ORLANDO — In lieu of a traditional preseason camp, he opted for a preseason cavern: dark, expansive and occasionally frightening.
UCF senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin acknowledges being skittish in those initial nights of solitude inside the Wayne Densch Sports Center, home to Knights football. The final August before his final season, the St. Petersburg native chose to live there; to eat, sleep, study, shower and, occasionally, freak out in the facility.
Sometimes, while lying on his air mattress in the film room, it seemed like a sound was emanating from each of the building’s 44,000 square feet.
"Me being in there that late, I didn’t know how everything was being run and how everything was working," Griffin said. "When the air conditioner came on, I was like, ‘What is that?’ It’s 2 in the morning and you’ve got the air conditioner coming on, it kind of scared me a little bit."
Fortunately for Griffin, his constant companion remained within arm’s reach. Even after his twin brother, Shaquill, bolted for his gig as a Seattle Seahawks cornerback earlier in the year, the other sidekick stayed put.
On those reclusive nights, it kept Griffin soothed, entertained, even engrossed. Film — his beloved film — always has had that effect.
"For me, it was really just watching film," said Griffin, whose 11-0 team plays host to Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game Saturday.
"Put the mattress pad up and blow that up, get my snacks ready to go for the night, lay down and watch film."
One simply doesn’t evolve into a one-handed NFL prospect — as Griffin has done famously. Toughness, courage and a constant motor are essential. Speed is a necessity. So is an unwavering commitment to film study.
Few study it as obsessively as the Griffin siblings. They’ve done it for years.
"The only thing I can remember, and it started in little league, whenever they went into the playoff games they would not come out of the house," said their mother, Tangie Griffin. "They were watching film."
The part about not leaving the house? Tangie’s being literal. In their senior season at Lakewood High, the Spartans played at Robinson in the Class 5A region semifinals on Black Friday, losing 22-19 on a late touchdown pass.
The day before, the Griffin family hosted a Thanksgiving gathering at a local center.
"And they would not even attend," Tangie Griffin said. "They would not go. Stayed in the house for hours."
Track meet or playoff game, Terry Griffin — the boys’ father — was there filming it. Shaquill and Shaquem would then devour it, scrutinizing every triple jump or trips formation.
"Even when we traveled to Daytona for a Thanksgiving dinner, because each year we switched from Daytona to St. Pete, they still wouldn’t even come because it was during the playoff time," Tangie said. "So they were like, in the house for days. After practice, they’d come home and they’re watching film, taking notes."
Back to the Densch Center, where Shaquem Griffin spent the first few nights alone before linebacker Dedrion Bacote-Sweat joined him for the rest of camp.
Griffin, who had his left hand amputated at age 4 after suffering a rare prenatal condition, smuggled in bananas, Powerade, and some Little Debbie snack cakes. Occasionally, the two would stretch or do some light weightlifting. Mostly they remained in the film room.
The payoff has arrived in increments.
Last Friday, Griffin had a team-high nine tackles (and two quarterback hurries) in UCF’s 49-42 win against USF. On Wednesday, he was named first-team All-AAC by league coaches for the second year in a row. On Saturday, he and his teammates can seize the AAC title.
"The most important thing during camp is to get sleep. So I would’ve just as soon Shaquem was sleeping in his house and getting rest the way he should get it," Knights coach Scott Frost said.
"But I didn’t say anything about it because I knew that showed the level of dedication. And if our leaders are willing to dedicate themselves that much, then people are gonna follow."
All the way to history.
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.