At the completion of a very successful football and basketball career at Saint Ignatius, the college decision seemed like a no-brainer to Griffin Hanna.
Why not keep the good times rolling at John Carroll University?
The Jesuit school in University Heights is a perfect fit for Hanna. The prominent university offers advantages in location, a great athletics program, a world-renowned business school. And having his sister (Madeline '21) at the school also didn't hurt.
Hanna announced his decision earlier this week. For much of the process, Hanna always figured he would play football in college. After the completion of a solid season with the Football Cats, Hanna decided to hold off on a decision until after basketball season.
In the midst of a solid senior season with first-year head coach Cam Joyce, Hanna began to draw attention from JCU. The Blue Streaks showed lots of interest in having the 6'2" sharpshooter play hoops.
"John Carroll talked to me about playing basketball, and I was interested," Hanna said. "I knew a lot of the guys on the team, such as the Berger brothers. I loved it there. Being close to home, I can still play in front of my friends and relatives."
The similarities between JCU and Saint Ignatius also drew him in.
"It gave me a lot of comfort knowing that the schools are similar," Hanna said. "JCU is very similar to Saint Ignatius, so I knew it would be an easy transition for me."
At the start of his time at Saint Ignatius, playing in college did not seem like a sure thing.
In eighth grade, Hanna suffered a significant injury, tearing his ACL and meniscus. For an eighth-grader, it was a huge blow, particularly for a young kid with a love of sports.
But with help from his parents and friends, Hanna focused on recovering from surgery. Hanna put his heart and soul into healing and recovery. What drove him during this time was his love of Saint Ignatius.
The son of an Ignatian, James '89, Griffin grew up as a huge Wildcats fan. As a kid, Griffin often attended Saint Ignatius basketball and football games with his dad, looking up to the larger than life student-athletes.
"It was my dream to play at Ignatius," Hanna said. "I looked up to everyone on the team. I always knew I wanted to play here. Once I got here, I wanted to be a good role model."
Hanna worked to make his dream a reality.
In the fall of 2017, Hanna earned the starting role on the junior varsity squad. Hanna showcased his impressive skills as a quarterback, with a live arm and quick feet.
As a junior, Hanna competed for a starting role. He ultimately lost the competition but gained some nice experience over the course of the season as the backup. Hanna completed 14-of-27 passes for 155 yards.
Hanna also made the varsity basketball squad. In an injury-shortened campaign, Hanna showed off his nice skills on both offense and defense. Above all, his work ethic and leadership shone through.
Hanna entered training camp as "the guy" at quarterback in 2019. Hanna never relinquished the role, leading the Wildcats as the starter all season. All the while, his coaches marveled at his determination and work ethic.
"His patience was very impressive for a young kid. He was dealt a difficult situation, but he handled it very maturely," said Chuck Kyle '69, the Wildcats' head football coach. "He tried to learn even though he wasn't 100% and couldn't be the athlete he can be. He set the foundation for a wonderful senior year, in football and basketball. It would have been easy to become frustrated and depressed. But he didn't. He realized it was a hurdle in his way and he handled it. I've admired the way Griffin handled it."
Hanna indeed enjoyed a marvelous senior season.
In 10 games, Hanna completed 130-of-248 passes for 2,124 yards and 17 touchdowns. As a team, the Wildcats finished the year at 5-5. But Hanna showcased a strong arm and clear vision all season long. Hanna toughed out minor injuries to lead the Wildcats to some nice wins.
One of those great victories occurred in Week 3 vs. Archbishop Hoban. Trailing by 25 points in the third quarter, 35-10, the Wildcats needed a miracle, and Hanna delivered. The senior signalcaller marched the Wildcats down the field again and again, utilizing the hurry-up offense. In the second half, Hanna called just about all of the plays from the field.
Thanks in part to Hanna's heroics, the Wildcats burst out to a 32-0 run. Hanna tossed a touchdown pass to Alec LaSpina to get things started. He kept the comeback going with a TD strike to James Crosby. Hanna then put Declan Mangan in position for a field goal. Entering the fourth quarter, the Wildcats trailed, 35-27.
In the final stanza, Hanna continued his onslaught, setting the stage for a Jack Welcsh score. Thanks to a reverse on a 2-point conversion, the score was tied at 35-35. After a defensive stop and then a holding call, Hanna & Co. faced 3rd and 19. Hanna went for it all, lofting a 32-yard touchdown pass, the game-winner with 1:45 left.
Hanna finished the game with 270 yards and 4 touchdowns in one of the finest comeback efforts in Saint Ignatius football history.
"By nature, Griffin is a quiet young man. But I witnessed him a number of times get to the huddle and give a clear, direct order as the quarterback. He did that well," Kyle said. "The perfect example is the Hoban game. The whole second half, we went no huddle. Not getting into too many details, the playcalling was basically done by the quarterback. He was schooled in what plays this series to call. But it was a hurry-up, high-tempo game for the whole second half. It's the greatest comeback in the history of Saint Ignatius football. There was no time for kidding around in the huddle. He was totally focused and in command. You can look at the second half and see how his teammates and coaches handed him the reins and said get it done. And he did."
After the conclusion of football season, Hanna immediately went to work for the basketball squad. Under Coach Cam, Hanna thrived.
The 6'2, 180-pound guard/forward provided tons of energy. Always playing all-out, Hanna never allowed a loose ball to sit on the floor. Hanna is the type of guy who'll hustle every play and do anything it takes.
On the year, Hanna provided plenty of spark from behind the arc. The Basketball Cats could consistently count on him for clutch 3-pointers and shots from anywhere on the court. His defense also proved clutch. For the year, Hanna finished with 6.2 points per game and 2.0 rebounds per game. He always looked like he was having fun, particularly with his brother, Emmett.
"John Carroll is getting an unbelievable young man. First and foremost, he's a great student and leader," said Joyce. "He's also a great basketball player who has a very IQ. He's a very good shooter and is tough. He wants to win and is going to compete every day."
Beyond his basketball skills, Hanna is a great leader.
Whatever the locker room needs, Hanna is your guy. Need to buckle down and get to work? Griff will lead the way. Need some comic relief? Just ask Big Griff.
"He always keeps the mood light with his jokes during film, stretching, and in the locker room," said Coach Cam. "We're going to miss his presence next year."
John Carroll will be fortunate to have Hanna next season. Pete Moran, entering his fourth year as the head coach at JCU, will love to have an Ignatius man on the squad. Seniors Ryan and Jimmy Berger '16 played huge roles for the Blue Streaks over the last few seasons.
Many at Saint Ignatius are proud of his choice, as well.
"It's a wonderful choice for Griffin," said Coach Kyle, also a JCU grad. "It's a great education and he's going to play a college sport. JCU wanted him to play football, but he's that type of athlete who can play basketball just as well. With his sister going there, it's a nice family situation. And at the end of the day, he's furthering a Jesuit education, and that's great."
Before he trades the west side for the east side, Hanna reflected on his time at Saint Ignatius and all those who made this possible.
"For both athletics and academics, the relationships are so important," Hanna said. "The people I met and played with during freshman year, I've continued to play with and become friends with. That was huge for me – seeing the same people everyday helped me get through athletics and school. Classmates and teammates who I didn't know before have turned into best friends. I'll always remember my friends and teachers.
"I want to thank my parents. They helped me be where I am today, and my siblings helped to push me. All of my coaches and teachers at Saint Ignatius have been great, too. They helped me grown and develop as a payer, athlete, and man. And lastly, thank you to my friends, who helped me every day at school and pushed me to become the best I could be."