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Thursday, February 28, 2013
Sense of relief for ESPN 150 TE Griffin

By Sam Khan Jr.

Derrick Griffin
ESPN 150 tight end Derrick Griffin (23), a Miami signee, flashes "The U" hand signal after scoring 31 points for Rosenberg (Texas) Terry High School in an overtime playoff game win over Houston Wheatley High School on Tuesday, Feb. 26.
MISSOURI CITY, Texas -- With the clock showing triple zeroes and the score in his team's favor, Derrick Griffin (Rosenberg, Texas/Terry) began streaking down the court at Buddy Hopson Fieldhouse, removing his jersey top and revealing an ear-to-ear grin in the process. He couldn't contain himself.

After celebrating for several minutes with his teammates and coaches, the Miami signee turned toward the Terry student section and connected his thumbs, with his fingers on both hands pointed skyward, forming the hand signal known as "The U."

It was as jubilant a moment as the dual-sport star has had in some time. For two weeks, Griffin was mired in uncertainty, not knowing where his athletic future lay. An ESPN 150 football prospect, Griffin did not sign with a college on Feb. 6 -- national signing day -- because he did not have a letter of intent to sign.

But on Tuesday, after he turned in a memorable 31-point, 11-rebound performance on the basketball court in a tense, thrilling 78-76 overtime playoff win over Houston Wheatley, such stress had been removed. Just a couple of days removed from a visit to Miami on the heels of his signing with the Hurricanes, the 6-foot-6, 228-pound star's face revealed an almost childlike happiness for living to play at least one more game.

"Senior year, I couldn't go out like that," Griffin said afterward. "I wasn't about to go home tonight, no sir."

There were many reasons for Griffin's jubilance. His competitive juices were flowing because of a meeting with Wheatley exactly three years earlier, when he was a freshman. The Wildcats disposed of Griffin's Rangers 111-87 in the 2009 postseason, ending their basketball season despite a huge effort from Griffin. He was determined not to allow that again.

"This game meant a lot to me," Griffin said. "Freshman year, they came and beat us, and I took that to heart. I felt I had to come out and show myself. I remember that night."

Also, his Wheatley counterpart in the post on Tuesday, center Tavario Miller, is a Texas A&M basketball signee. Griffin long planned to be an Aggie and play both football and basketball, having been committed to A&M for more than a year. But he couldn't sign with the Aggies, because they didn't send him letter of intent due to uncertainty about his ability to qualify academically through the NCAA clearinghouse. Given the size of the Aggies' football signing class and the SEC's annual limits on signing recruits, spots were at a premium. Nevertheless, facing someone who will wear the uniform he once thought he would wear could only help his competitive drive.

"I just think it was a combination of things," Terry basketball coach Michael Jackson said. "[They] had Miller for them, an A&M recruit. There were fans in the stands taunting [Griffin] before the game. It's a big game. I had a feeling he was going to come out and show out and just show how good he really is. He did, and he didn't disappoint.

"Man, he was amazing. You can't get any better than that."

The way he started Tuesday's game -- hitting one 3-pointer after another and scoring 18 first-quarter points -- it was evident that Griffin was playing with a clear mind provided by the security of knowing that if it all works out, he has a Division-I school waiting for him in South Beach.

"It felt good, knowing that I have somewhere to go," Griffin said. "I'm still taking care of grades and everything, working hard."

Derrick Griffin
Derrick Griffin was the top tight end prospect in the Class of 2013.
Griffin, the No. 33 player in the ESPN 150 and the nation's No. 1-ranked tight end, continues to work in the classroom. He recently took the ACT and will take it several more times in the coming months, according to his uncle, Scooter McGowan, and Griffin continues taking prep courses for the test. He made the A-B honor roll in the fall semester and said Tuesday he made A's and B's in his last six-week grading period, so he'll continue to work on raising his grade-point average. The effort he is putting in during his senior year provides hope for his future, regardless of whether he's at Miami or at a junior college in the fall.

The Hurricanes were ready and willing to take a chance that Griffin's hard work in the classroom will pay off. They contacted him in early January, and when he informed them that he was still committed to Texas A&M, the Hurricanes told him they'd be there waiting if that changed. They were, and on Feb. 19 he signed a letter of intent with Miami. His addition vaulted the Hurricanes' recruiting class to 15th in the nation. He'll also have the opportunity to play both football and basketball at Miami.

He visited the campus over the weekend and enjoyed it thoroughly.

"I had fun," Griffin said. "They showed me a lot of love down there. I liked everything: the campus, the weather. I felt good about it."

Griffin expressed gratitude to Texas A&M and its fans for how he was treated throughout the process. While he would have loved to have wound up in College Station, Texas, he's happy to have a new home.

"I want to thank the A&M fans and A&M, period," Griffin said. "They've been there cheering me on the whole time. It wasn't no disrespect or anything. It was hard for me. ... A&M, I've been committed to them since my junior year, before Johnny [Manziel] blew up and everything. It was hard, but I wish them the best of luck."

And Griffin knows his work isn't done yet. On the court, he and his Terry teammates have a date in Katy, Texas, for the Texas Class 4A Region III tournament, which begins Friday. The Rangers need two victories to get to the state tournament in Austin, Texas.

In the classroom, Griffin knows he will have to continue to work to make his South Beach dream come true this fall, and he said he's dedicated to doing that. He's just thankful to be in the position he is now.

"It's a relief," Griffin said. "I can't tell you [how stressful it was]. I thank my uncle, my grandma, everybody who has been there for me the whole time. My coaches, my fans -- I thank everybody for cheering me on the whole way."