AUBURN, Ala. — While UCF’s high-scoring offense has taken most of the spotlight this season, Auburn football knows the undefeated Knights will have a defensive game-changer at the Peach Bowl.
UCF senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who was named a second-team All-American this month by the American Football Coaches Association, has gotten a lot of attention from the Tigers as they prepare for their matchup on New Year’s Day.
“He flies around,” sophomore receiver Darius Slayton said. “I mean, he’s extremely active, whether he’s rushing the ball or chasing down a running back. He’s a very active player.”
Griffin recorded 62 tackles with a team-high 10 for loss and 5.5 sacks during the regular season for UCF. He also forced and recovered 2 fumbles and made 1 interception.
“I feel like he’s a really good player, like a really, really good player,” sophomore offensive guard Marquel Harrell said. “Salute to him.”
And Griffin has done all of this in what has been an impressive UCF career — he was the AAC’s defensive player of the year in 2016 — with one hand.
Griffin was born with amniotic band syndrome, which caused the fingers on his left hand to become incredibly sensitive to pain. According to John Cherwa of the Los Angeles Times, Griffin tried to cut the fingers off of his hand one night when he was 4 years old. The next day, the hand was amputated.
Griffin excelled in high school alongside his twin brother Shaquill, who now plays cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks. They were a package deal when they signed at UCF. While Shaquill got off to a better start in college and left early for the NFL, Shaquem has become a dominant force at linebacker over time.
Griffin’s inspiring story caught the attention of Auburn players as they gear up for the Peach Bowl.
“When I watch the film on him, it’s like, it’s a blessing to be out here with what God gave me,” Harrell said. “It’s crazy, because he’s out there doing it and dominating the game with his abilities.”
Griffin will most likely join his brother in the NFL next season as one of the top linebackers to come out of the college ranks.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Griffin is “right along those lines” of the best linebackers the Tigers have faced this season in SEC play.
“He’s got a great motor,” Malzahn said. “He attacks the line of scrimmage. He attacks everything. He plays hard. He’s a good tackler. Good at rushing the passer, too. I mean, he’s a complete player.”
Although UCF’s defense surrendered 1,403 yards and 97 points in its last two games, Auburn coaches and players are well aware of the talent the Knights have on that side of the ball.
Griffin is the heartbeat of the Knights defense, and the Tigers are ready for what he’ll bring next Monday in Atlanta.
“As a unit, that group, they run to the ball well,” offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. “I think they’re a fast football team. Obviously they’re very physical. They do a lot of really good things. They’re where they’re supposed to be. They’re undefeated for a reason, because they do a good job and those guys are talented, but [Griffin is] definitely one of their better players, for sure.”
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