INDIANAPOLIS — Shaquem Griffin lay down on the bench, the 225-pound barbell above him and the crowd of a few hundred onlookers anxiously looking on to see how — or even whether — the Central Florida linebacker would perform at the bench press.
It was an air of anticipation never quite seen before for a player we’ve never quite seen before.
Griffin does not have a left hand.
The hand was amputated when he was four years old, the result of a rare condition known as amniotic band syndrome. But it didn’t stop Griffin from engaging in a lifetime of sports, and it hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his dream of making it to the NFL.
Griffin’s left arm was fitted with a special prosthesis to allow him to grip the barbell, and after he put it on and had it attached to the weight, he began lifting.
One . . . two . . . three . . .
The cheers grew louder.
10 . . . 11 . . . 12 . . .
He had now passed his personal best.
15 . . . 16 . . . 17 . . .
18 . . . 19 . . . 20.
At last Griffin’s arms gave out after doubling his previous high.
“It was amazing,” he said later, a smile painted across his face. “Hearing the crowd, having the juices flowing. It felt good. I didn’t know I had it in me, but I had it today.”
It’s just one more example of a player who has refused to let his physical condition define him or hold him back from achieving his goal. And after a sensational college career in which he helped the Knights to a 13-0 season in 2017, Griffin now has his sights set on an NFL career.
And who’s to say he won’t get there?
“People are going to have doubts about what I can do, but I’m ready to prove them wrong,” Griffin said.
Griffin is a delightfully refreshing story of perseverance, and he understands that he has already been an inspiration to countless others, whether they have a disability or not. His older brother, Shaquill, also played at Central Florida and is now a cornerback with the Seahawks. He’s about to get company in the NFL, and Shaquem knows he’ll impact the lives of anyone who knows his story.
“People talk about what I can’t do and what I can’t accomplish,” he said. “I’m definitely going to show everybody. There’s always going to be questions, and I have to hold myself to a higher standard. If I drop the ball, it’s because I have one hand, not because of anything else, even if people with two hands drop the ball.
“At each and every level, I’m about to prove people wrong,” he added. “I’ve never had a problem doing that.”
Griffin projects as an NFL linebacker, but he’s also willing to play defensive back and already has experience as a college safety.
“Wherever you need help at, I can play,” he said. “If you want me to be a kicker or a punter, I’ll just get a good stretch and I’ll kick the ball, too.”
The motivation is always there, and so is the inspiration.
“A lot of people see somebody who has one hand and not two, and they think it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “It’s like, he has one hand, so how can he play football? What if I say, you have two hands, how can you play football? At the end of the day, you have to show people what you can do. I’m never going to step limitations. If you have two hands or 30 hands, show me what you can do and we’ll go from there.”
Griffin has already provided plenty of inspiration to anyone who has watched him play, and Saturday’s impressive weight-lifting session was another opportunity.
There will be more. Many more.
“I always tell everybody, if I can inspire one, they can inspire one more, and I can inspire a thousand later,” he said. “If I keep doing what I’m doing now, I think I can change a lot of minds and be able to inspire more kids every day I go.”