One hand, twice the heart, zero excuses. Against all odds.
For former UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, there has never been a time that he was not doubted. Two years ago, fans of his own university barely knew him. Today, he is the talk of the 2018 NFL Combine.
As he was launched into the spotlight these last few months, many now know the incredible story of Griffin. He was born with a condition known as amniotic band syndrome, which caused excruciating pain in his left hand, particularly his fingers. At just the age of four after attempting to remove the digits one night himself, Griffin had surgery to remove his left hand. Griffin’s twin brother Shaquill, was right by his side, and continued to be as the two grew up on the football field together.
The Griffins would later both go on to sign and play college football at UCF, but for the first three years, while Shaquill was a starter, Shaquem barely saw the field.
It was not until former UCF coach Scott Frost and his staff came into the picture at the end of the 2015 season, that Shaquem finally got his shot. Griffin had been playing safety the few times he got into the game in previous seasons, but new linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt, saw something different in Griffin. The switch made all the difference.
Come next fall, he started every game and finished 12th in the nation in sacks. He finished the year with 92 tackles, 57 of which were unassisted, and was named the 2016 American Athletic Conference (AAC) Defensive Player of the Year. In the Houston game that year, Griffin even played with a broken right hand, leaving him with zero functioning hands, and he still came up with 14 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery for the Knights.
Despite this success, there were still doubters.
During the 2017 football season, each game the Knights continued to win, more people began to believe in Griffin. Instead of seeing his missing hand, they saw how he worked harder than any other player that stepped on the field. They saw his passion, his belief, his power.
In his final season as a Knight, Griffin dominated on the field, finishing the regular season with 62 tackles, including 10 for loss, 5 1/2 sacks, two forced fumbles and recoveries, one interception and one touchdown.
He was an integral part of the Knights’ perfect 13-0 season, and he put on the performance of a lifetime in the Peach Bowl against Auburn, with 12 tackles, including 1 1/2 sacks, and was named defensive MVP.
But the doubting was not over. Griffin had his eyes set on the NFL, but at first the league was hesitant to even send him an invitation to the 2018 Combine. For weeks, fans, coaches, and even other athletes campaigned on social media for Griffin to get an invite. Eventually he got the call.
Something that has always been difficult for Griffin to do with one hand is the bench press. Over the years he has had a prosthetic developed to help grip the bar and allow him to lift.
When he first started with the prosthetic, he could barely life the 45-pound bar. The combine requires prospects to work reps of 225. When Griffin went into the combine, his maximum at 225 pounds was 11 reps. When it was his turn to bench, he pumped out 20 reps at 225, beating his personal best by nine.
As if that was not impressive enough, Griffin then ran a 4.38 40-yard dash. That time was the fastest by any linebacker since 2003. To put that in perspective, that is also faster than NFL stars like Adrian Peterson, Ezekiel Elliot, and Odell Beckham Jr. ran at their respective combines.
Griffin put on a tremendous show at the combine, and there’s no question that NFL scouts will be eager to see more of him at UCF Pro Day on March 29.
Whatever team is smart enough to draft Shaquem Griffin will have secured themselves a tremendous player.
Remember when people said Griffin would never be able to play football? They said he would never succeed at the college level. They said he was never good enough to get to the NFL combine.
Well, they were wrong.