High School Football

Rocky Mountain football standout Criner taking the long road home

Rocky Mountain senior safety Calin Criner has a scholarship offer to play for Lamar, an FCS program in Texas where his dad, former Boise State player Mark Criner, coaches linebackers. Criner also has interest from Portland State, Montana, Eastern Washington and Stephen F. Austin, he said.
Rocky Mountain senior safety Calin Criner has a scholarship offer to play for Lamar, an FCS program in Texas where his dad, former Boise State player Mark Criner, coaches linebackers. Criner also has interest from Portland State, Montana, Eastern Washington and Stephen F. Austin, he said. kjones@idahostatesman.com

For all of Calin Criner’s 18 years, his father, Mark Criner, has been a college football coach.

That’s meant a lot of moves for the family, particularly since Calin began high school.

With every move, football has been Calin’s way of fitting in, and it was no different in April when he arrived at Rocky Mountain High.

“It’s kind of a challenge, but at the same time, football makes the transition a lot easier,” Calin said. “You spend so much time with these guys. You get to know them so fast and so quick, it just kind of brings you in.”

That isn’t to say Calin was exactly excited about the idea of attending his third high school in four years when his dad left Eastern Michigan to become the linebackers coach at Lamar in Beaumont, Texas, last spring.

So instead of taking on the unknown in Texas, Calin returned to Idaho, his home from fourth through ninth grade while his dad was the defensive coordinator on Robb Akey’s staff at Idaho. Mark also played linebacker at Boise State from 1987-90, and Calin’s grandfather, Jim Criner, was the head coach of the Broncos’ I-AA national championship team in 1980.

“It was a family decision to come back home. ... Both of my parents grew up here, so we decided it would be best, instead of moving to Texas and restarting, to let me finish where I know people,” Calin said.

When Calin returned to Idaho, he moved in with Rocky Mountain coach Scott Criner, who is his dad’s cousin and best friend. Calin said he grew up referring to him as “Uncle Scott.”

By late May, the Criners were settled in Meridian, with older sister Madison transferring to Boise State and 11-year-old twins Jackson and Brooklyn finally done with the school year in Michigan. Along with mom, Angela, the family comes to all of Calin’s games. His dad has been in town for two games this season.

“Me and Scott are very close, we’re like brothers,” said Mark, whose coaching stops have included Portland State, Cincinnati, Middle Tennessee State and Minnesota. “I knew he would be in good hands.”

While it was hard to leave his teammates at Saline High in Michigan, Calin was happy to learn he was trading one state championship contender for another.

During Calin’s junior year in 2014, Saline advanced to the state championship in Michigan’s largest classification, losing to defending champion Clarkston 33-25. Calin had an interception in the title game and made the all-conference first team at cornerback.

Two weeks ago, Rocky Mountain (8-1) wrapped up its second straight 5A Southern Idaho Conference Pod A regular-season title. The Grizzlies open the state playoffs with a quarterfinal against Lewiston (9-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Brighton Stadium.

“The experience (at state) is nice to have, especially with me being a captain on the team and being a leader,” Calin said. “I kind of have to guide these guys and show them that you can’t be content with any round of the playoffs.”

Calin has started every game at safety for the Grizzlies, and he is tied for first with seven tackles for loss. He ranks second on the team with 46 tackles, and he also has one sack and one interception. As he did at Saline, Calin returns punts and kicks. He has a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 95-yard kick return for a score this season.

Calin plays the game with a crazy, fly-around attitude. He gets to the football and gets there quickly.

Timberline football coach Kirk Copeland

And after some relentless pestering of his “Uncle Scott,” Calin has made his way into the offense, too. His versatility paid dividends while first-team All-Idaho running back Jake Roper was sidelined for three games with a knee injury. Calin, who has taken snaps at wildcat, has 157 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries — an average of 7.1 yards per touch.

“He’s like having a coach on the field. We can talk football,” Scott said. “I can say something to him, and he gets it immediately. Moving him into our offense, he understood formations, shifts, all that stuff. He knew it faster than any kid I’ve coached because he just understood the package.”

Calin’s football IQ is as much a product of exposure as it is heredity.

“From the time he was little, his mom would drop him off and he’d spend time at the (Kibbie) Dome, or wherever I was coaching,” Mark said. “I would be in a meeting with my players and all of a sudden he would pop up from under the table. He’s watched me coach. He’s listened to me in the video room, and he still can’t get enough of it.”

Added Scott: “He’s grown up in a film room. He understands what it really means to study film. He’ll be a college football player. Somebody will be smart and give him a scholarship, and he will play at a very early age because he already has the mentality of a college kid.”

Rachel Roberts: 208-377-6422, @IDS_VarsityX

Playoff games in the Valley on Friday

5A QUARTERFINALS

  • Lewiston at Rocky Mtn., 7 p.m.
  • Capital at Mountain View, 7 p.m.

4A QUARTERFINALS

  • Middleton at Bishop Kelly, 7 p.m.

3A QUARTERFINALS

  • Shelley at Emmett, 6 p.m.
  • Parma at Homedale, 7 p.m.

2A QUARTERFINALS

  • North Fremont at Nampa Christian, 7 p.m.
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