The NFL regular season has wrapped up and the 24 teams that missed the playoffs have turned their eyes to the next step – the NFL draft. On January 27th, the NFL’s talent evaluators will travel to the Senior Bowl in Alabama to scout the best college players who are looking for an NFL shot. They will pick the players apart, evaluating their skills and character in an effort to determine who gives their team the best chance to win this year. The team scouts will be asking a question they have not asked before: can someone compete in the NFL with only one hand?
Before his birth, University of Central Florida star linebacker Shaquem Griffins’ ultrasound revealed that a fibrous strand of amniotic membrane had wrapped around his left wrist and would result in severe damage to his hand. Shaquem was born 60 seconds after his twin brother, Shaquill, and his parents vowed to treat both boys the same. They would not allow Shaquem to ever feel sorry for himself. When he was four years old, complications with Shaquem’s hand resulted in a complete amputation. This, however, did not stop him from getting out on the field with his brother. At age 10, their father had the twins in the backyard working out and running football drills. He taught both his sons how to catch and threw passes at his one-handed son just as hard as the other. Looking back on it, Shaquem says, “I took a couple footballs to the face before I learned to catch.”
The Griffin twins were determined to play college football together and searched for a team that wanted them both. Shaquill received twelve Division 1 offers, but, when University of Central Florida head coach George O’Leary said he did not want one boy without the other, the brothers knew they had found the right school. Shaquem struggled in his first three seasons, playing special teams and backup safety while his brother was a star cornerback. Their parents encouraged Shaquem to continue to work hard and to trust that his time would come. In 2015, everything changed. A new linebacker coach, Jovan Dewitt, was brought in to the UCF Knights’ team. Jovan recalls when first watching game tape in preparation for his new job, he didn’t know that Shaquem had only one hand!
He arrived at the Orlando campus with big plans for Shaquem, and Shaquem met all of his expectations. In 2016, Shaquem won the AAC Defensive Player of the Year. In 2017, with his brother leaving university to join the Seattle Seahawks, Shaquem led his team to a 13-0 perfect season. He became only the 7th player to be unanimously selected to the All-AAC Conference Team.
The Senior Bowl is an NFL prospects’ job interview. The players will be asked tough questions about their game and themselves. Their weaknesses will be exposed and they must have an answer. For Shaquem Griffin, the questions have existed at every level of football. How can someone compete with only one hand? The fact that the questions are now coming from the most powerful people in the football world is not about to stop Shaquem from reaching his dreams.