Shaquem Griffin made plenty of history at the University of Central Florida, where the fact that he only has one hand did not stop him from making an impact as a linebacker.
Now he’ll get a chance to play on Sundays, as the Seattle Seahawks took Griffin with the 141st overall pick in the fifth round of the NFL draft Saturday.
And what better tribute for a one-handed linebacker than a fan video from a one-armed cheerleader?
— Aggiefanclark (@aggiefanclark) April 28, 2018
“Hi Shaquem! It’s Julianna. I loved watching you play football in college, and I can’t wait to cheer you on in the NFL. Good luck!” she said in a video posted Saturday morning on Twitter, before performing an impressive one-armed cartwheel.
The girl, Julianna Linton of Houston, got a bionic arm created by Limbitless Solutions with help from UCF.
That, in turn, turned Linton and her parents into fans of the Knights.
The bionic arm is no mere prosthetic; it is fitted with sophisticated electronics that essentially act as artificial nerves, able to process signals from the brain just like the real thing and move the limb in a lifelike manner right out of science fiction — or comic books.
One of Limbitless’ investors, Robert Downey Jr., may as well have been a real life Tony Stark helping to build Iron Man.
Said Julianna’s mother, Kathleen Linton, “They took us in and made us part of their family, so we are instant fans. We’re part of UCF now.”
Julianna got to meet Griffin, and the two formed an instant bond over their overcoming incredible challenges.
Here’s when they first met at the Houston game in 2016 😊 pic.twitter.com/il2Salwx8S
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) April 28, 2018
As mom Kathleen said of Griffin, “He is a big inspiration to her. He can be a college football player, so why can’t she be a college cheerleader too?”
In Seattle, Griffin joins his twin brother, Shaquill, whom the Seahawks took 90th overall in the third round in 2017.
The brothers are two of the most athletic players in all of football.
Shaquill was fourth among defensive backs in the 40-yard dash, third in vertical leap and second in the standing long jump at the 2017 combine.
Shaquem ran the same 4.38 40 as his brother, but he did it as a linebacker; the next-fastest 40, from Georgia’s Roquan Smith, was a 4.51.
It was also faster than Ezekiel Elliott, Julio Jones, and Richard Sherman, a running back, wide receiver, and defensive back.
Griffin’s also got the catching ability a lot of guys with two hands wish they had; he had two interceptions in college and was the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year in the American Athletic Conference.
While the NFL.com scouting report pointed to his tendency to give up broken tackles as one of his weaknesses, he still had 18.5 sacks at UCF.
The scouting report also points out that his 40 speed isn’t just track speed; he has good instincts off the snap and can be in the backfield before the offensive line picks him up. That kind of edge rushing speed is an elite-level NFL skill rare in a fifth-rounder. If Griffin had two hands, he might well have gone in the second round or higher on that alone.
It all comes down to that lack of a hand. The scouts say he’s easy to block, with trouble disengaging because he can’t get the right leverage to push off. He is also vulnerable to cut blocks because he keeps his center of gravity too high as he generates that first-step speed, making his efforts on the blitz feast-or-famine.
At the pro level, a blitz picked up is a big play waiting to happen for the offense, as the hot read to a slot receiver or tight end is why guys like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham get paid the big bucks to make defenses pay for failing to get to the quarterback before he can react.
In any event, Shaquem Griffin is one of the feel-good stories of the 2018 NFL draft. He gets to play with his brother on a Seahawks team that is looking to get back to the Super Bowl the same way they won one in the first place, behind an elite “defense wins championships” philosophy.
And he’s also an inspiration to young people, showing that just because you don’t have a complete set of limbs, it doesn’t have to be an obstacle to doing whatever you set your mind to.
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