Safety Houston Griffith has decided to return to Notre Dame for his senior season after initially entering the transfer portal.
When the 2020 season concluded and we looked forward to the 2021 season the expectation was that Griffith would be a big part of the battle for a starting role at safety. That made his decision to enter the portal a major surprise, and it was obvious his decision was not about playing time.
For Griffith, it was about being at a place that gave him a chance to finally play to his specific skills. Griffith, of course, played all over the field at Notre Dame his first three seasons. He sacrificed what was best for himself for what was best for the team, but with his career getting closer to its completion, it was understandably time for the junior safety to think about his own future, and what was best for him moving forward.
“The reason why I jumped in the transfer portal is I felt like at this point in my college career I needed to play in a defensive scheme that will highlight all of my capabilities and what I can bring to the table to show all the attributes of what I bring,” Griffith told Irish Breakdown. “In the past few seasons I played nickel and corner, and that wasn’t always in my best interest, but I did it for the team. Playing several positions doesn’t always give you a chance to master a position.”
As soon as Griffith entered the portal a number of programs immediately reached out. Georgia and Oklahoma were two programs that made an especially hard push, and the talks with the Bulldogs were quite in-depth.
When Marcus Freeman was hired as the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, he immediately reached out to Griffith and began establishing a connection. Freeman and head coach Brian Kelly both made it very clear they wanted Griffith back in the program. From that moment, Freeman worked hard to establish a rapport with Griffith, and they spoke almost daily.
That connection, and the trust that was quickly established from both a personal and football standpoint, played a major role in Griffith’s decision to return to Notre Dame.
“[Freeman played] a very critical role,” Griffith explained. “I got to know him, I feel like he’s going to put a lot of guys in position to play fast. I feel like as a safety we’re going to be really excited for what Coach Freeman is going to bring to the table.
“We would talk about the positions that he could see me playing, and everything he was saying I could see on tape.”
During his conversations with Freeman it also became clear to Griffith that Notre Dame’s new defensive coordinator had spent plenty of time studying his film, and he showed a clear understanding of what skills he brought to the defense and how he would fit into the new defense.
One thing that wasn’t part of the discussion was any kind of promise of playing time. Griffith did not decide to leave Notre Dame because of a lack of playing time, and he had no conversations with Freeman or Kelly assurances of playing time when considering a return.
“Let’s be clear, competition has never been an issue for me,” Griffith stated. “He told me that things aren’t going to be given, and I don’t want things to be given. That’s how I was brought up, it was always about competing. I look forward to competing with the guys in the room and just going out there and making plays and contributing to the defense.
“You can’t promise anybody a spot,” continued the junior safety. “For me, I just wanted to be able to show what I could bring to the table and the rest will take care of itself. I’m going to work hard every day and be a leader to help get this secondary and this defense ready to go on Saturdays.”
Griffith is just 14 credit hours away from graduating, and the expectation was always that he would stay at Notre Dame through the spring semester and then transfer.
"Why would I walk away from the University of Notre Dame, one of the most respected universities in the world ...." Griffith explained. "I'm so close, why not finish. I've invested so much, and I feel like I want to invest even more and we'll see what happens."
Now, Griffith gets to finish his degree and continue playing football at Notre Dame. He believed playing for Marcus Freeman was the best thing for his future on the field. Griffith will get the opportunity to develop and play in a defense that is built for a player with his skills.
It is clearly a win for Griffith, and it’s also a huge win for Notre Dame, which took major steps towards solidifying the safety position by convincing him to return.
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