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Shaquem Griffin Making His Combine Invite Count After Inspiring Bench-Press Effort

Shaquem Griffin, the one-handed former UCF star, had hoped to bench press six reps at the NFL combine on Saturday. The result? He did 20.

INDIANAPOLIS — They called it “The Book.” Terry Griffin created it one night in his garage as part of his continuing quest to allow the younger of his twin sons to do all the things his 60-seconds-older brother could. The Book was a contraption Shaquem Griffin could strap to his left arm, which never included a fully grown hand and has ended in a nub since 1999, when a doctor amputated the tissue that would have been Shaquem’s hand a day after the 4-year-old tried to do it himself with a knife in the Griffin kitchen.

The Book had a flat end that allowed Shaquem to balance an Olympic bar. With The Book attached to his arm, he could bench press just like his brother, Shaquill. The Book wasn’t the most elegant solution, though. Shaquem only trusted Shaquill to spot him. Still, with technology crafted in the garage, Shaquem pushed his one-rep bench press max up to 260 pounds as a high-schooler. Back then, he never imagined that one day the nation would watch and cheer as he pushed a bench press bar to the heavens time and again. But that’s exactly what happened Saturday. Working out at the NFL combine after a stellar career at UCF, Shaquem Griffin bench pressed 225 pounds 20 times. 

Before Saturday, the outside linebacker had never done more than 11 reps. But he’d come to Indianapolis to prove any doubters wrong. That group apparently included himself. “My goal was six,” Griffin said. “I think I beat that by a lot. … I didn’t know I had it in me, but it came out today.” As an added bonus, he bested his twin—who competed in last year’s combine before he was selected in the third round by Seattle—by three reps.

When the brothers went to UCF on football scholarships, the Knights’ training staff had a prosthetic made for Shaquem. With the press of a button, a suction cup attached to the end of his left arm. He could then use his right hand to attach a clamp to the weight bar. When he first began using the prosthetic, 20 reps at 225 seemed impossible. “I could barely bench the bar,” he said. “I’m shaking all over the place. The bar is falling. I can’t lift 45 pounds.” But with the right equipment, Shaquem’s strength grew quickly. He also realized how much his father and brother had helped him earlier in life by working to ensure he had a chance to train like everyone else. “I felt like a bodybuilder when my brother was holding The Book,” Shaquem said. “I’m pretty sure [Shaquill] was probably taking weight off and lifting it for me. I was only 169 pounds then, but I felt like I was 300.”

Shaquem weighed in at 227 pounds at the Combine. He said he’s willing to drop weight and play safety, stay the same weight and play strongside linebacker or gain weight to play weakside linebacker, middle linebacker or as a pass-rushing hybrid who occasionally lines up on the line of scrimmage. “I want to be able to show NFL teams that whatever you need help at, I can play it,” Griffin said. “Want me to play kicker or punter? All I need to do is get a good stretch in and warm up my foot.”

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Along with the 40-yard dash and agility drills, Griffin hopes to do linebacker and defensive back drills on Sunday. He said he’ll have to prioritize the linebacker drills because that’s the position most teams would like him to play, but he wants a chance to try the DB drills because he wants to convince teams that he’s fast enough and fluid enough to cover slot receivers as well as tight ends. In the age of nickel-is-base, a linebacker who can cover tight ends and slot receivers can be quite helpful because it allows a defensive coordinator to toggle between nickel and base without substituting and tipping off the opposing quarterback about what might be coming on the next snap. At UCF, Griffin played a hybrid role that required him at various times to play as a traditional Sam linebacker, to cover receivers and to rush the quarterback off the edge. He won the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year award in 2016. Last year, he made 74 tackles and led the Knights in tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (seven). He played his best game in a 34–27 Peach Bowl win against Auburn. He made 12 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Still, Griffin didn’t get a combine invite until the week of the Senior Bowl. When he did, he promised he’d put on a show.

So far, he has. Now he needs to do it again on the field. Given the rush he felt Saturday, Griffin isn’t worried about carrying his momentum into Sunday. “Once I got here, I shot through the roof,” he said. “I don’t know what was going on. I felt like I could just start curling 225. I’m pretty sure that come tomorrow, the adrenaline is going to be going crazy. If I feel this good right now just doing the bench press, I can’t wait to see how I am tomorrow.”

Besides, none of the drills dreamed up by NFL coaches will compare to the drills Terry Griffin put his twins through in the back yard when they were in high school. Just watch.

Shaquem Griffin decided as a child that he’d never let having one hand be an excuse. Saturday, he repeated something he has said often since it became clear he had the talent to play in the NFL. If he can inspire one person facing adversity, and if that person can then inspire someone else facing adversity, eventually thousands of people will get inspired. Griffin inspired thousands—and maybe millions—by himself Saturday. 

Now just imagine what he’ll do this Sunday and in all the fall Sundays to come.