Nov. 22, 2009
by Matt Winkeljohn, Managing Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA
For all the fun he’s had, all the plays he’s made, all the success that he has been a part of, the senior linebacker is glad that he is where he is, but more thankful still that he is still on The Flats at all. Big word there: still.
“All the memories, especially getting ready to play Georgia as a 10-1 team on the brink of a BCS game,” Griffin said during Georgia Tech’s bye week. “I sit back and reminisce about when I was a freshman, running around like my hair was on fire. Seeing all the things I’ve overcome to be here, 11 hours from graduation, it’s a special moment.”
Times are good for the new father, but good gracious that hasn’t always been the case.
His hair was never really on fire, but a sizable scar remains on the left side of Griffin’s head from surgery years ago to address a problem – empyema is the medical name — that still requires medication.
How many college football players have had a craniotomy and returned to the game?
When charting a career arc, the standard template is not Griffin’s — unless you begin with a freshman year spent battling seizures, and later ruined by a shattered leg.
Since he was a child, Griffin has battled a medical condition. Here, he tries to simplify, which he’s pretty good at:
“I had a sinus infection that didn’t drain properly, and instead of going down your throat, it went up,” he explained. “Pressure would build up in my head. I had to have some pus removed like when I was 13. It popped up all of a sudden [as a freshman]. It was causing me to have seizures.
“Then, in the Gator Bowl [at the end of the 2006 season], I broke my leg. It shattered in three places. Everyone dived on my leg instead of the ball. I had to deal with that. I wasn’t even sure my freshman year that football was in my future.”
Yet here is Griffin, closing in on a management degree, married to Ashlyn, a Georgia State student whom he met as a freshman, and the father of a 1-year-old daughter. “I just stayed tough,” he said.
His schedule might seem impossibly difficult to some, especially since his wife is juggling dual majors at State.
But Griffin grinds, wearing a cast for weeks on his broken right wrist.
The Blair, S.C., native played on special teams in ’06 and ’07, and became a starter last season. He benefited under new coach Paul Johnson, whose preaching helped Griffin better see to finish what he started be that a drill, a play, a sprint.
Though a modest 5-feet-11, he parlays quickness, instinct and a foul on-field disposition into being the Jackets’ second-leading leading overall tackler with 60 combined tackles and assists. Only middle linebacker Brad Jefferson (78) has more. Griffin leads the team with 38 solos.
Off the field, the guy doesn’t say a whole lot. He plays pretty loud, though.
The Georgia game will be special, of course, for all six Tech scholarship seniors.
For Griffin, the only senior starter on defense since end Robert Hall suffered a season-ending knee injury in September, his last home game will be his only match-up as a starter against the Bulldogs (he missed last year’s contest with a knee injury).
And sometimes, amid all that swirls about him, he takes a moment.
“I’m just trying to get my body healthy,” he said softly. “When I get a little time to myself, I think back, but not too much. I’ve got everything under control now. I’m blessed.”