Pressure, resilience define former Pinnacle star Spencer Rattler’s unconventional journey to NFL draft

Former Pinnacle High School quarterback Spencer Rattler participates in a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in March. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Ever since he was in middle school, Spencer Rattler has felt the hype around his name.

The Phoenix native was highly coveted by high schools in Arizona as his freshman year approached. During his senior year at Pinnacle High School, where Rattler grew into the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the 2019 recruiting class, he starred in the documentary “QB1: Beyond the Lights.” Described as confident and competitive from day one, he set state records during his high school tenure.

He committed to the University of Oklahoma during his sophomore year at Pinnacle High School, following in the cleats of two Heisman winners and one runner-up in coach Lincoln Riley’s offense.

However, with the NFL draft starting Thursday and running through Saturday, Rattler is in unusual territory. Instead of thriving in the spotlight, he’s had to work his way back to relevance following his exit from Oklahoma. Despite the obstacles, Rattler never lost his confidence.

“Not everything’s going to be easy, but I always keep that confidence,” Rattler said in a recent interview with FOX Sports. “I believe I’m one of the top guys in this quarterback class.”

His path certainly hasn’t been easy, and his commitment was put to the test. His confidence is what people will see, but Rattler’s work ethic is what helped him make a name for himself in the first place, those close to him say.

“That kid puts in the work,” Pinnacle coach Dana Zupke said. “He is always training, always trying to perfect his craft.”

Zupke, who first coached Rattler in middle school, said they were forced to start him at quarterback his freshman year. He recounts that Rattler showed all the signs of a great player from the second game of the season.

“We play Saguaro … and they were really aggressive, pressuring him, and he just picked them apart,” Zupke said. “I still to this day have never had a kid that can throw the ball with the velocity and accuracy that Spencer has.”

During his time at Pinnacle, Rattler’s 11,083 career passing yards set the state record, although it has since been passed. He still sits third on the list, and his 116 career passing touchdowns are seventh in state history. Both are the top marks in Arizona 6A conference history.

“It’s not easy to get to that point,” said Mike Giovando, who has been Rattler’s personal quarterback coach for over a decade. “You’re going to have to go through a lot of things to get to the top of that mountain that you want to get to, and Spencer shows all of those traits.”

Despite his standout high school career, it wasn’t without adversity. Rattler was ruled ineligible for the final portion of his senior season at Pinnacle for violating a district code of conduct policy. The ineligibility “haunted” Rattler, Zupke said.

At Pinnacle High School, Spencer Rattler was a consensus No. 1 quarterback in the 2019 recruiting class. (File photo by Ellen O’Brien/Cronkite News)

At Pinnacle High School, Spencer Rattler was a consensus No. 1 quarterback in the 2019 recruiting class. (File photo by Ellen O’Brien/Cronkite News)

Even with the setback, Rattler never lost his signature confidence heading into Oklahoma.

“His confidence is definitely there,” said Rube Oliver, Rattler’s personal trainer. “I don’t think you want to doubt yourself or think that you’re anything less than number one, especially when you are number one.”

To cap off a solid redshirt freshman year in the 2020 season, Rattler led the Sooners to their sixth straight Big 12 Championship with a win over Iowa State and fellow Arizona high school quarterback legend Brock Purdy. Rattler was projected to be the top quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL draft and was the Heisman favorite heading into next season.

But after some inconsistent play in 2021 and some pressure from the coaches and fanbase to uphold the Heisman standard, Riley benched Rattler for five-star freshman Caleb Williams. Rattler entered the transfer portal and committed to South Carolina following the season. In an unfamiliar situation away from the spotlight, Rattler had to prove himself yet again.

“To be able to go to a place like South Carolina, who was really, really excited that he was there, was a great choice,” Giovando said. “I think that was a great move for him.”

Rattler had a connection with South Carolina coach Shane Beamer when he was at Oklahoma, and he found success in two years with Beamer’s squad.

His first year, he led the program to an 8-5 record, including a bowl appearance and back-to-back wins over top-10 ranked Tennessee and Clemson to end the year. Last season, he threw for 19 touchdowns and a career high 3,186 passing yards.

“If I had to guess, Spencer left Oklahoma a little dejected, but also with this chip on his shoulder,” Zupke said. “I think we really saw Spencer’s true colors and the way that he responded … that’s helped him develop and posture him into the position he’s in now.”

Now, as Rattler prepares for the NFL draft, he’s in the opposite situation he was in at Oklahoma. He isn’t considered a top quarterback prospect, but he’s put himself in a much better position than he was following his transfer.

Rattler shined at the Reese’s Senior Bowl in February, winning MVP in a game that also featured former Oregon quarterback Bo Nix. Rattler also turned heads at the recent NFL combine. After steadily climbing draft boards, he is now projected by many as a potential second- or third-round pick. ESPN analyst Field Yates projected Rattler as the No. 76 overall pick to the Denver Broncos in a mock draft in early April.

Giovando, who has been working with Rattler during the pre-draft process, isn’t surprised by his rise.

“You want to be peaking at this time, and that’s where (Rattler’s) at,” Giovando said. “I knew once people got around to him and he was able to showcase all his skills and talents and personality, people were going to like him.”

When Rattler hears his name called, he’ll have the expectations back on him. Few are more well-equipped for the pressure, Zupke said.

“He’s had to deal with this expectation of who he is since he was probably 10 or 11,” Zupke said. “I have no idea what it’s like to be in that kid’s shoes and the pressure of being Spencer Rattler.”

Brevan Branscum(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Brevan Branscum expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism.