One-handed Griffin making impact well before NFL draft
(AP Photo/John Raoux)
By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Annika Emmert and her mom made the short trip south to attend Shaquem Griffin's pro day at UCF.
They grabbed a spot right behind the sideline barricade at the school's steamy, on-campus indoor practice facility.
They watched. They cheered. They waited for Griffin to complete linebacker and defensive back drills, meet with a few NFL scouts and then finish up several rounds of media interviews.
When he was finally done, Griffin stopped to say hello to Emmert and another prosthetic-wearing teen. The reason was obvious.
Emmert, a 13-year-old middle-school student from St. Augustine, has one hand like Griffin. They exchanged pleasantries, talked about his workout, next month's NFL draft and getting ice cream and strawberry sodas.
If Griffin has even close to the impact in the NFL that he's had on Emmert and others with disabilities, he'll be a star.
"Everything he does is just an inspiration to anyone like me," Emmert said. "Basically, it's just amazing what he's done and what he can do."
Tears trickled down Emmert's cheeks a few minutes later as she spoke about kids her age refusing to high-five her nub following soccer matches. And then she beamed thinking about all Griffin has accomplished and everything he has in front of him.
"Even if it's not a big thing, it's always a big thing meeting someone like him that's exactly like you," she said. "It makes your heart pound. It's so amazing."
No one would argue that.
Griffin has been the feel-good story of the NFL draft. A groundswell of support got him an invite to the scouting combine in Indianapolis, where he stunned onlookers by bench-pressing 225 pounds a staggering 20 times with a prosthetic left hand and then covered the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds.
"He's special, man," said UCF cornerback Mike Hughes, widely projected as a first-round pick. "What he's done over the past couple of months, it's just amazing."
Griffin had little left to prove Thursday.
He didn't need to bench. He didn't need to run. He probably didn't need to do anything.
But he did anything and everything asked of him.
The 2017 American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year did the vertical jump, a few agility drills and even worked with defensive backs to show he could break on balls, backpedal and swivel his hips during full stride. He dropped a number of passes, but also made several acrobatic catches.
"If I need to prove anything else, just tell me what I need to do and I'll get it done," Griffin said.
No one should question that at this point.
Griffin was 4 years old when doctors amputated his left hand a day after his mother found him in the kitchen attempting to cut off his jelly-like fingers, which were in scorching pain whenever he touched anything. He was suffering from amniotic band syndrome, a congenital birth defect.
Despite having just one hand, he kept up with his twin brother on and off the field.
His brother, Shaquill Griffin, is now a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks.
Shaquem will join him in the league in a few weeks. He's become so popular that the NFL already extended him an invite to attend the NFL draft in person in Dallas.
"It goes to show that I've been putting a lot of work in and it's paying off now," Griffin said, adding that the draft moment is going to be emotional for his family. "I was a guy who was under the radar and they didn't believe in me at first, but I think they're starting to believe now."
Representatives from 31 of 32 NFL teams were on hand to watch Griffin, Hughes and several more talented teammates Thursday.
Griffin already met privately with Tennessee and New Orleans, and has several workouts lined up over the next few weeks. Although there has been a lot of speculation about where he will play at the next level, Griffin said most teams project him to be a weak-side linebacker.
"All the doubt about him ... You see him out here performing. I don't know why there's doubt," UCF receiver Tre'Quan Smith said. "He obviously can play."
He also can inspire others.
Emmert wants to be a pediatric oncologist, and has no backup plan. Watching Griffin do his thing makes her confident she can do anything she wants.
"Honestly it's just amazing," she said. "I always wanted to do something like that, especially in the future. Not just in football like him because I don't know anything about football. But as long as he's in it, I'm in it, too."
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Updated March 29, 2018