PALO ALTO — Andrew Luck stood across the street from Stanford Stadium, where a dozen years ago he reached unimaginable heights.
Back-to-back double-digit wins seasons and Top 10 finishes for the previously woebegone Cardinal. Two Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year awards, a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy each time. Soon to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, leading the Indianapolis Colts on playoff runs.
Luck ascended in the football world on the west side of El Camino Real. He abruptly ended the climb four years ago, retiring at 29, saying he needed to “remove himself from football.”
Now, Luck is back on the field — but on the east side of El Camino Real, helping coach Palo Alto High School.
Luck came in cold but quickly got up to speed.
“The first week he got here, we have our whole playbook and he walks in not knowing any of our plays,” Palo Alto senior quarterback Declan Packer said. “The next day he comes, he knew every single play. It was crazy — he knows everything about football.”
Luck, who turned 34 on Tuesday, moved back to the Bay Area last fall to start a master’s program in Stanford’s school of education. An intensely private person, Luck declined an interview request for this story, but did discuss his desire to coach in one of his very few public comments since his retirement.
“If I were to coach, what would I bring? Well, certainly an experience that’s semi-unique on the scale of football experiences.“ Luck told ESPN for a profile published last December. “I shouldn’t say semi-unique. Completely unique.”
Palo Alto coach Dave DeGeronimo said Luck first reached out via email last fall, but DeGeronimo was focused on the high school football playoffs and didn’t respond. It took a follow-up call from Luck to Palo Alto athletic director Jennifer Crane in April to make the connection.
Former Stanford and NFL quarterback Andrew Luck (kneeling) snaps the ball to Palo Alto High School freshman Justin Fung (12) during a drill at practice on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023 in Palo Alto, California. (Alex Simon/Bay Area News Group)
“I was going to take whatever he could offer,” DeGeronimo said.
Luck is coaching at practices twice a week, and on Monday spent the entire session with Palo Alto’s JV team. He progressed from individual passing drills to working with the quarterbacks and wide receivers on timing routes.
As the practice went on, Luck shifted to helping the scout team defense. The 6-foot-4 Luck stood in the secondary and towered over the freshmen and sophomores, able to oversee everything and help make little corrections.
“It’s great to have someone of that caliber on your staff,” DeGeronimo said. “The kids love it.”
Packer, a senior, helped the Vikings win a Central Coast Section championship last season, completing 58% of his passes for 1,728 yards and 19 touchdowns in 13 games.
He has been even better this year, completing 66% of his passes for 637 yards and seven touchdowns through three games. Luck has played a role in the growth, but he’s not the only former quarterback helping.
Christoph Bono, the star quarterback of Palo Alto’s 2010 state championship team, is helping twice a week, too.
Former Palo Alto High School quarterback Christoph Bono (black shirt) is helping coach twice a week at his alma mater, including at the varsity team’s practice on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023 in Palo Alto, California. (Alex Simon/Bay Area News Group)
Playing for legendary Palo Alto coach Earl Hansen and with future NFL star Davante Adams as one of his receivers, Bono passed for 2,690 yards and 30 touchdowns as the Vikings dominated CCS en route to an Open Division title. The Vikings then beat Centennial-Corona 15-13 in the Division I state championship game.
Bono’s father, former 49ers quarterback Steve Bono, coached for the Vikings before, during and after Christoph’s time there — inspiring his son to do the same.
“He worked with a lot of good quarterbacks who came here,” Christoph Bono said. “That was definitely part of it for me, seeing what he did and how much fun he had doing it, that I wanted to have the opportunity to do it as well.”
Bono is in his second year coaching Packer, who said Bono’s level-headed nature “totally translates to my style of play.”
Even at risk of changing that synergy, it’s not often that you can add a four-time Pro Bowler. When Luck’s offer to help came in, DeGeronimo checked in with Bono— and so did Luck.
“He wanted to make sure he wasn’t stepping on my toes,” Bono said. “I said, ‘You’re Andrew Luck, you’re not stepping on my toes.’”
Palo Alto freshman quarterback Justin Fung wears Luck’s old No. 12, but not as a tribute — he said it was only because No. 2 wasn’t available. He’s barely old enough to remember Luck playing for the Colts, but said Luck has been an immense help with “the small details” of the position.
“I challenge anyone in the CCS to have better quarterback coaches than Palo Alto,” DeGeronimo said. “[Our quarterbacks] are getting a lot of individual attention from two great guys that work well together.”
Those small details go beyond the quarterbacks. From knowing each kid by name, to putting practice pennies on the scout team’s helmets to bringing water to the linemen.
Four years after leaving football for his own good, Luck is back in the sport on his terms – and giving back to the game he loves.
Former Stanford and NFL quarterback Andrew Luck (red Stanford hat) gives a high five to a Palo Alto High School JV football player after a drill at practice on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023 in Palo Alto, California. (Alex Simon/Bay Area News Group)
Former Stanford and NFL quarterback Andrew Luck (gray hoodie) goes into a throwing motion as part of coaching Palo Alto High School’s JV team on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023 in Palo Alto, California. (Alex Simon/Bay Area News Group)
Former Stanford and NFL quarterback Andrew Luck watches over a drill on a knee while helping coach Palo Alto High School’s JV football team on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023 in Palo Alto, California. (Alex Simon/Bay Area News Group)
Former Stanford and NFL quarterback Andrew Luck is helping out twice a week coaching Palo Alto High School’s football teams, including helping coach the JV team on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023 in Palo Alto, California. (Alex Simon/Bay Area News Group)