How UCF’s Shaquem Griffin became the biggest story of the NFL combine

The former Lakewood High standout impressed with his bench press, and he ran the fastest 40-yard dash by a linebacker since 2003.
Shaquem Griffin had an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl, but it didn’t earn him an invitation to the NFL combine until Jan. 30. [Associated Press]
Shaquem Griffin had an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl, but it didn’t earn him an invitation to the NFL combine until Jan. 30. [Associated Press]
Published March 5, 2018|Updated March 5, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS — If you watch sports long enough, something will happen that will make you drop your spoon, your jaw and anything else that isn't in an upright and locked position.

That happened over and over this weekend when linebacker Shaquem Griffin kept making himself the biggest story of the NFL scouting combine.

The former UCF and Lakewood High standout has already tackled a challenge greater than anything that can be offered by opposing ball carriers.

Griffin had his left hand amputated when he was 4 because of amniotic band syndrome, a rare prenatal condition that left the hand underdeveloped. This did not prevent him from becoming a two-year starter at UCF; winning the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year award in 2016 with 93 tackles, 11½ sacks and two forced fumbles, and being a captain of the Knights team that went 13-0 last year and declared itself college football's national champion as Division I-A's only unbeaten.

But even an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl didn't earn Griffin an invitation to the combine until Jan. 30.

NFL executives, coaches and scouts are not easily impressed. So it was interesting to see all the doubters with arched eyebrows Saturday when Griffin approached the bench press with a prosthetic he pulled over the lower part of his left arm.

"I got it my freshman year at UCF. I remember we went to go get it fitted for me,'' Griffin said. "When I started lifting weights, I remember I could barely bench the bar. I mean, I'm shaking all over the place, the bar's falling and I'm like, 'I can't lift 45 pounds.' But it just goes to show how much work I put in.''

Griffin pushed a button that snaps the prosthetic around his arm, then locked a clip at the bottom around the bar. How many reps of 225 pounds a player can bench press is the league's standard for his upper-body strength test.

"My goal was six,'' Griffin said, smiling.

He began pumping his arms like pistons, and the crowd started to get revved up. One, two, three, four … it was getting louder. Five, six, seven, eight … the fans began counting out loud. Griffin did 20 reps. The building shook. His total was better than 10 offensive linemen who did the bench press Friday.

Even before he arrived at Indianapolis, Griffin had been trending on social media under the hashtag #agaisntallodds.

"That's just one step closer to everything I need to accomplish,'' Griffin said. "There's going to be a lot more doubters saying what I can't do, and I'm ready to prove them wrong.''

As if his bench press wasn't impressive enough, Sunday brought the 40-yard dash and position workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"If I feel this good (Saturday), I can't wait to see how I am (Sunday),'' Griffin said.

By the time he took his place at the starting line for the 40-yard dash, it seemed as if everyone in the convention center in Indianapolis had gathered around a TV to watch the NFL Network's broadcast of the workout.

On his first attempt, Griffin exploded from the starting line low and hard, covering the 40 yards in an astounding 4.38 seconds. It was the fastest time by a linebacker at the combine since 2003.

This time, Twitter was burning up with video of Griffin's run and testimonials from current and former NFL stars.

"Shaquem Griffin killing it,'' Texans defensive end J.J. Watt posted.

Said Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, "@Shaquemgriffin you are straight balling man! You gon mess around and get the call. Lol "If you ball u get the call" @nflnetwork #GamedayPrime #Truth.''

Griffin wasn't done. One of the most important skills for a linebacker is catching the ball, and Griffin had three interceptions in his college career.

In the pass-defense drill, Griffin looked quick and nimble on his feet, and smooth in his drops. When the ball was thrown in his direction, he caught it.

Griffin is trying to become the first one-handed NFL player in the modern era. He has a twin brother, Shaquill, who didn't have the birth defect and, at 6 feet 3 and 194 pounds, plays cornerback for the Seahawks. Shaquem is 33 pounds heavier and could either be asked to gain a few pounds as a pass rusher or drop some weight and play safety.

Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman said it best:

"If @Shaquemgriffin doesn't get drafted in the first two days, the system is broken,'' he wrote on Twitter. "Productive and performed well at the combine. Played well against high level competition.''

And as always, an inspiration to all.