Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY Sports
INDIANAPOLIS — Shaquem Griffin knew he could blow it up. Maybe nobody else at the NFL’s scouting combine saw it coming quite like this, but Griffin knew. The Central Florida product blazed to a 4.38-second clocking that was the best among linebackers in the 40-yard dash on Sunday — a day after Griffin, with one hand and a prosthetic device, put up 20 reps in the 225-pound bench press.
Talk about winning the weekend.
Griffin was that guy, and if you haven’t heard his story you need to. Born with a birth defect, his left hand was amputated when he was four years old. Throughout his life, people told him — or didn’t have the nerve to tell him — what they thought he couldn’t or shouldn’t do.
Someone said he shouldn’t play youth football like his twin brother, Shaquill (now a Seattle Seahawks cornerback). And for his first two years at Central Florida he barely saw any action, red-shirted the first year and buried on the bench the next, but explanations for were far and few between.
Shoot, Griffin (6-2, 185) emerged as a spark plug for the only major college team to finish 13-0 last season and two seasons ago was Defensive Player of the Year in the American Athletic Conference, but he still wasn’t even invited to the combine until after the Senior Bowl — which is essentially last-minute stuff on the calendar for the pre-draft process.
And look at him now. Shining. The man you can’t but help to root for as he pursues his dream career.
As he spoke to reporters from a podium for about 15 minutes on Saturday, Griffin was a ball of passion and energy. He grinned and laughed — even at himself when he predicted that when he receives a call from a team during the draft telling him that he’s been selected, he’ll be too emotional to speak — yet also conveyed a serious perspective that tells all of us something about life and the expectations that we place on ourselves and intentional or not, the expectations we have of others.
Griffin does not want your pity. What’s just as evident, though, with his combine performances on top of what the experts conclude about his skill on the field, is that he is not out to be the feel-good story of the NFL draft. Sure, he may be just that. But that theme also diminishes what he is in the football scheme of things. A legitimate prospect
As Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome put it, “He has good tape.”
As in videotape showing a defender so versatile, that he could play linebacker or defensive back, or a combination, in the NFL. In college, he played defensive end, too.
“You need a kicker or a punter?” Griffin asked. “All I need to do is get a good stretch in, and I feel I can kick the ball, too.”
That’s the type of spirit you’ll get with a lot of prospects trying to land in the NFL. Yet in Griffin’s case, he realizes that even while he’s out to prove that he’s a legitimate player, there’s a greater purpose.
That’s why, in addition to his combine performances, he published an open letter to GMs and coaches on The Player’s Tribune that allowed him to express himself about the twists on his journey and declare the added dimension that he represents with his purpose to inspire others.
With that, it seems vital for Griffin to, fair or not, judge himself to a higher standard.
“If we’re doing drills and I drop a ball, it’s, ‘He dropped the ball because he has one hand,’ “ Griffin said. “If anyone else drops the ball, they’re like, ‘It was a bad ball. Maybe he’s not that guy who can catch that well.’ There’s always going to be more questions with everything I do.”
Measuring heart has always been such a tricky X-factor when it comes to evaluating talent. There’s no clock, no scale or tape measure to account for it. Yet somehow, it’s pretty much a given that Griffin is off the charts when it comes to the heart department.
What some may view as a disability or limitation, Griffin has used as a positive current.
“That started with me at a young age,” he said. “I didn’t have to wait until I was in high school or college for me to have tough skin about questions always getting asked about me. Because that started when I first started playing football. So I was able to learn from there.”
And now he’s teaching so many others.