This story is about family. It is about brotherly love and a commitment two little boys made in their bedroom in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Shaquem Griffin was a two-time first-team All-American Athletic Conference linebacker, AAC Defensive Player of the Year, and MVP of the 2018 Peach Bowl.
And he did it all without a left hand.
The first one-handed player ever drafted in the NFL, Griffin is currently in his second season with the Seattle Seahawks. As a rookie, he earned one start at outside linebacker and recorded 11 tackles on the season. In 2019, Griffin has been a standout on special teams.
Griffin declined a disabled parking permit even though he is eligible for one. “It’s not a deformity unless you make it one. You’re not disabled unless you say, ‘I’m disabled.’”
Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin are identical twins. The brothers, who are inseparable, grew up playing baseball, football and running track. At Lakewood High in St. Petersburg, Shaquem competed in discus, shot put and teamed with Shaquill on the 4×100-meter relay. As a senior safety, Shaquem recorded 67 tackles and two interceptions, earning second team All-State honors. He also ranked fifth in the nation in the triple jump and was state champion in the long jump. Not to be outdone, Shaquill made 44 tackles with five touchdowns and finished fourth in the nation in the triple jump.
The Griffin brothers were both declared Tampa Bay Times Track & Field Athlete of the Year. Although the twins received track interest from LSU, Miami, Kansas and Penn, football was their first love.
As eight-year-olds, the Griffin brothers promised they would never leave each other. They agreed to play together in college, marry twins and raise their children in the same house. But that loyalty was tested by the time they got to high school. A highly-touted cornerback, Shaquill was more heavily recruited than his twin brother. He pledged that he would not play for a school that did not offer scholarships to both. Growing up in southern Florida, Shaquill had dreamed of playing for the University of Miami. He turned the Hurricanes down when they came calling for him but not his brother.
Shaquill kept his promise, declining offers from Florida, Florida State, and other high-caliber programs, opting for the University of Central Florida, who also offered Shaquem a scholarship.
Born two minutes after Shaquill July 20, 1995, Shaquem Alphonso Griffin suffered from amniotic band syndrome, a congenital birth defect that occurs in roughly one in 1,200 births. The fingers in his left hand never fully developed, hindering his ability to take part in day-to-day activities as a child. Shaquem spent much of his early childhood in pain. “Everything I touched burned,” recalled Shaquem of his first four years. “I would just wake up crying, screaming,” recalled Griffin. “I thought if I cut off my fingers, they won’t hurt me and I’ll feel better after that. So I went to the kitchen countertop…I got out a knife and I just remember my mom picking me up and taking me back to my room and putting the knife back down.”
Four-year-old Shaquem attempted to use a butcher’s knife to cut off his own hand because of the pain. His parents scheduled an amputation the next day.
Grateful for his parents’ decision, Shaquem was finally allowed to live his life playing sports without pain or fear. He vowed never to let his handicap hold him back. Inspired by Jim Abbott, who pitched the U.S. to a gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics and later threw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees, Griffin had a passion for baseball. But it was football where he excelled.
Terry Griffin raised his boys to persevere. A tough-love tow truck operator, he started them on drills in the family backyard at age five. “I was harder on them than their coaches because I knew what they could do,” said Terry. He didn’t want to give anyone an excuse to dismiss Shaquem. Griffin would throw footballs to his sons while having them jump over makeshift hurdles. Shaquem had to learn to either catch the ball or get hit in the face with it. “He’d throw it hard,” recalled Shaquem. “And every time we dropped it, he would say, “Nothing comes easy.”
After redshirting his freshman year, Shaquem didn’t see much playing time in his first two seasons at UCF. A reserve defensive back, he wanted to quit, but his parents wouldn’t allow it. “I said, your brother sacrificed a lot,” said TangieGriffin, the boys’ mother. “He’s playing. He’s turned down a lot of schools for you. Now, you’re going to have to sacrifice. You’re going to stay there and you’re going to support him.”
Shaquem stayed, continued to work, and became a starting outside linebacker as a junior. He broke his hand before a Week 8 matchup at Houston. Prior to kickoff, he cut off his cast, then went out and made 14 tackles. Griffin recorded two solo sacks and an assist, recovered a fumble and picked off a pass – with no good hands. After leading the conference in sacks as a junior, he was named AAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Nobody was ever going to tell me that I didn’t belong on a football field. And nobody was ever going to tell me that I couldn’t be great.
Griffin helped UCF to a perfect 13-0 record as a senior, culminating with a win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Shaquem ended his college career with 195 tackles [122 solo], 18.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles-for-loss while forcing four fumbles. The 6’0”, 227-pound wrecking ball also made five fumble recoveries and three interceptions.
After playing well in the 2018 Senior Bowl, Shaquem received an invitation to the NFL Combine, where he shined. In addition to setting a record in the 40-yard-dash for a linebacker [4.38], he also strapped a prosthetic hand on his left arm and cranked out 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. That spring, Griffin was selected in the fifth round [141st overall] by the Seahawks, where he was reunited with Shaquille, whom Seattle had drafted in the third round one year earlier. In May 2018, Shaquem Griffin signed a four-year deal worth $2.8 million.
On this date in 2017, Shaquem Griffin was selected as the Senior CLASS Award winner for NCAA Division I football. An acronym for “Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the Senior CLASS Award is chosen by a nationwide vote of D-I football coaches, media and fans. The award focuses on the total student-athlete. Only seniors are eligible, and candidates must show notable achievements in four areas of excellence: classroom, community, character, and competition.