Jill Lee

The Phenomenal Shaquem Griffin

by Jill Lee May 09, 2018 in Football


If you followed the NFL Draft this year, you undoubtedly heard about the one-handed linebacker from UCF who was drafted in the second round by the Seahawks. How can you NOT hear about that? It’s an extremely unique story. And (not to pat ourselves on the back, but…) we knew it was coming.

Last fall when our committee was reviewing Senior CLASS Award nominations for football, they came across one that caused everyone to pause. It was, of course, Shaquem Griffin—a first-team All-ACC star at UCF who was absolutely killing it on the field despite having just one hand.

Being born with amniotic band syndrome, Griffin’s left hand had been amputated when he was 4 years old. But he and his brother, Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin, gravitated toward sports and excelled together in track, baseball and football.

The more the committee learned about Griffin, the more they were in awe. He’d almost not seen much of a spotlight at UCF until Scott Frost came in and discovered in him and underutilized gem. Once given a chance on the field, Shaquem blew everyone away. His first-team all-conference honors turned into a second-team All-America nod as a senior, and with UCF going undefeated and making a case for a share of the national title, Griffin was among the most talked-about (and best) linebackers in the country—doing twice as much with one hand as most in his position could do with two.

But with his Senior CLASS Award nomination, we got to see the bigger picture regarding who this kid really was. Yes, his determination and skill on the field were the dominant storylines, but there was so much more. Griffin was passionate about the community, particularly his hometown of St. Petersburg, Fl., where he and Shaquill had started a track club for kids, which was still running with the help of their parents. During the summers, he would spend four days a week helping train and mentor his track club athletes. Also a nominee for the AFCA Good Work Team, he enjoyed working at the local Boys and Girls Club. He’d volunteer there consistently prior to football season and continue to check in with the kids there throughout the busy fall months. And academically? By the time he was a senior, he’d already graduated with a degree in human communication and was working toward a second major in interdisciplinary studies with a minor in sociology.

No one was surprised when Shaquem Griffin won the Senior CLASS Award at the end of the season. The field of candidates and finalists had been strong, as usual, but Griffin was just…wow. And we all knew his name hadn’t seen the last of its time in the headlines.

Fast forward to this spring and the NFL scouting combine. There Griffin was again, showing his dominance as an athlete, performing 20 reps in the bench press while wearing a prosthesis and running the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds, the fastest time for a linebacker going back to 2006, the first year ESPN Stats & Information began documenting 40 times at the combine. The nation was starting to take real notice of him, if they hadn’t before.

On April 28, 2018, when Griffin was selected by the Seahawks in the draft, it just seemed so perfect. He’d be rejoining his brother and achieving the ultimate football player’s dream of playing in the NFL. And while the story had much left to be told in the summer and upcoming NFL season, it seemed that America had found a new hero in Griffin.

There’s no way we can say “we told you so” to anyone. We didn’t know what would happen with Griffin. All we knew was that he was someone special who would do incredible things—whether that was in football, the community, business or wherever he chose to focus his energy. But what we CAN say is that we’re—just like everyone else who has heard his story—absolutely thrilled for him. We know he’s worked incredibly hard for what he’s achieved, and by all indications, he’s done it the right way. He’s shown himself to be nothing but gracious, humble, sincere and hard-working, and it all has paid off. There’s no kind of hero we’d rather cheer on.

It’s one of the beautiful things about the Senior CLASS Award. While Shaquem Griffin might not win the Heisman Trophy, he certainly deserves recognition for being an incredible, all-around excellent student-athlete. And we couldn’t be happier that we were able to provide some of that recognition. Because by all indication, it’s just the beginning for this amazing kid.