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Originally published October 10, 2011 at 8:00 PM | Page modified October 11, 2011 at 4:29 PM

Skyline freshman Riley Griffiths is a film room superstar

Skyline football player Riley Griffiths calls himself "just a nerdy freshman" but the 14-year-old lineman and movie actor has more fans than he can count.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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SAMMAMISH — As the sun set and the stands filled, a chant spread through Skyline High School's student section.

The Spartans were preparing to play Bellevue. It was a rivalry game, a matchup of programs synonymous with success in the state playoffs, so the trumpeting teenagers fit the scene.

This particular chant, though, had nothing to do with the game. It was directed at a freshman who never took the field, a lineman who didn't even put on put on a uniform.

There stood Riley Griffiths, watching pregame preparations as the voices rose behind him.

"Su-per eight. Su-per EIGHT! SU-PER EIGHT!"

At that moment, Griffiths' two lives merged. He was more than a lineman on the freshman team. He was an actor, one of the stars of the summer movie blockbuster, "Super 8."

"It was pretty crazy," said the 14-year-old, sitting in a classroom at Skyline. "I didn't really know how to react to it."

Griffiths has been playing football almost as long as he has been acting — he was in his first play in first grade — so he is used to striking a balance between the two. But chanting fans? That was unexpected.

Now that he has been in his first big Hollywood production, he tries to keep his social life separate from his acting career. When he is at school, he wants to blend. He goes to class and practice, expecting to be treated like any other teenager he passes in the hallways.

"He's very humble," Skyline coach Mat Taylor said. "You would never know that he had been in a Steven Spielberg movie and had a starring role, that's for sure."

Blending in isn't always easy.

"Kids come up to me sometimes and say, 'Hey, are you that kid from 'Super 8'?' " Griffiths said. "It's definitely different, going to school before 'Super 8' and just being normal, and then after, there's a big change."

He manages it well. He has been on movie screens in theaters all over the world as Charles, a "bossy and very production-value crazed" amateur director. "Deep down, he's a softy," Griffiths said of his movie character.

Charles and his friends are filming a movie on a Super 8 camera when they witness a train crash that leads them on a "Goonies"-esque adventure that involves an alien instead of pirate treasure.

Griffiths has been on press junkets to London and Singapore and walked the red carpet. But he doesn't even consider himself the biggest star at his high school. According to Griffiths, that honor goes to junior quarterback Max Browne.

"He's a great quarterback and a great football player," Griffiths said. "I haven't really talked to him much, but he's definitely the biggest. I'm just a nerdy freshman."

When Griffiths was a child, he had a hard time sitting still. That is, until his mother, Anne, took him to see a production of "Peter Pan" when he was 4.

"He sat there for an hour and a half without moving," Anne said. "I realized there was something there that captivated his attention."

In first grade, he played Nick Bottom in a school production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"I just knew I liked it a lot," Griffiths said. "I just continued to do it, because I liked it. I made people laugh, which is my biggest thing."

As his passion for acting grew, so did his love for football.

"I've loved football my whole life," said Griffiths, who started playing football in second grade. "I love it just as much as I love acting."

He grew up in Cedar City, Utah, home to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and participated in several productions there.

When Griffiths was 10, he went to a scouting event in Phoenix. Two years later, he went to another in Orange County, Calif., and, on his 12th birthday, he signed with an agency.

Los Angeles was a seven-hour drive from Cedar City and for one summer Anne drove her son back and forth for acting lessons and auditions.

"We committed, decided as a family," she said. "When you're in southern Utah, you're used to driving everywhere anyway, so it really didn't seem like it was that big of a deal. When I look back on it now, I realize it was a huge deal."

The commitment paid off when Griffiths landed a part in "Super 8." It worked out so well for the family, his younger brother, Jade, was cast in a familiar role — as Griffiths' younger brother.

When Griffiths was cast in the movie, the family had just moved to Sammamish after his father, Brandon, took a job with T-Mobile. Filming took about 3 ½ months and the movie was released June 10. The DVD will be released Nov. 22.

"The one memory I'll never forget was probably the first time I went on set," Griffiths said. "There were probably 200 extras running around. I saw all these big cameras and that was probably the moment I realized, 'Wow, I'm really doing this. This is crazy.' "

However, even on set, Griffiths found football.

One of the movie's stars, Kyle Chandler, played coach Eric Taylor in the TV series "Friday Night Lights," and base camp — where the actors' trailers were located — often doubled as a football field.

"Oh my gosh," Griffiths said. "Our set was probably the biggest football set of any set ever. We played catch all the time and we would have two-hand touch football games. The whole crew would get in on our football games."

It was a close-knit cast.

"He's a great actor," said one of his co-stars, Ryan Lee, who played Cary in the movie. "He's a really good guy, caring for others. He's also really good at sports. We would always challenge each other to push our limits."

After the movie's release, the euphoria of Griffiths' first film was eventually replaced by the excitement of his first fall high-school football practices.

"Football is just an adrenaline rush," Griffiths said. "On the line before the ball is snapped, you're waiting to make a play."

The 6-foot, 186-pound left guard and nose guard put his acting career on hold long enough to get through the season and is now auditioning for projects scheduled to start in the spring.

"He's doing a really nice job on the offensive and defensive lines," Taylor said. "They (the coaches of the freshman team) think he will play for us in the future."

Griffiths plans to continue playing football and acting as long as he can.

"They both give me different feelings, but I'm really competitive," he said.

In addition to acting, Griffiths would like to one day spend some time working behind the camera, just like his character in the movie. While filming, he spent a lot of time at Bad Robot, director J.J. Abrams' production company.

Griffiths admitted he doesn't have a Super 8 camera, but does have the iPhone app.

"It's like the iPhone version of a Super 8 camera," he said.

Actor, director, football player — whatever he tries, Griffiths wants to be the best, mixing his natural gifts with a competitive spirit.

"I'm really passionate about what I do, and I want to be really good at everything I do," he said.

If he ever needs proof he's headed in the right direction, he can take a cue from Skyline's student section.

"Su-per eight. Su-per EIGHT! SU-PER EIGHT!"

Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or mkelley@seattletimes.com

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