Lately, as the future of football and most other team sports is shrouded in uncertainty, the brothers have been studying film to prepare for a very different assignment: Featured commencement speakers during UCF’s virutal graduation celebrations on May 2.
Until it is safe to honor our graduates in-person...— UCF (@UCF) April 17, 2020
Save the date for May 2 to celebrate our grads and hear from former @UCF_Football stars Shaquill ’16 and Shaquem Griffin ’16 at UCF’s Spring 2020 virtual commencement ceremonies
Full #UCFGrad details
Time once spent trying to dissect rival quarterbacks and wide receivers has been redistributed to trying to emulate some good public speakers.
Initially, the brothers set their aim perhaps a skosh too high.
“We started with Barack Obama. That was a tough start,” Shaquem said Monday, belting out a big laugh.
Shaquill agreed: “I don’t think we’re trying to top that one. We watched that one for a minute, but we act different.”
They have found that watching fellow NFL’er J.J. Watt or actor Denzel Washington instead is more their style: Smoother, with more levity. But the brothers know the best voice they can use this weekend is their own.
“They want to hear it come straight from our hearts,” Shaquem said. “... It’s a tremendous honor. I would have never thought I’d be doing a commencement speech right now. We are truly blessed to be able to come back to UCF and be able to give something that’s on our hearts and on our minds.”
Shaquill said such recognition motivates him to continue helping and inspiring those who look up to him and his brother.
“I’m going to speak completely from the heart, whatever comes first. I want it to be truly authentic,” he added.
That’s one commencement speech I’ll definitely tune in to watch.— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) April 27, 2020
Not only because I’m a big fan@ShaquillG @Shaquemgriffin
But also because my brothers and I would end up arguing within the first 30 seconds if we tried to give a speech together so I wanna see how you do it! https://t.co/jMHwPkXsmw
Shaquem has become an inspiration around the world. Born with an underdeveloped left hand due to a congenital disorder, he overcame all doubters and fought through all obstacles to be a college football star and an NFL draftee despite having that hand amputated at age 4.
His life story will heavily influence his speech, which he wants to be “uncut and raw.” As he conveyed some of what he plans to say this weekend, it’s clear Shaquem will preach what he practices: effort, determination and self-belief.
“You’re asking yourself: ‘Can I do it?’ but it’s a yes every single time,” he said. “Yes, I can do this. Yes, I can accomplish this. Yes, I can get past whatever’s in front of me. I want everybody to know that when things get hard, push harder.”
The twins, UCF graduates in 2016, have always done things together. They played football, baseball and track together as kids. They were on the same teams in high school. They were on the same team at UCF. They are on the same team in the NFL. They were on the same screen for this Zoom chat.
But Shaquill, the older brother by less than 2 minutes, doesn’t want to just parrot what his brother has accomplished for his speech. He has his own story to tell.
Specifically, Shaquill wants UCF’s class of 2020 to know what he went through in the summer of 2015. Shaquem would recall that summer a couple years later as “the first time Shaquill and I had ever really been apart.”
Shaquill was heading into his junior season with the Knights. He was a starting defensive back and was kept on campus by the coaching staff. They wanted him to stay and practice. But Shaquem, a redshirt sophomore who had already been bumped down from a second-string player to a third-string player and then on to the scout team, was sent home.
It was during this time apart that Shaquill said he lost himself. He thought about transferring. He thought about quitting football.
“The situation when they sent my brother home, there were so many different things that went through my head that I felt like I wanted to give up,” he said. “... I forgot my worth. I forgot who I wanted to be. But after seeing my brother strive and do so many great things when he got the opportunity to, it motivated me to find that person who I once was and continue to get back to all I know, and that’s just pushing as hard as I ever did my whole life.”
Both men now make a living in the NFL.
That’s the ideal end goal for thousands upon thousands of amateur football players, but a scant percentage join the ranks every year. This past weekend, UCF saw four of its most recent alumni chosen: wide receiver Gabriel Davis, cornerback Nevelle Clarke, running back Adrian Killins Jr. and linebacker Nate Evans.
Both Griffins played alongside Clarke, Killins and Evans; only Shaquem was teammates with Davis. Their advice for the newly minted rookies is the same advice five-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman bestowed upon each of them when they got to Seattle.
“Be seen and not heard,” said Shaquill, who made the Pro Bowl for the first time last season. “As a rookie, you have to listen to your vets. They’re going to teach you, and you want to have the best on your side. There’s no reason to go against your vets. Take this time this year and better yourself, your mind, your craft, and learn so when it’s your time, you can continue to teach someone else.
“Your time is coming.”
The brothers are having to bide their time right now. They don’t know when they will be able to get back on the field. They haven’t heard anything from the league or the NFL Players Association about a possible return date. For now, they stay in touch with teammates and coaches through FaceTime and video conferencing. They are sharpening their knowledge of Seattle’s playbook. They are focusing on the mental side of the game.
When it comes to the physical side, the Griffins have returned to working out with their father, Terry, in the home gym he built years ago. It feels like old times for the brothers, and they are relishing it — for now.
“He hasn’t killed us yet,” Shaquill quipped.
Shaquill and Shaquem began their UCF journey in 2013 after graduating from Lakewood High in St. Petersburg, Fla. Shaquem said life between then now is “definitely night and day, not even close.”
Shaquill still hasn’t absorbed the magnitude of how much his life has changed. A few days ago, he was with their mother, Tangie, as she drove around to look for a new house in Florida. Out of the blue, as they rolled past those nice houses in those nice neighborhoods, she had a question for her eldest son: Did you ever think you would be here?
“It was just random, and I told her I honestly did not think so,” Shaquill responded. “... It hasn’t hit me yet, just to know where we’re at. I feel like there’s so much more we want to accomplish, but I never would have thought, coming from the class of 2013 to now — yeah, it was (up) in the air for that one. I definitely did not know we’d be here today.
“It’s been truly a blessing, and it’s an honor whenever time you get an opportunity to do anything which helps other people.”
A lesser man would have crumbled under all of the adversity that Shaquem faced to get to where he is. But he wouldn’t change any of his journey because all of those experiences, good and bad, molded him into the exemplar person he is today.
That never-give-up mindset is something he wants to stress from the virtual stage alongside his brother on Saturday.
“Are you just going to let that adversity stop you from getting where you want to go, stopping you from achieving your goals? Or are you going to say, ‘You know what, this adversity isn’t going to stop me; it’s just going to make me greater,’” Shaquem said. “That’s what I want to be able to show them.”