How Shaquem Griffin became a UCF Fan Favorite
Breshad Perriman had always been my favorite UCF player. Breshad was the best athlete I ever saw suit up for the Knights. He was power, speed, and made the game look easy. Hell Breshad even had one of my favorite plays in college football: the Hail Perriman to beat ECU. The other reason why I liked Breshad was because no matter how good he was or how special he was, Perriman was still overlooked. Not just by the national media, but by UCF fans as well. So I always felt an attachment to Brshad. He would always be my favorite Knight. That was until I watched Shaquem Griffin this year. Of course part of the reason why I fell in love with Shaquem was his story and overcoming obstacles. But it isn't just that, it's his play in the field and brutal honesty off of it. Shaquem has now become my favorite UCF player ever.
Shaquem's story has been told and retold time and time again this year. Authors and interviewees better than I have already given his back story. So I will not do the same. Rather, I want to discuss what Shaquem has become the symbol of: hope. You see, at any point Shaquem could have quit football and given up on his dreams. Yet he stuck with the sport and earned a scholarship to UCF. And here is where Shaquem becomes a cult like figure to UCF fans. Shaquem did not play his first 3 years at UCF. In fact Shaquem was listed as a defensive back and not linebacker. But he did not play. Sure his brother did and Shaquem had to sit and watch. Watch as his brother was on the field for another conference championship and then had to endure a winless season. You see Shaquem should have probably transferred and no one could have blame him. He would have been a very good pick up for any other team. But no Shaquem stayed at UCF. Stayed loyal to a coaching staff that quite frankly wasn't loyal to him. The NCAA wants to talk about the term student athlete: well Shaquem is the embodiment of everything the NCAA wants.
But enough about Shaquem's backstory. As I said, there have been some great stories about that this year. What I want to talk about is Shaquem the player. You see one of the smartest things Erik Chinander and Scott Frost did when they came to UCF was to move Shaquem to linebacker. To be successful, the 3-4 needs athletic, hybrid linebackers. That is exactly what Shaquem is. A linebacker that can not only bring pressure, but can cover as well. You know it's surprising that a so called defensive genius like O'Leary never thought of moving Shaquem to linebacker. So how did Shaquem do at linebacker? Oh just finished with 11.5 sacks which was in the top ten in the country, led the team in tackles for loss, oh and won defensive player of the year in the AAC. In addition he made first team all AAC. If he decides to return for his senior year, he will be an early dark horse pick to win the Butkus award. Oh and this was all done in his first year at the linebacker position.
It's not just the stats that made Shaquem a beloved linebacker at UCF. It is the way that he played. A little ball of hatred and anger. Someone who took all the doubt that others had about him and used it on the field. We have all had that wish to inch someone in the face that we couldn't stand. Take out all the aggression and doubt out in someone. Former UCF linebacker Terrance Plummer was also like this,but Shaquem took this to a whole different level. Well Shaquem's play was the embodiment of that feeling. Just go look at the game against Houston. Shaquem was a man possessed. It was like he was taking that giant chip on his shoulder and ramming it into Greg Ward. Shaquem was the heart and soul of the success of Frost's first year. You know it's ironic that the person who knew UCF and Shaquem the least gave Shaquem his biggest chance. Gave Shaquem the chance to succeed and was rewarded for having the faith.
Shaquem is not intimidated on the field and he sure as he'll isn't intimidated off of it. Shaquem has been open and honest all year long. Not afraid to speak his mind and be blunt. Just look at his segment on College Gameday. Shaquem could have just thanked O'Leary for recruiting him, but instead Shaquem answered questions honestly. Shaquem talked about how he thought he had been taken advantage of and just cast aside because of his disability. When so many people now a days are so scared to speak their mind for fear of saying something wrong, it is refreshing to have a young man be open and honest. One who can talk about a wide range of topics and not shy away from. Shaquem's honesty is like his play in the field: fearless.
Everyone outside of UCF found out the story of Shaquem Griffin this year. Hell even some UCF fans found out about the story. But Shaquem is so much more than that one thing. He is one of the greatest linebackers that UCF has ever had. A player that could have left when he wasn't playing, but decided to stay. A player that became the building block in the UCF turnaround this year. A player that is fearless on and off the field. That is why Shaquem Griffin has become my favorite UCF player to ever put on the black and gold.