March 09, 2018
ATLANTIC CITY — It will never leave him. Then again, it shouldn’t.
Shaquem Griffin, the standout linebacker out of the University of Central Florida, often goes back to when he was a seven-year-old playing weight-league football. He heard the opposing coach say that “football is a two-handed player game, not a one-handed player game.”
This was a grown man telling this to a child with a colossal burden on his tiny shoulders.
Griffin only has one hand.
When he was making national headlines bench pressing 225 pounds 20 times at the NFL Combine, when he was tearing down the track for a 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash, when he was ripping through opposing offenses on his way to second-team All-American in 2017, Griffin recalled his youth football days.
Griffin, the younger twin brother by a minute of Seattle Seahawks defensive back Shaquil, was born with amniotic band syndrome, a congenital disorder that constricts the appendages, including fingers and toes. When Shaquem was four years old, his parents decided to have his left hand amputated to alleviate the excruciating pain he felt every day.
It hasn’t stopped him.
On Friday, Shaquem Griffin was honored by the prestigious Maxwell Club with the 2018 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion trophy at the annual awards gala at The Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City. Also receiving awards were Eagles’ head coach Doug Pederson as the NFL’s Coach of the Year; Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz as the NFL Player of the Year; Taron Vincent, former Eagle defensive back Troy Vincent’s son, as the national high school defensive Player of the Year; Penn receiver Justin Watson as the Brian Westbrook Tri-State Collegiate Player; and Delaware Valley University head coach Duke Greco as the Tri-State Coach of the Year.
But for Griffin, who is being projected to be a fifth- or sixth-round NFL Draft pick, the honor carries more value because of all the times as a youth, and even now, when he’s been told he “can’t do it.”
“I’ve been battling that label my whole life,” admitted Griffin, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year in the American Athletic Conference, where Temple plays. “I had grown men telling me, whether I was a five-, six-, seven-, eight-year old, what a kid can and cannot do. That can be tough.
“Other kids could never bully me because of Shaquil, he was like my bodyguard. He never let anyone talk to me or try and bully me. There were a lot of tears growing up," he said. "I deal with it. You live through it. I remember the time when I was seven, and the opposing team’s head coach checked my weight. He said I was over, when I knew that I wasn’t."
Griffin made weight. That’s when the opposing coach said he shouldn't be playing with one hand.
"Once I found that out, I got my first-career interception ever to literally end the game," he said. "That’s when I knew and said to myself, ‘That’s the last time someone will doubt what I can do.’”
The Eagles have a need at linebacker. And Griffin doesn’t mind wearing green.
“Right now, the NFL feedback is all over the place,” said Griffin, who had a formal interview with the Eagles, according to CBSSports.com. “I will say green is a good color for me, I will say that.”
It’s tough to differentiate Shaquil from Shaquem, or Shaq, as most call him. Their NFL Combine numbers are similar, their size and facial features are almost identical and their bond seems unbreakable. Shaquil wasn’t going to accept any scholarship offers unless Shaquem was offered, too.
“I’m definitely proud of Shaquem,” Shaquil Griffin said. “I’m definitely an over-protective brother and I have his back, but I don’t I have to beat up anyone for him today. I will never let anyone or anything ever happen to him. I get a little emotional knowing what he’s done and what he’s accomplished.
“Nothing he does surprises me," he continued. "The emotional ride is where I know he’s come from and where he is today. I want him to get the opportunity to play in the NFL. Whatever team picks him up, they’re going to get someone special, whether it’s the Eagles or the Seattle Seahawks.”
Shaquem Griffin will be introduced by USC long snapper Jake Olson, who made national news this past football season because he is blind.
The Tri-State Player of the Year also caps a great season by Penn’s Justin Watson, who is going to be on a few NFL draft boards next month.
“This has been an incredible experience,” said Watson, who will graduate
from Penn in May with a degree in finance. “Being from Philly, and you hear
about this event all of the time, it’s great to be a part of it. The goal
is something I always had in the back of my mind, probably from my
sophomore year at Penn. It’s great seeing all of the hard work pay off.”