University of Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin’s draft stock skyrocketed over the weekend when he delivered a next-level performance at the NFL Combine, a week-long showcase where NFL prospects essentially audition for the upcoming NFL draft. Griffin, whose left hand was amputated when he was four-years-old, ran a 4.38 40-yard dash, the fastest ever recorded by a linebacker. He also knocked down 20 reps on the 225-pound bench press.
Reaching the level to be a professional football player with only one hand is, obviously, no easy task. Last week, Griffin penned a letter for The Players Tribune in which he detailed the many lessons and motivations his father passed down. The letter opened with the first time someone told him he couldn’t play football because of his hand.
After explaining how his father never let him seem like he had a disability, Griffin discussed how his dad went above and beyond to help him work out without any excuses.
“My dad used to build all kinds of contraptions to help me lift weights. We had this one thing — we called it ‘the book,’ and it was basically a piece of wood wrapped up in some cloth that I would hold up against the bar with my left arm when I bench pressed so my arms would be even… And my dad used to work me, Shaquille, and our older brother, Andre, hard…Then my dad would throw us the ball, and he’d throw it hard, right at our chest. And every time we dropped it, he would say, ‘Nothing comes easy.’”
After years of being relegated to the second or third-string lineup in college, Griffin hit an all-time low the summer before his third season. While his other brother Shaquill was invited to stay at UCF and workout with the rest of the football team for the summer, Griffin worked towing cars alongside his father and brother Andre.
“I remember one time, when I was working with my dad, we towed this one guy’s car, and when we dropped it off, the guy pulled a five-dollar bill out of his pocket and went to hand it to me. But before I took it, he pulled it back and ripped it in half. He gave me one half and put the other half back in his pocket. I didn’t know if I was supposed to laugh or if I should have been mad. I just kind of looked at the guy. He looked back at me and said, ‘Keep on working, son. Because nothing comes easy.’”
It was in that moment that Griffin was stopped in his tracks. What the customer had said to him was what his father had been telling him for his whole life, and according to Griffin:
“I think I needed to be reminded of that. Because if sitting in my dorm room alone and watching games on my laptop was a low point, towing cars and cleaning out trash cans in those office cubicles at night was even worse.”
Despite these setbacks, Griffin’s hard work and patience eventually paid off, as the UCF football team stumbled out of the gate the following season, giving Griffin a real shot at the field. Two seasons later, Griffin helped lead the team to an undefeated season.
Now, Griffin said he feels that playing football has never stopped being something he loves but has evolved into something he feels is greater than love. “Purpose” is the word Griffin uses now. And despite the concern he knows most coaches will have in drafting him, he writes that, no matter what, he holds with him his father’e message: nothing comes easy.