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A blessing in disguise

Senior defensive back Elijah Griffin reflects on 2018 season and the hit that may have saved his life

Interview by Gregory James, video edited by Stella Shenkman

Gregory James, photo editor

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The Knights football season may have been over after McCallum lost to Hutto in the first round of the 5A-D1 playoffs on Nov.  15 , but for senior defensive back Elijah Griffin a postseason saga was just beginning.

During the 58-7 loss at Hutto Memorial Stadium, Griffin was pursuing Hutto running back Chux Nwabuko when he ran directly into a devastating block by wide receiver DJ Baptist. For several minutes, Griffin lay on the ground stunned by the hit. The play was captured on video by Hutto High School student, Taylor Valdez for FanstandATX, a media account that covers high school sports throughout Austin. In the 24 hours after it was initially posted, the video garnered national attention as football fans and followers debated whether the hit was a dirty play.

While that debate raged on nationwide, Griffin had more important matters to deal with.

This hit was a blessing because right now, if it is cancer, the tumor could be cured, but further on down the road, if I had never been hit like this, I could’ve been 30 and it could of hit and it would have been much worse.”

— Senior Elijah Griffin

Following the hit, he lay motionless on the turf. His game, likely the last of his football career, was finished. As a safety precaution in case Griffin had injured his clavicle or collar bone, trainer Matt Johnson put Griffin in a sling to immobilize those bones. After the game, Griffin went into the hospital knowing he had fractured something. X-rays revealed to doctors that Griffin suffered a broken rib, but they uncovered something else, something entirely unrelated to the football injury: Griffin had a tumor growing in his arm. Doctors told Griffin there was a 50 percent chance that the tumor was cancerous. At this time, Griffin is still awaiting the results from his tests.

Because the injury set into motion a chain of events that led to the discovery of the tumor, the hit, whether it was cheap or vicious, may have actually saved Griffin’s life.

Griffin said he feels blessed, not only because he was not severely injured but because the hospital visit enabled doctors to find a previously undetected health problem.

“I think everyone should get checked out regularly [at the doctor’s] because me being very athletic and very healthy, you’d never think that me out of all people would have cancer but this was my first full body check out,” Griffin said. “This made me realize that everyone should go to the doctor regularly because you never know. … This hit was a blessing because right now, if it is cancer, the tumor could be cured, but further on down the road, if I had never been hit like this, I could’ve been 30 and it could of hit and it would have been much worse.”

When word got out that the questionable hit may have done more harm that good, local media outlets seized on the story as a Thanksgiving tale. The video was again shared by local television station KVUE and The Austin American-Statesman. Griffin has been interviewed several times about the injury that came from this hit and has been in the local media spotlight for the past couple weeks. He said he wasn’t phased much by all of the attention.

“I don’t really think anything of the attention from the media to be honest,” Griffin told The Shield.

But the attention from the video did lead to a sordid chapter in the story: Griffin had to deal with erroneous online rumors that the hit in the video had killed him.

A fake Go Fund Me was set up for the family of a Mississippi football player from Greenville High School in Marion, Miss. The account included pictures and videos of the hit on Griffin making it seem like that Griffin was the Mississippi football player. The real player from Mississippi, Jeremiah Williams, broke both his C1 and his C4 vertebrae in a horrendous football injury and later died at the hospital. Someone–Griffin said he may never know who–used the video of his hit to draw attention to the GoFundMe account.

Grace Nugent
FOCUSED IN: Senior Elijah Griffin listens in on a defensive talk by coach Gammerdinger after a defensive drive. Photo by Grace Nugent.

“I checked Instagram  I was going really viral,” Griffin said. “As I went through the comments and people were saying ‘He’s dead,’ or to ‘Don’t have this on your page because he died.’ At first we [Griffin and his family] thought it was a joke, but we realized that was not a really funny joke because I could have actually gotten really hurt. … I had people texting me if I was the kid in that video, I probably had to text 20-30 people and tell them that yes that was me [in the video], and I didn’t die.”

I probably had to text 20-30 people and tell them that yes that was me [in the video], and I didn’t die.”

— Senior Elijah Griffin

With that matter died down, the story still had another chapter which played out on Monday when Baptist appeared on the Mac campus, along with head coach Brad LaPlante and a KVUE camera crew, to check in on Griffin and to give him a signed No. 3 Hutto jersey bearing all the signatures of the entire Hutto varsity team. For Griffin, the moment represented a example of sportsmanship and respect.

“It was a nice thing for Hutto to go out of their way to give me a jersey and it just shows that football goes further than the field,” Griffin said about the gesture.

Head coach Thomas Gammerdinger concurred.

Lindsey Plotkin
Senior defensive back Elijah Griffin sacks Hutto quarterback Chase Griffin during the Hippos’ 58-7 victory over McCallum in the first round of the 5A-D1 state playoffs at Hutto Memorial Stadium on Nov. 15.

“It’s super classy by him and his staff, his players, you know to come by and do that it just kind of shows you that it’s bigger than the game,” Gammerdinger told KVUE on Monday.

The whole weird series events was quite a wild way for Griffin to end his career as a McCallum Knight and a football player. When Griffin joins the Army next fall, he doesn’t plan to play football.

We all looked out for each other, we all had each others backs, and we all really thought of each other as brothers.”

— Senior Elijah Griffin on the 2018 football season

The senior said he will miss a lot of things about the game, but most of all, he said he will miss the brotherhood he enjoyed with his teammates this season.

“I’m going to miss waking up in the morning early,” Griffin said. “It seems like it sucks, and it does, but you really miss something when you’re not doing it. Waking up with my teammates, working out, running, training really hard, and the team bonding you have with each other. We all looked out for each other, we all had each others backs, and we all really thought of each other as brothers. The brotherhood is what I am going to miss.”

Even though the season was not as long as last year’s season, the best record for McCallum football with a 10-0 regular season, and that also featured a 14-1 record overall and a State semi-final appearance against the eventual champions the College Station Cougars, Griffin still believes that McCallum did better than anyone expected them to do.

The team lost 20 seniors last year and moved up in Divisions to D1 from D2. The team started with two comeback wins against 6A opponents, rival Anderson and nondistrict opponent Lehman. The team finished with a 6-5 record. Griffin even believes the team could have won some of the games that they came close on like their road loss to Leander Glenn 30-26 or their loss to Dripping Springs 37-30 at House Park.

Grace Nugent
HIT STICK: Griffin makes a tackle to stop the Seguin Matadors on 4th down. The Knights would go on to lose the game 66-14 but were able to stop the Matadors on their opening drive of the second half. Photo by Grace Nugent.

While Griffin and his teammates have not doubt there season was a success, there still has been a lot of speculation about the play that led to Griffin’s injury.

He grabbed my shoulder pad and said, ‘I didn’t mean to hit you like that,’ and I said, ‘We’re good, it’s football bro.’”

— Senior Elijah Griffin on his postgame conversation with Hutto WR DJ Baptist

Was it a clean play or not?

By all rules of the game, the hit was legal. But for Griffin, the play was not a clean hit because he was facing 180 degrees opposite the ball carrier, which players are taught not to do.

But despite how he feels about the play, Griffin said he was good with Baptist because of how he has handled the situation, not just with his good will visit and gift on Monday, but even immediately after the game.

“He grabbed my shoulder pad and said, ‘I didn’t mean to hit you like that,’ and I said, ‘We’re good, it’s football bro,'” Griffin said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A blessing in disguise