INDIANAPOLIS – Every player at the NFL scouting combine has given some thought to how he will react next month when his phone rings and the voice on the other end informs him that he’s just been drafted.
Most of them will tell you they’ll put on their Joe Cool face and act as if this happens to them every day.
Not Shaquem Griffin.
“When my [twin] brother [Shaquill] got the call that he was drafted [by Seattle in the third round last year], he handled it very well,’’ Shaquem said. “He acted all cool and stuff. But I’m not going to be able to do that.
“I won’t be able to answer the phone and be like, ‘Yeah, all right, coach. I got you.’ I might start crying. I might drop the phone or have to give it to my mom and she’ll have to answer all the questions for me. I’m not going to be able to even speak.’’
If you already know Griffin’s backstory, you understand why the Central Florida linebacker expects to be a little verklempt when he gets the call telling him to report for NFL duty.
Griffin doesn’t have a left hand. A rare prenatal condition prevented the fingers on the hand from fully developing. He had the hand amputated when he was 4.
He got a lot of people verklempt Saturday when, with the aid of a prosthesis on his left arm, he did 20 reps in the 225-pound bench press at the combine. The crowd watching him, which included a number of grizzled NFL scouts and personnel folks, went absolutely bananas.
“I got goose bumps watching him,’’ NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.
Four years ago, Griffin was fitted with a prostethic device for his left arm to use for lifting weights. But he doesn’t use it when he plays football.
When he first used the prosthesis, he said he couldn’t even lift the weight bar.
“I was shaking all over the place and the bar was falling,’’ he said. “It’s amazing to see how far I’ve come, from not being able to bench the bar to throwing up 20 reps at 225 and be able to compete with the best here.’’
The 20 reps were the most he’s ever done. During his precombine training, his personal best was 11. His goal going in: at least six.
“Hearing the crowd got the juices flowing,’’ Griffin said. “I felt it. I didn’t know I had it in me, but it came out today.
“That just puts me one step closer to everything I need to accomplish. There’s going to be a lot more doubters saying what I can’t do, and I’m ready to prove them wrong.’’
Griffin did it again Sunday when he ran the fastest 40-yard dash by a linebacker at the combine – 4.38 seconds. That equaled the 40 time by Shaquill at last year’s combine.
Not bad for a kid who didn’t even get invited to the combine until the week of the Senior Bowl.
“I watched his tape months ago and I was like, wow,’’ Mayock said. “He’s a helluva player. He was really good on tape. This is a legitimate NFL player. Forget about the deformity, or whatever you want to call what he has. He’s an energy-giver.’’
“Energy-giver’’ is Mayockian for someone who raises the level of play around him.
Since he was a kid, people have been looking at the stub on the end of Griffin’s left arm and seeing what he can’t do rather than what he can.
When he was 8 years old, a coach for an opposing youth league football team unsuccessfully tried to keep him out of an important game because of his disability. Claimed somebody with one hand couldn’t play football. Griffin not only played in the game, but had the game-clinching interception.
The only reason Central Florida recruited him was so that it could get its hands on his more highly regarded brother.
When he finally got an opportunity to play two years ago, Shaquem had 11½ sacks and was named the American Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. Last year, he was a first-team all-conference selection after registering seven more sacks and 13½ tackles for losses, and helping lead the Knights to a 13-0 record and a No. 6 national ranking.
In UCF’s 34-27 win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl, Griffin had 12 tackles, 3½ tackles for losses and 1½ sacks.
The 6-2, 227-pound Griffin played a hybrid role in the Knights’ defense, lining up all over the place. He covered tight ends and slot receivers. He blitzed. At the Senior Bowl workouts, he played linebacker, safety and defensive line. He is fast and athletic and instinctive.
“I talked to a few teams and they didn’t think I was going to be able to get much bigger than 227,’’ Griffin said. “I’m getting a better feel [that teams see me] as a WILL [weakside] or SAM [strongside] linebacker, or in a stack, or in a 3-4 where I can be that guy at the line of scrimmage, or be a guy who moves around.
“I’ve had some teams tell me I move like a DB. Well, I’ve been a DB most of my life. I still have the feet for it. I want them to know that I don’t have to be the guy who just rushes the quarterback. [If] you need somebody to cover, I can cover not just tight ends, but slots, too. I’ve got a few interceptions against some slots. I want to show NFL teams that whatever they need help at, I’m the guy.’’
NFL personnel people are saying a lot of nice things about Griffin right now. But the truth is, most of them look at him the same way people have looked at him most of his life: as a guy with one hand.
“A lot of people see somebody who has one hand instead of two and they think it’s different or doesn’t make sense,’’ he said. “They say, ‘Oh, he has one hand; how can he play football?’
“At the end of the day, you have to show what you can do. You can’t set limits on what you can do, whether you have one hand, two hands or 30 hands. Show me what you can do and we’ll go from there.
“So, don’t set limits for me. Because when I wake up in the morning and I brush my teeth and look at myself in the mirror, it’s only me that I see in the mirror. It’s not anybody else. When I look in the mirror, it’s up to me to accomplish what I want out of life.’’
Like his brother, Griffin has second-day talent (second or third round). But he likely won’t get drafted until Day 3, probably in the fifth, sixth or seventh round. Because while he doesn’t set limits on himself, others do.
“I came here [to the combine] to check every box on the list of things people say I can’t do,’’ Griffin said. “I always hold myself to a higher standard because, if we’re doing drills and I drop a ball, it’s, ‘He dropped the ball because he has one hand.’
“Anyone else drops it, it’s, ‘Well, maybe it was a bad ball.’ There are always going to be more questions. Anything that I can do, I’ve got to hold myself to a higher standard because it’s just that important to everybody. On each and every level, I have to prove everybody wrong.’’