University of Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin made history Saturday night as the first one-handed player to be drafted in the NFL. He was selected as a fifth-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, and will play alongside his twin brother, Shaquill, who was drafted by the team last year.
“It was literally like a dream, like I was actually imagining stuff and it just started happening,” Griffin said on a conference call after hearing the big news, according to USA Today. “It was unexplainable. I couldn’t ask for anything in the world than to be with my brother.”
In an open letter to NFL general managers published in The Players’ Tribune in March, Griffin explained how football played a critical role in the brothers’ lives since they were young. He also admitted that his journey to success had not always been easy and at times he wanted to quit.
At 4 years old, Griffin had his left hand amputated, due to a prenatal condition that prevented his fingers from developing. Despite his missing hand, he says his family never allowed him to make excuses for why he couldn’t do something.
Growing up, he says his dad used to train him, Shaquill and their older brother, Andre, in their backyard.
“We had a couple of stacks of cinder blocks with a stick across the top, like a hurdle,” he writes. “And when we would run routes, we would have to jump over the hurdle and do other obstacles mid-route. 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.'”
Griffin says those three words became a motto not only for himself, but for his brothers as well, especially when they wanted to give up.
“I hated those workouts,” he writes. “There were definitely times when I wanted to quit. Sometimes, when my dad threw the ball so hard that it bounced off my chest or it hit me in the face, I would be like, ‘I don’t wanna do this anymore.'”
But Shaquem says his father never let him quit and told him, “You’ll thank me one day.”
“At the time, I didn’t believe him,” he says. “Now, I understand, and I thank him every chance I get, because all that work in the backyard helped me to develop the mentality that I can handle anything — that whatever you come at me with, I can come back at you even harder.”
His training days with his dad have certainly paid off. As a student-athlete at the University of Central Florida, Griffin was named the 2016 American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year. He also served as a captain of the team during its 13-0 season last year.
In the NFL combine in February, Griffin impressed scouts by running a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, according to USA Today. His time was the best of any linebacker since 2003 and it tied him for the ninth best performance of any player in attendance.
In a video released by ESPN, Shaquem celebrated the news of his NFL dreams becoming a reality with close family and friends.
He also took to Twitter to thank his supporters for motivating him throughout his journey, using the hashtag #AgainstAllOdds.
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