Spartan Mentality 2.0

Lakewood's Shaquem Griffin against Gibbs earlier this season.

Lakewood High School knows a thing or two about putting guys on to the big stage. The Spartans have seen more than a few of their alumni accomplish some pretty amazing things in the college and professional ranks throughout the decades, yet their next crop of potential history-makers have within it some of the most diverse personalities and skill-sets this bay area could possibly want.

There are examples where labels work and are essential functions of our lives. There are generalizations or stereotypes that simply beg to be changed or busted like balloons at a 4-yr olds birthday party. When you see that “L” on the side of the helmet and you hear the band crank up, you know exactly what time it is if you’re even remotely tied-in to the culture of Pinellas County high school football.

The moniker of “Hollywood High” may apply to some aspects of Lakewood, but the winds of change could bring about a paradigm shift in how things get carried out at one of South Pinellas’ most recognized programs.  Those winds could be sparked by a couple of forces; a couple meaning two and in this case meaning twins. I caught up with one half of the Griffin Twins, Shaquem who has no shortage of smiles, opinions and confidence to be his own person even though he shares so much with others.

If you ask him about a particular and rather obvious aspect of his physical composition you might get one of two answers. One will be verbal, while the other will be nothing short of awe-inspiring without a word spoken.  You might also get a surprise out of his response to the label that his football program wears with pride in many cases though; more on that later. For now, the dream of playing football at the next level is inching ever-so-closer.

“Yeah it has been crazy because I wasn’t expecting to get offers or noticed until the end of my senior year, but yes it has seemed like a dream.” said Griffin.  He and his brother Shaquill carry verbal offers from the University of Massachusetts, Akron University and most recently picked up offers from Ball State University as well as Western Kentucky. Shaquill also has an offer from UCF.

There are situations in life thrown at us that cause that really reinforce the theory of “perception is reality” in which we take moments and look at the obstacles as, well obstacles.  We have a tendency to look at something instantly and think to ourselves “no” before we even begin. Okay so not everyone is programmed in that fashion, but Griffin who has born without his left hand could easily sit back and be ‘that guy’.

“I never had problems with kids saying anything not even the coaches. They asked questions, but never took it overboard. Playing with it all my life has been a great experience for me.  I do forget sometimes about it, but I actually have family with the same condition.”

According to the research, the general consensus is there is no known reason for what has caused the anomaly that actually has affected other members of his family.  Some medical circles label it as Syndactyly (which really amounts to an SAT word for “we don’t have a medical diagnosis so we’ll just call it this.”)  Some of the Doc’s I’ve asked about it think the condition is thought to be caused by massive blood clots incurred during the fetal formation of the hands and feet.

Griffin certainly uses the perception is reality theory to its greatest extent when people finally see his hand along with him and his brother getting fired up to take the field.  Even some of the adults have had their doubts; and openly at that.  Although he has been humbled from day one about this hurdle, he and his brother are not lacking in copious amounts of pleasure in proving the naysayers to be foolish. About as foolish as his brother must have felt when he (with two good hands) couldn’t climb trees as effective as Shaquem could.  “Lol, he tried but always fell off.”

I reminded him about this year’s Ignite Combine in which he could be overheard yelling to his brother to come and spot him on the Bench Press since most of the other participants were hesitant to sort out their approach to a guy that’s banging out reps at 185lbs. with only one full hand. As he breaks out in laughter he recalls, “There’s been some funny moments with talking with other coaches. It was one moment when a coach said, [“I heard ‘bout y’all but I don’t think y’all can ball how people say y’all can.”] sooo I just said you’re gonna have to find out then coach!”

Shaquem Griffin (#10) shown with his Twin Brother Shaquill (#3) vs. Gibbs. It's best not to doubt the resolve of these two young men. They plan on playing together in college too.

The boys plan on being a package deal at the collegiate level and are waiting patiently to get the offer that’s sure to come at some point between now and February 1, 2013. “We plan on committing together. We are looking at what’s best for us. Our dream school is Miami, but our options still remain open.”  Of course that Miami offer has not arrived, but doubtful that it’s an “if” situation rather than a “when” for the pair of Spartans.

There’s a parallel between the Griffin’s and the school they represent in my opinion.  They play for a school that’s been built around the “perception” of what the cool kids would call “swag”.  As mentioned in the opening though, the “Hollywood” label that’s been tagged to the team isn’t exactly supported by the entire constituency of Spartan Nation in South St. Petersburg.

The Spartans are 3rd among the teams in the southern part of the county since 2000 in terms of wins and losses, yet that’s only good enough for 8th overall smack dab in the middle of the 16 public schools that compete.  They haven’t won a district championship since 2002. The four years following that 9-3 season, Lakewood was 6-33. Since then, they are 34-20.

“I think the Hollywood High thing is just a little much for our school so I separate myself from that. “

I took the opportunity to ask him about the ongoing dialogue I’ve been having with other representatives from the south county schools and their performances compared with the teams from the north end and in a very sharp, but extremely respectful tone replies with, “I do feel that as a whole the north schools do better than the south schools. The south still seems to have trouble playing together because everyone thinks about themselves instead of the team and that’s even where we (Lakewood) kinda lack is teamwork.”

Griffin isn’t being disingenuous or pointing fingers either, he’s just telling it like it is at this point. “Players from south schools only think about the spotlight. You can’t have kids wanting to play WR when clearly they’re an OL or DL at 230lbs and really short.”

As far as his expectations going into the spring are concerned, he’s only interested in keeping it one day at a time and staying focused on what he can do to get better while serving as the example for leadership whether it’s on or off the field; Lakewood Spartan or not.  “Being able to be an influence and role model for younger kids that say they can’t do something.” Is what he lists as his biggest accomplishment in football thus to this point in his career.

He’s also very quick to answer a fill-in-the-blank set of questions I asked him regarding his teams’ performance on and off the field. His response to my statement that Lakewood will be district champs IF this season is very simple. “They learn to play as a unit,” he says. His answer to the second inquiry is the motto in which he seemingly lives his own life in the face of hype and adversity. When asked about what Lakewood must do to get better he immediately responds with “work hard and stay humbled.”

Something tells me that none of this is hard for either Griffin to achieve and with all hope something that can permeate into the entire Spartan Football Team this offseason.