, Spencer’s dad. “It is a little much at times. It seems like we had a camera crew around every week since we returned from The Opening.”
That was early July.
Rattler, the Oklahoma commit, left the Dallas Cowboys’ training headquarters in Frisco, Texas, then as the MVP and the top quarterback in the Elite 11, something no Arizona high school quarterback had done before.
The spotlight has been attracted to Rattler since his freshman year, when he opened his varsity football career with a 56-10 loss to Chandler, an inauspicious beginning to what is winding up as a state-record-breaking career.
“I love every single part of it,” Rattler says about being followed by a camera crew all day. “I feel like the attention, all of the looks I’m getting and the team is getting, not just me, but the whole team, makes you want to perform better.
“You see the cameras and you want to put on a show.”
He did that in last week’s home opener against Gilbert Perry, passing for 415 yards and four touchdowns and running for another score in a 59-33 rout.
It catapulted Pinnacle to its first-ever No. 1 football ranking in 6A by azcentral sports, as the Pioneers now try to beat Phoenix Mountain Pointe at home on Friday. Pinnacle has never beaten Mountain Pointe in Rattler’s career.
“Of course everybody is going to say I’m 0-3 against them,” Rattler said. “They’ve been a great team every year. They’ll always be a good team. I just want to do my thing against them and hopefully come out with that ‘dub.”’
Rattler is one of the most popular high school athletes in the country. Yet he might be second in overall popularity to another Pinnacle athlete — basketball standout Nico Mannion, the red head with the big hops who, along with Rattler in the backcourt, led Pinnacle to its first state basketball championship last season.
Mannion, who has reclassified from 2020 to 2019, has 181,000 Instagram followers. Rattler has 33,500 followers. Rattler, however, has a verified Twitter account with close to 14,000 followers. Mannion’s following on Twitter is closing in on 9,000.
Pinnacle football coach Dana Zupke, who has a microphone taped to his body every day by the “QB1” crew, has embraced the national-media frenzy.
“We’re not making it a big deal,” Zupke said. “We’ve got camera crews around us all the time. It’s become second-nature to the kids. The biggest thing is our approach and attitude about it.”
But it can become a bit much, even for Rattler.
“He’s been very comfortable from Day 1 being in the spotlight,” Zupke said. “With the added cameras, he doesn’t seem too fazed by that. I’ve seen just a little bit of annoyance at times when it might be getting to him a little bit. Not the pressure. But more like what a famous person has to deal with with the paparazzi. It’s like, ‘Hey, I want some privacy.’ ‘
Star in making
Local quarterback coach Mike Giovando, who has worked with Rattler since the fifth grade, was asked by a reporter in 2013 about another one of his students — then Pinnacle junior quarterback Brian Lewerke when he volunteered this:
“I’ve got a seventh grader you need to watch for. His name is Spencer Rattler. He’s special. He can really spin it. He might end up being the best quarterback in Arizona history.”
Giovando’s prediction has been about as accurate as one of Rattler’s tight spirals.
“He was not the biggest, strongest guy,” Giovando says today about Rattler (now 6-foot-2, 180 pounds), with whom he still works. “He was not a huge guy. But his arm always had a smooth motion. We helped him learn how to throw with his legs.”
In the sixth grade, Giovando had Rattler working with ninth graders.
“We always tried to challenge him as far as, ‘We are going to train you as if you’re four years older than you are,’ ” Giovando said. “From a throwing standpoint, he could handle it.”
This offseason, Rattler did more film session than any time he has been with Giovando.
“We’d have probably 25 quarterbacks in the room and talk about coverages,” Giovando said. “He started to really learn what he was doing. If you watched him play on Friday, you thought, ‘He really has got this under control.’ He’s going to be hard to stop.
“From a physical standpoint, there’s nobody better. He can make all of the throws. He can get out of trouble when he needs to. He gets the ball out of his hands fast.”
Rattler has 9,635 career passing yards, 97 touchdown passes. The all-time state record for 11-man football is 10,489 yards, set by Tempe’s Emanuel Gant, from 2011-14.
Rattler would become only the second player in 11-man football state history to surpass 10,000 yards passing in a varsity career.
“I always wanted to be in the NFL when I was little,” Rattler said. “But I could see I could do something in the game when I was 7. When I was like 12 or 13 years old, that’s when it really popped out to me.”
‘Going to have haters’
When you’re really good, there will always be someone ready to undercut. Jealousy can run rampant on social media.
But those close to Rattler, who have seen him grow in football, have seen his ability to handle it.
“As a winner, you’re going to have some people not like him,” said Scottsdale Saguaro senior linebacker Hogan Hatten, who, with his twin brother Hayden, has known Rattler since the second grade. “Not putting him on a pedestal, but LeBron James is going to have haters. The Number 1 quarterback is the nation is going to have haters.
“He’s very confident in his abilities. It does make him work harder when he sees something on Instagram that is negative towards him.”
Hayden Hatten, a tight end who was on the receiving end of most of Rattler’s completions last season at Pinnacle before transferring this year to Saguaro, said that he once was arch enemies with Rattler before becoming best friends.
“In the second grade at Wildfire Elementary School, in sports, he was my enemy,” Hayden said. “We would always be on the other team in recess. We were both so competitive. My brother, too. We all wanted to win. We hated each other until sixth grade when we started playing on the same football team.
“He was a huge competitor.”
Both Hatten twins, who have to sit out the first five games this year because of the transfer, are rooting for Rattler and Pinnacle this season.
When they were returning to Saguaro from San Tan Valley Poston Butte on the bus after last week’s win, the Hattens had their iPhones out, watching the stream of the last part of Pinnacle’s win over Perry.
Rattler’s competitive edge comes out everywhere, from wanting more Twitter followers to a mid-week practice preparation for Mountain Pointe – having a friendly duel with junior backup quarterback J.D. Johnson to see who can complete the most touchdown passes from 10 yards out.
“On my grandmother’s grave, he caught that pass!” Rattler demonstratively pleads to one of the Pinnacle coaches who rules an incompletion in the end zone.
The ultimate completion would come in early December at Sun Devil Stadium – a touchdown pass for a state title.
Rattler is up for that challenge, hoping that becomes an exclamation point ending to to his high school journey on “QB1.”
“We have lived by the words, ‘Big-time players step up in big-time games,’ ” Mike Rattler said. “I have told him this since he was 5 years old, and it has struck with him.”
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To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at [email protected] or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.