INDIANAPOLIS Shaquem Griffin has sent another message to the NFL. And everyone else who has doubted him.
“Don’t set limits for me.”
Beyond times in the 40-yard-dash and heights of vertical jumps, turns out the NFL combine can also measure the size of a man’s heart.
Griffin, the twin brother of Seattle’s starting cornerback Shaquill and the American Athletic Conference’s player of the year as a linebacker for undefeated Central Florida, did something Saturday no one had ever seen here at the league’s annual scouting combine.
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Using a special prosthetic attached to his left arm to replace the hand he had amputated when he was a kid, Shaquem Griffin did 20 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench-press testing in front of a wowing, roaring audience of NFL scouts and fans inside the Indiana Convention Center.
To get an idea how extraordinary that is: Orlando Brown of Oklahoma entered this week considered as a first-round draft choice as a 360-pound left tackle. He did just 14 reps on the bench press Friday. With twice as many hands as Griffin had grabbing and pushing the bar.
“I felt the energy from everybody. My adrenaline was going through the roof. ... My goal was six (reps). I think I beat that by a lot,” Griffin deadpanned.
“That was the most reps at 225. That was the most, by far.
“Just being able to do that, it was amazing. Hearing the crowd and getting the juices flowing, I felt it. I didn't know I had it in me, but it came out today.”
Griffin said he first used prosthetic technology during his freshman year at UCF.
“We went to go get it fitted for me. And when I started lifting, I could barely bench the bar,” he said. “I mean, I'm shaking all over the place and the bar is falling, and I can't lift 45 pounds.
“But it just goes to show how much work I put in to get to this point. From shaking with the bar...”
His voice trailed off into the memory of the first time his mother, Tangie Griffin, first saw him try a pull-up with the prosthetic.
“My mom saw me do my first pull-up my freshman year. And she's emotional and she started crying,” he said. “She walked out, and I thought, ‘You've got to let her be sometimes.’
“She does that,” Griffin said. “But it's amazing to see how far I came: From not being able to bench the bar to throwing up 20 reps at 225, and able to compete with the best here.”
Griffin has been using his social-media accounts and the hash tag #AgainstAllOdds to chronicle his push into the NFL. That’s what his twin brother used Saturday after Shaquem’s wowing bench press.
After he knocked out his 20, Shaquem was asked if he tied his brother’s total here last year.
“Oh, no,” Shaquem said. “I did more than him in the bench press.
“I think he did, like, three.”
He was joking. Shaquill did 17 reps in the bench at the 2017 combine.
Shaquem kept wowing ‘em on Sunday, too. He ran the 40-yard dash in a zooming 4.38 seconds. It was the fastest time by a linebacker at the combine since 2003.
Last year here Shaquill ran the 40 in...4.38 seconds.
Shaquill is one minute younger than Shaquem. He knows about overcoming odds to make the NFL. He didn’t get an invitation initially to the 2017 combine, then got one and parlayed that into getting selected in the third round of the draft by Seattle.
That’s how the Seahawks already knew Shaquem’s incredible journey to get here as one of 336 prospects on the cusp of entering the league. Just like it did to Shaquill, the NFL originally did not invite Shaquem to this combine. Apparently, an all-league linebacker in a major conference each of the last two seasons and MVP of the Peach Bowl when UCF beat blue-blood program Auburn of the mighty Southeastern Conference on January 1--all while playing with one hand--wasn’t worthy enough.
In late January, Shaquem impressed scouts and everyone with eyes and a heart at the Senior Bowl. He was the all-star game’s practice player of the week.
Then the NFL had a bout of common sense and invited Griffin. He is attempting to be the first player with one hand drafted into the league in the modern era. After he announced he got invited to the combine, congratulations poured in online from throughout the league.
Last year was the first time in their lives Shaquem and Shaquill were separated. Could they be reunited on the Seahawks’ defense this year? Could Seattle draft Griffin’s twin in April?
