TAMPA — Shaquem Griffin wakes up knowing each day will be better than the last and barely able to wait until tomorrow.
"It's just a whirlwind,'' Griffin said.
On Thursday, he will walk the red carpet with his family, including his twin brother, Seahawks cornerback Shaquill, at the NFL draft at AT&T Stadium.
The league that originally didn't think enough of Griffin to make him one of 330 players to be invited to the NFL scouting combine now is celebrating him by including him in one of the biggest nights of the year.
"I've been all over the place, meeting the people I've met and talking about my story to make everybody understanding of who I am,'' Griffin said.
And who exactly is Shaquem Griffin?
He's the former Lakewood High and UCF captain who helped the Knights to a 13-0 record and a (faux national championship) win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. He's the football player who was born with amniotic band syndrome, a congenital birth defect that prevented his left hand from fully forming. Griffin's hand was amputated when he was 4.
Lakewood has had 12 players taken in the NFL draft, by far the most of any area high school program. The list is expected to grow when the 2018 draft begins Thursday. #NFLDraft @TB_Times @BobbyHomeTeam #UCF @UCFFootball @my_lakewoodhigh https://t.co/aCisOPsQGg pic.twitter.com/0djJRYF7lC— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) April 20, 2018
He's the player who burst onto the national radar when he did finally get the combine invite and turned it into a coming-out party. Using a prosthesis, he bench pressed 225 pounds 20 times and then ran a blistering 4.38 in the 40-yard dash.
Immediately, players such as J.J. Watt, Deion Sanders, Bruce Irvin, Travis Benjamin and Ryan Shazier lauded his performance on Twitter. He has soaked up the perks of his newfound fame, attending his first Tampa Bay Lightning game and meeting celebrities like Hulk Hogan.
"I've been all over the place,'' Griffin said. "It's gone so fast, I haven't a chance to take it all in.''
Yup, Griffin's story is the stuff of Hollywood movies and the NFL loves good stories.
Even though he isn't expected to be drafted in the first round Thursday — and some project him to go on the third day of the draft in rounds 3-4, Griffin got the NFL draft in part because he his story is so damned inspirational: the first one-handed player in the league.
Griffin says it's time to change that.
"I'm definitely not just a feel-good story,'' Griffin said. "A feel-good story doesn't make it this far. I had to be a football player. I had to make plays.
"A feel-good story is he has one hand and plays football. I worked my butt off so what they could say about me is, 'He makes plays, he makes a difference and is a guy who can make turnovers. He's a guy who can contribute to us winning.' ''
That's maybe the biggest thing that has been missed from Griffin's story. He's one hell of a football player. You don't get named the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year (2016) without making a ton of big plays.
"He overcame all that and it's a remarkable story and it's cool and inspirational and all that,'' said ESPN's Rece Davis, who will host College GameDay from the draft Thursday. "But you get beyond that — the dude makes plays, now. He's explosive, and he's fast, and he's relentless. He usually arrives close to the football in a really bad mood, and that's a good thing for a defensive guy.''
Griffin will be a good thing for the NFL — and it knows it.
Typically, the league is wary of inviting players who aren't slam dunks to be taken in the first or second round. There's no more sullen green-room shots, like the one Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn endured in 2007.
In 2014, Lovie Smith's first season as the Bucs head coach, he decided to set a trap before the draft. And Rick Stroud took the cheese. #Bucs #Buccaneers @NFLSTROUD @TB_Times #NFLDraft #Illini https://t.co/yxz6hSd3ZC pic.twitter.com/GX3XSnK7iR— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) April 20, 2018
But whenever Griffin is selected, the NFL wants to celebrate it. And frankly, Shaquem doesn't care when it happens or where he goes.
"What I'm expecting draft night? All I need is one team to believe,'' Griffin said. "There are 32 of them. I just need one to give me a chance.''
What about the Bucs?
"That would be amazing,'' Griffin said.
Griffin said he grew up watching the NFL draft. Imagining what it would be like to hear his name called. What it would feel like to walk across the stage and shake the hand of the NFL commissioner.
But what he really has dreamed about is what comes after the draft.
"I just can't wait to be a guy ready to play football,'' he said. "I'm ready to get to the rookie mini camp and get my career started.''
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] or @NFLStroud.