Nov. 10, 2016
Andy Demetra | Inside the Chart
A safety recording a career high in tackles can be something of a catch-22. On one hand, it’s a commendable achievement. On the other hand, if a safety records that many tackles, it often means the defense had an undesirable day.
Corey Griffin found himself in the middle of that dilemma last Saturday when the strong safety from Tyrone, Ga., logged 12 stops in Georgia Tech’s 48-20 loss to No. 18 North Carolina. But at his weekly radio show Monday, head coach Paul Johnson didn’t hesitate to heap praise on his redshirt junior.
“I grabbed Corey after practice [Monday] and just told him I appreciate how hard he’s playing. He’s making a ton of tackles over here and trying to get everybody lined up and trying to do the right thing,” said Johnson.
“If there’s one guy over there that’s maybe played even better than I expected this year, it’s Corey.”
That compliment may seem incongruous given the Jackets’ recent defensive struggles. Georgia Tech heads to Virginia Tech on Saturday (3:30 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network) having given up 1,195 yards and 83 points over its last two ACC games. But as he wraps up his first season as a starter, Griffin’s resilience and steadiness has stood out to Johnson and his teammates. His 63 tackles currently lead the team.
“I’m not selfish. Whether it’s tackling or whether it’s breaking up a pass or making interceptions — anything I can do to help my team win,” Griffin said.
That resilience has manifested itself in less obvious ways, too. Griffin had every reason to feel snake-bitten after the Clemson game on Sept. 22, when he inadvertently knocked the ball out of cornerback Lance Austin’s hands following an interception in the end zone. The Yellow Jackets fell on it but the Tigers recorded a safety. Or two weeks later, when he dove to cut off a pass against Pitt tight end Scott Orndoff late in the fourth quarter and the Yellow Jackets leading 34-27. The ball tipped off his hands and landed neatly into Orndoff’s, who raced 74 yards for the game-tying score.
Yet there was Griffin after each game — and the North Carolina game, too — not dodging or declining, but dutifully answering questions on our post-game radio broadcast.
“It’s easy for players to be all smiles after a big win or get patted on the back or whatever, but when you have a day like this, it takes some class to show up and talk about it,” remarked Randy Waters, our sideline reporter, on the air.
“Playing this game, you have to have short-term memory,” Griffin said of those moments against Clemson and Pitt. “At the end of the day, I have to tell myself I can’t let that haunt me until next season. I’ve got to step my game up,” he said.
Since the Pitt game, Griffin has averaged nearly 10 tackles per game, with a sack and a fumble recovery mixed in.
Griffin says he attributes that quiet resolve to his experiences growing up. He prefers to stay guarded about it, saying only “moving a lot, family issues,” but he says it taught him how to stay resolute.
“I have to tell myself you have reasons for why you’re doing this. You have reasons for why you’re out here. You’re not just doing this for yourself. You have family members that you’re doing this for. I can’t let those minor plays affect me for the next game,” he said.
It’s a mantra he wears on both his jersey and his bicep. Two weeks after being assigned No. 14 during his redshirt freshman season at Tech, Griffin said he parsed out a meaning in the numerals. The Nos. 1 and 4, he decided, stood for “1 goal 4 a reason.”
“I have one dream for a reason. My dream is to be successful in life, whether it’s the NFL or whatever it might be,” he explained. Underneath his right shoulder pad, the phrase “Dream Chasers” is tattooed on his arm, a reminder of what he pursues daily on The Flats.
Georgia Tech’s defense has had some rocky moments lately. As they look to turn it around against Virginia Tech, Corey Griffin, full of production and purpose, will be ready.