Welcome to our second installment of the Six Biggest Questions Facing UCF Football in 2017. This series is our preview for the season, and we’ll be coming out with a new question every few days.
Shaquem Griffin is no longer just a feel-good story. He's no longer Shaquem Griffin: One-handed football player. Being honored as the best defensive player in your conference has a way of changing your narrative. Now, the senior linebacker wears many labels.
He's Shaquem Griffin: Exemplar.
You are wrong if you think Griffin will rest on his laurels following his breakout 2016. Sure, he was named AAC DPOY. Yeah, he ranked among the nation's top 15 in sacks and tackles for loss. And OK, he's on four preseason watch lists for national awards, including defensive player of the year and best linebacker.
But Griffin is more interested in showing his teammates what it takes to be so acclaimed.
"His effort is just relentless," head coach Scott Frost said last week. "... He's been the hardest working player on our practice field every day out here. There are some guys that have maybe tied him, but I don't know if anybody has worked harder. That says a lot about who he is and his love for the game and his drive to be great."
He's Shaquem Griffin: Leader.
The most prominent question mark of the Knights' defense resides in its secondary. With the departures of Shaquem's twin brother, cornerback Shaquill, cornerback D.J. Killings as well as starting safeties Drico Johnson and T.J. Mutcherson, that back four is green, both in terms of their experience and on opposing offensive coordinators' game plans. Those young guys are turning to Griffin, who played safety prior to last season, and he is more than willing to guide them whenever necessary.
"My whole thing is just to be that person who can help as much as possible," Griffin told our Jeff Sharon. "... My whole thing with the young guys is, I can turn around and say, 'Hey, you got this, I know you do and just play.'"
He's Shaquem Griffin: Beast.
The St. Petersburg native made his body a priority during the offseason. One of his goals was to gain muscle without sacrificing any speed, and Griffin, who said he is "much bigger" this year, is happy with the results. His head coach seems equally pleased.
"Shaquem has been a terror on the field," Frost said.
However, this wasn't a solo effort; there were some familiar faces pushing Griffin along his journey. Shaquem said Shaquill, while training for the NFL Draft, would send him different stretching exercises to incorporate and tips on how to improve his hips. Meanwhile, their father, Terry, hounded Shaquem about packing on the pounds.
"It was crazy," Shaquem said of his father's persistence. "He was like, 'You gotta meal-crave, you gotta get bigger, you gotta gain this weight.' ... Obviously, it was tough, but if you're willing to work for it, it's going to pay off."
He is now up from 213 to 223 pounds, according to UCF Athletics. The prospect of facing a wiser yet stronger and just-as-fast Griffin must create a queasy feeling inside all AAC foes.
He's Shaquem Griffin: Squatter?
Well, kind of.
Griffin's dedication to football is difficult to describe appropriately, but the best example of it is his lifestyle during the current training camp. Simply put, Griffin is living out of the Wayne Densch Sports Center on campus. He is watching film there. He is eating sandwiches and drinking Powerade or Pedialyte there. He is sleeping on an inflatable mattress there. If you are reading this before Aug. 31, just know that, right now, Shaquem Griffin is somewhere inside UCF Football's headquarters.
"I'm gonna get the full experience," he told UCFSports.com. "This is my last [season]."
Griffin said getting to watch film of a practice before the coaches break it down the following day is a huge benefit. Plus, with no commute, he can catch a little extra sleep and just keep his mind focused on becoming the best football player he can be. Because he is no longer the one-handed football player. He's Shaquem Griffin: Football player.
"I don't think Shaq wants to talk about what he's overcome," Frost said. "And I don't think it will be very many games into the season before people are talking more about what he's doing."
Question No. 1: Is McKenzie Milton Still the Man at QB?