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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Now, football fits him just right
USF lineman Jake Griffin grew up wanting to play for the Braves.
By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 3, 2007
TAMPA - Football was not in Jake Griffin's plans.
Even as a 6-foot-2, 240-pound freshman at Armwood High, Griffin envisioned himself as the next first baseman for the Atlanta Braves. Growing up with grandparents in Atlanta, his love was baseball, his favorite player Chipper Jones.
"I'd always been a baseball player," said Griffin, who went out for football at age 10, only to have the Brandon Cowboys tell his family that at his size, they could only let him play in a league with 15-year-olds.
"My dad didn't want any part of that," he said.
So spring of his freshman year at Armwood, Griffin had a conflict between spring football and a baseball tournament, and Hawks coach Sean Callahan made his pitch.
"I had to talk him into playing football," Callahan said. "He'd go straight from practice to Little League baseball, and I'd say, 'Are you crazy?' You could project him to be a big kid. I told him, 'You're going to be too big to play baseball.'"
So Griffin shifted his focus to football, only to tear the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee as a sophomore. He returned as a starter at offensive guard and a team captain his junior year, leading Armwood to a state title in 2003.
"Winning a state championship was unbelievable," said Griffin, who called USF coach Jim Leavitt from a Knoxville airport to commit to the Bulls after making an official visit to Tennessee. "I was a part of a lot of firsts at Armwood, our first district title, first state championship, and I wanted to do the same thing at USF."
He's making a similar emergence now as a junior, even though he wasn't a starter when the season began. After an injury to center Nick Capogna in the first quarter of the opener against Elon, Griffin stepped in and has become a leader on a banged-up line, a captain trying to get the No. 20 Bulls (6-2, 1-2) back to winning today against Cincinnati after back-to-back losses.
"The thing I notice about Jake is how he's stepped up as a leader on this football team," Leavitt said. "He's taken it upon himself to really be quite a leader on the offensive line. ... He's done a great job, and I'm really proud of him."
USF rotated its captains each week at the start of the season but has settled in with the same four the past month, including Griffin, who has been a captain the past six games.
"He's a natural leader," said USF defensive end Jarriett Buie, who played with him at Armwood. "He had the size and intimidation, but he wanted to work, too. People automatically looked up to him."
Griffin admits his baseball days are behind him - he tried a softball league last year, and it reinforced the idea that football was his sport. His first memory as a lineman was a coach telling him, "You're not going to get to touch the ball," but he remembers a muddy game his first year when he landed on a fumble in a puddle and knew the sport was right for him.
Now 6 feet 4 and 307 pounds, Griffin has always had a lineman's build, but this is his first season as a full-time center. He had never snapped until his second year at USF, when he started working at guard and center. He started the first three games at left guard last season, but as in high school, his sophomore year was lost to injury, sidelined six games by a broken foot.
He is a fitting leader for a line that has worked to overcome injuries, with starting guard Matt Huners yet to play since knee surgery in April and starting tackle Walt Walker expected to miss his second game with a knee injury. Despite missing three starters from opening day, the line held Connecticut's defense to one sack in last week's loss in East Hartford.
"We rotate so many guys in during practice that everybody has worked with everybody," said Griffin, who has consistently graded as one of USF's top linemen. "You just trust the guys next to you and keep plugging along."