Shaquem Griffin is the feel-good, break-out story of the 2018 NFL draft because he’s an inspiration to so many for achieving this moment as a football player with one hand. His left hand was amputated when he was 4, but that’s never slowed him down. And now he’s made NFL history!
(Original story posted by USA Today Shaquem Griffin makes history)
ARLINGTON, Texas – It’s not every year when Day 3 of the NFL draft comes with a curtain call.
In fact, it has probably never happened.
Yet it was so fitting on Saturday, when Shaquem Griffin, a fifth-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, chosen 141st overall, strolled across the stage to applause that thundered with a purpose inside cavernous AT&T Stadium.
“That was the most amazing experience in my entire life,” Griffin said. “It was like winning the Peach Bowl all over again. It was nuts.”
No, this time, the final day of the NFL’s selection process was no snooze fest.
That’s a credit to magic and appeal of Griffin, who came and went as the feel-good story of this draft because he’s an inspiration to so many for achieving this moment as a football player with one hand. His left hand was amputated when he was 4, due to amniotic band syndrome.
Call it a disability at your own risk of looking foolish. Having one hand didn’t stop Griffin from blossoming into a star on a Central Florida team that went undefeated. And it hasn’t stopped him now.
Yet to simply hail the significance of a man getting drafted by an NFL team despite a physical disability would be a huge mistake. A disservice. Griffin is a football player. A damned good football.
Now, like the 255 other players selected in this year’s draft, he has a chance to prove it all over again while reunited with his identical twin brother, Shaquill, a cornerback drafted last year in the third round by the Seahawks.
“We’re expecting you to come in here and bust ass,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told Shaquem during the obligatory phone call that ended the suspense.
That’s the type of directive coaches give to football players, not to inspirational symbols.
Carroll knows that his new linebacker, projected to rush from the edge and provide relentless coverage on special teams, means so much to so many people – especially young people who may happen to carry their own challenges due to physical conditions.
He also knows that he’s in the business of winning football games. Griffin has been hired to help.
After the first two days of the draft, spanning the first three rounds, the biggest disappointment in my view was that Griffin wasn’t chosen among the first 100 picks. Yet that disappointment was probably based on sentiment rather than hardcore football.
Draft analysts, including the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, contend that the area of the draft when Griffin went off the board was pretty much about the spot when he should have gone because at 6-0, 227, he’s what scouts call a “tweener” – lacking the prototype dimensions to fit into the box of any specific position.
No matter. Griffin has only been a “tweener” all his life.
Yet there’s no way this kid sells himself short, which is why he’s captivated the football world – and then some – with his amazing journey.
A day before the draft began, when someone asked when he expected to be drafted, Griffin calmly stated, “First round.”
That wasn’t the expected answer, but it spoke volumes. People have always discounted Griffin, and that hasn’t changed with his entry into pro football. He deals with it, embracing the chance to prove doubters wrong. Again.
Reportedly, at least a couple of teams removed Griffin from their boards as unfit to be drafted because he doesn’t have a left hand. Like never mind that he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds and using a prosthetic, put up 20 reps in the 225-pound bench press at the combine.
Doubting him adds fuel. Think he’s got a chip on his shoulder?
“More like a bag of chips on my shoulder,” he said.
As Shaquill put it, his brother isn’t only playing for himself and his family.
“It’s for everybody in the world,” he said.
Even better that Shaquem embraces that idea. He came here as one of the 22 prospects invited to participate in the made-for-TV show that is the draft. Most of the other invitees were on their way to visit their new teams by Friday, while at least one other prospect who wasn’t picked in the first round, was nowhere to be seen on the premises on Day 2.
Yet Griffin stuck it out, staying in the green room throughout the second day, then staying in his hotel as the draft continued on Saturday.
As fate would have it, Griffin was out of position – in the bathroom of his hotel room – when the big call finally came. His brother Shaquill, noticing the 425 area code on an incoming call, burst into the bathroom and demanded that he take the call.
That’s what twin brothers are for.
That’s what twin brothers are for. And how fitting.
This is Shaquill’s story, too. Shaquill is the brother who was highly recruited out of St. Petersburg (Fla.) High, yet turned down eight scholarship offers to schools that would not offer his brother a scholarship, too. They were a package deal.
“As soon as we walked into Coach (George) O’Leary’s office, he said, ‘I’m not offering one a scholarship without offering one to the other,’ “ Shaquill recalled for USA TODAY Sports. “He knew the message. He said it before I could even get the words out of my mouth.”
And look at them now. They are still a package deal, pegged to be roommates again in Seattle.
Shaquill jumped to the NFL a year ago because it took a while before coaches gained confidence in Shaquem’s abilities. He was redshirted as a freshman. After not playing together for the first time in their lives last season, Shaquill told his brother that there was probably a “1% chance” that they would be reunited with the Seahawks.
Shaquem thought otherwise. He considered his brother as his personal “area scout” for the Seahawks, who undoubtedly realize the brother energy at work. Shaquill said that even as Seahawks general manager John Schneider assured him that they loved Shaquem as a prospect and have much respect for the family, he wouldn’t bank on a reunion.
“The draft can be funny,” Shaquill said.
And the wait can be excruciating. Shaquem joked that the one time he walked away from the phone, the phone rang with the news they were waiting for.
In the end, the timing was just right. And the result was so perfect that it warranted the ultimate curtain call.