For Former Alabama DT Rudy Griffin, One Play Still Stands Out in His Mind
When Rudy Griffin decided to take a risk and leave The Citadel in 2003 to transfer to the University of Alabama, little did he know, that two years after the fact, his story would come full circle in unimaginable ways on college football's biggest stage.
After starting two seasons at The Military School of South Carolina, the six foot, almost 300-plus pound defensive lineman knew it was time to move on and chase a lifelong dream of playing for the Crimson Tide.
So, he decided to leave his home near Augusta, Ga., and make the six-hour trek to Tuscaloosa, with game tape in hand to impress coaches and, maybe, earn a spot on the team.
"It was always a dream of mine to play at the University of Alabama," Griffin told the All Things Bama Podcast. "Even when I was in high school, I just was not blessed to get that opportunity then. After my second year at the Citadel, I just felt God was telling me to move, so I had to move."
When Griffin and his family arrived at the football complex, they waited and waited in the lobby until a coach would meet with them.
"Recruiting was way different back then," Griffin said. "I had my VHS tapes with me and I am just hoping that someone will watch them. I was not even on Alabama's radar at the time so they were not expecting me."
Former Alabama Director of Football Operations Randy Ross eventually met with the hopeful, hours later, and took the film, and told him the staff would watch it and get back with him later.
"It is not like I left there with a golden ticket that first time," Griffin said. "It was a whole ordeal."
Fast forward a month or so later, he would get a call that he waited all that time for. A player at the time was not going to be able to make fall camp so a spot of the practice squad opened up for Griffin.
"My road trip ending up paying off," Griffin said laughing.
He would later spend the 2003 campaign as a redshirt year on the practice squad, while not being on scholarship.
"I spent that whole year doing the dirty work," Griffin said. "Getting beat up being on the scout team. Living the whole walk-on life. It was great, too, because I ended up winning scout team player of the week a bunch, but I did not have any money. I had just left a full ride scholarship situation at the Citadel."
Financial strain caused Griffin to pack up his belongings and head back home to figure out the next chapter of his life, but during Christmas break of 2003, he received a phone call from, then coach Mike Shula, who brought the jolliest of news.
"I get a call and it's from a number I did not recognize," Griffin said. "I figure it is from Coach Shula and he just wanted to tell me that he appreciated my hard work, and that he wanted to put me on a full ride. That is not something they normally do for a guy who had only been there for one semester. I had to rely on God to get me through the days I did not think it was going to work out."
Griffin would later become a starter on the 2004 and 2005 Crimson Tide squads that ranked No. 1 in total defense in all of college football. In those two years, he recorded 33 total tackles, two fumbles, and one interception.
His defining moment in a crimson and white jersey came near the end of that 2005 campaign, when an 8-0 Alabama team rolled into Starkville, Miss. and beat Mississippi State, 17-0, thanks to a interception that Griffin returned for a touchdown late in the third quarter to stifle the Bulldogs offense.
Afterwards, he would go on to win SEC Player of the Week.
"Man, that whole 2005 season will stick with me the rest of my life," Griffin said. "But I think about that one play a lot. I really do. That was the game that propelled us to keep that winning streak going. It was so special."
What made the play so special to Griffin was, not only was his family in attendance, but someone else was there who played a pivotal role in his development.
"After the game, I was in the media session and they were telling me I had a visitor," Griffin said. "I was like, 'Man, I do not know anyone here in Starkville.' So, I walk outside and I see my old head coach, Ellis Johnson, who was at the Citadel, when I was there. He was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State at that time.
"We ended up having a nice conversation and he told me that he was proud of me for following my dream. One of the things I remember the most was, not only was it a big play in the game, but it was against my former coach. It was a full-circle moment for me. It was so surreal."
Now, Griffin is in first season as head coach at Bessemer City High School in Bessemer City, Ala, and he is hoping to lead young men to follow their aspirations like he did all those years ago.
"If you have a dream, you have a desire to do something," Griffin said. "Do not let anyone tell you, you can not do something because no matter how hard something looks, just go do it. You only have one shot, and once that is over, you can not get it back."