Luke Griffin’s phone rang.
He didn’t have to look to find out who was on the other end of the phone. He had been waiting for this call for hours.
Earlier today, the high school student called then Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman. The Griffins had just arrived at the apartment they were vacationing in in Panama City Beach, Florida, when Pittman responded.
Engaged in Georgia since before his sophomore year, Griffin hadn’t spoken to anyone about the UGA for months after suffering his second serious ACL injury. He called that afternoon to find out if he still had a scholarship.
Pittman didn’t know. He promised to speak to Griffin again at 8 o’clock that night with an answer.
Georgia was more than just a school for Griffin. He grew up as a die-hard Bulldog fan in Chatsworth, Georgia, just over an hour north of Athens. When Kirby Smart made him an offer after an invitation-only camp in 2016, he signed up on the spot. Pittman called him that day as well, preventing him from leaving town after camp and summoning him to the team’s offices before meeting Smart.
Now, two years and two debilitating knee injuries later, here’s another call.
Griffin climbed onto the apartment balcony, away from his parents and two younger siblings, and responded. Pittman told him that Georgia was reducing her scholarship offer and that it would be part of the program and in Griffin’s best interests that the lineman starts looking elsewhere.
Griffin returned to the condo in tears.
“I understood where they were coming from,” said her father, Jason. “At the same time, I’m not going to lie, I was pissed off. It wasn’t even really that they did; that’s how they did it, because we went for two years thinking that was where he was going. So we didn’t make any other visits at all. So we ruined his second and first year. We could have visited other colleges, but they let him continue for two years and then decided to tell Luke that he should probably reopen his recruiting. So that’s what really pissed me off so badly, it’s just the way they handled it.
Three years later, Jason and Luke are both recovering. Luke turned the time of the Missouri offensive line’s rotation in late 2020 and early 2021 into a starting role at the end of the season, much of his journey guided by the balcony phone call and the resulting spinoffs.
Football is part of the culture in Chatsworth. Nestled on the northern edge of Georgia, the city has produced Division I leads at a rate disproportionate to its population of less than 5,000. Georgian wide receiver Ladd McConkey was a Griffin teammate at North Murray High, as was East Kentucky quarterback Preston Poag Jr. and Navy fullback Chaisen Buckner. Newly hired Florida coach Billy Napier also spent his childhood at Chatsworth.
Still, Griffin managed to stand out. Whether it was football, baseball or basketball, he was always the biggest kid of all the teams he played with growing up. But that didn’t come at the expense of its agility.
Playing on both offensive and defensive lines, he was also among the fastest of any youth team, despite exceeding the weight limit required to be allowed to carry the ball.
It all – the culture, his own athleticism – led Griffin to one singular goal: to play in the NFL. He had little interest in partying in high school. If he wasn’t on the field or the field, he would watch football – UGA on Saturdays, the Atlanta Falcons on Sundays – or play NCAA football on Xbox with his brother.
“He has a god-given ability, but he always did the most,” said younger brother Seth, “the extra effort, study the parts, know everything and always do the right readings, so there was always something to do. to admire and want to be like because of his abilities, drive and determination to be the best he can be. “
The first knee injury occurred during a basketball game in November of his sophomore year. He grabbed an entry pass and awkwardly turned around. He rehabilitated and was healthy enough to play football the following fall, but the injury robbed him of some of his athleticism. He was heavier and slower on his return and spent much of his junior year regaining the form he was previously in.
When he tore up his other ACL almost exactly a year later, this one while defending a false punt in the last football game of the year, he had a better idea of what he owed. To do. He was on a much stricter diet than before as his ability to train was hampered.
And he always maintained a certain level of comfort in his choice of university. Enlisting as soon as he did was supposed to mean he wouldn’t have to worry about finding the right college for the rest of high school. Georgia offered convenience and stability, not to mention a lifelong dream of playing for the Bulldogs.
So when UGA, for all intents and purposes, withdrew its offer, it left Griffin to scramble. In two years, he hadn’t visited any other school, talked with other coaches, or done anything to plan a scenario where he wouldn’t end up in Athens. He had to start the whole recruiting process from scratch.
As he did with the knee injuries, Griffin took lessons from his first round to the second. Engaging in Georgia immediately after receiving the offer turned out to be a mistake. He wanted to be sure he made the right decision.
There were positives and negatives to this approach. Kentucky offered him this fall, but filled his recruiting class soon after.
Meanwhile, the boost of moving from an engagement to a temporary nomad at college has instilled in Griffin renewed motivation and a sense of urgency on the pitch. His days often included training, followed by team training, followed by Griffin returning to the field on his own to work on speed or footwork.
“He’s always played well, but it’s like, before he got that offer from Georgia, he had some different chip on his shoulder about wanting to get this offer, a different fire that you saw under,” Seth said. “And then he still had a little bit of that fire, but he knew he already had offers and people were already looking at him, and then it went a little bit further.” Once Georgia disengaged, it really drove her crazy. It really upset him and our family.
Missouri came on the scene late.
“I never liked Missouri or never hated Missouri,” Jason said. “It’s so far from Georgia that I never really thought of Missouri.”
Former offensive line coach Brad Davis offered Griffin without seeing him play. One basketball game was enough for him to see that Griffin could move well even after two surgeries. Griffin signed up in December.
Griffin’s experience over the next three years is not uncommon: a freshman season in a red shirt, increased action the following year, natural frustration and difficulties mixed with not having a regular playing time for the first time in a life of playing sports, before experience and opportunities are added to more time on the court.
Griffin was part of the rotation on the offensive line before a late-season injury to Case Cook opened up any more playing time. Griffin had always seen Cook – another product from a small town in Georgia – as a mentor and asked him for advice before Cook’s second game on the sidelines.
“Play with confidence,” Cook told him. “You are a young man. If you’re wrong, ruin it 100%.
The game in question? It was in Georgia. Griffin raced the field he dreamed of playing on that chilly November Saturday, securing his second start of the season in different colors than he had planned.
Jason watched from the stands at Sanford Stadium, surrounded by nearly 20 friends and family.
“I always tell Luke now, if his football career isn’t going anywhere else, I’m tickled and thrilled because not many kids are like Luke,” he said. “Few children recover from two ACL surgeries, one on each knee. Lots of children give up by then. He never did, and he still does everything he would have done before.
Most of Jason’s friends were still wearing Georgia clothes. He understood.