Seahawks general manager John Schneider sounds as impressed--and wowed--with Shaquem as the rest of us are. The GM invoked the name of one of the most wondrous, impressive men in the history of a sports when talking about Shaquem on Friday.
“I can’t tell you who, but I had somebody tell me they had met John Wooden before and that the feeling they got sitting down with John Wooden for five minutes was the same feeling they got from him.” Schneider said, referring to the legendary UCLA champion basketball coach, thinker, philosopher and motivator. “I haven’t been able to do that personally yet, so I am pretty excited about that.
“He’s a special dude. And I say that because he was at our Jacksonville game (in December, watching his brother play for the Seahawks). I think and everybody made a big effort to make sure that I just didn’t bump into him like violate any National Football league rules.
“So we’ll be sitting down with him this week.”
Griffin was one of the 60 interviews the Seahawks are allowed to have, at 15 minutes each, with prospects here this week.
Seattle has a new defensive coordinator in returning Ken Norton Jr. He was Seattle’s linebackers coach through the 2014 season. And coach Pete Carroll has said since last year he wants to get younger with quality depth behind star linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.
This week is proving again you can’t get much more quality, inside and out, than Shaquem Griffin.
The entire Pacific Northwest might forgive Schneider for every one of his unpopular picks in any of his previous eight drafts combined, for the mistakes the GM admitted this week they’ve made in the draft, if he selects a Griffin brother for the second consecutive year this spring.
Shaquem’s been an inspiration for his twin brother – and vice versa – since Shaquem had to have his left hand amputated when they were 4 years old because of a congenital disorder known as amniotic band syndrome. It occurs in about one out of every 1,200 births. The twins played sports together throughout growing up in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.
Shaquill made it clear to college recruiters, such as from his dream school, Miami, if they wanted him to sign for a scholarship that program would have to sign his twin brother, too.
Then-Central Florida coach George O’Leary was one who said he wanted them both. So the brothers went to UCF. Shaquem redshirted and had one more season there this fall. That turned into a storybook finale while he was separated from Shaquill for one of the only times in their lives. Shaquem’s UCF Knights were the only undefeated team in major college football this past season. They finished 13-0 by beating Auburn in this month’s Peach Bowl. Shaquem starred in that game, too.
Throughout their experience Shaquill realized he and his brother should mentor and motivate kids. That’s why when they were 14 Shaquill and Shaquem began the St. Pete Nitro track team for kids aged 4 to 18. They still have the club in St. Petersburg, their birthplace, though they have surrogates coaching for them now that Shaquill’s starting in Seattle--and Shaquem is on his way to the combine in his quest to join his twin in the NFL.
"I feel like the situations that we have to overcome that me and my brother go through, I felt like I was in a position to try to reach kids," Shaquill Griffin said during his Seahawks rookie season of 2017, when All-Pro Richard Sherman mentored him into the starting cornerback opposite him. "I have my own track team and I have a lot of kids who look up to me and I feel like I found a way to reach out to people. People tend to listen to me, so I feel like it’s easy for me to be a motivational speaker. I always feel like I want to give back. I was just raised that way. I want the team to do that and use this platform to reach everybody that I can."
Maybe Shaquem won’t be a linebacker in the NFL. He said some teams here don’t think he can can weight above his 227 pounds to be an NFL linebacker. Perhaps he’ll be a safety or a hybrid player for tackling out of the secondary.
Whatever. That hardly matters right now.
Just don’t tell him what he’s doing is amazing.
“Nah, I'm not amazed, at all. I know what I can do,” he said. “And the one thing I can do is to go out there and make sure I do it. A lot of people see somebody who has one hand instead of two, and they think it's different or it doesn't make sense--’Oh, he has one hand-how can you play football?’ Well, what if I say, ‘You have two hands, can you 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 two hands or 30 hands. Show me what you can do, and we'll go from there.
“Don't set limits for me,” Griffin said, “because when I wake up in the morning and I brush my teeth and I look at myself in the mirror...it's up to me to accomplish everything I want out of life.”