From Hell to High Water

Ryan Kartje (LA Times)  —  This past spring, before a barrage of interceptions made him the most buzzed-about defensive back at USC’s training camp, Olaijah Griffin sat at home, doing little else but stewing in his own misery.

Offseason surgery on the labrums in both of his shoulders left him in agonizing pain, with limited range of motion. For weeks, he could barely move his arms. But the pain was only a small part of the self-pity that would come to consume him.

It was the stagnation that proved most maddening. Griffin couldn’t practice. He couldn’t do much of anything. So he sat and waited and thought about how much he missed football.

That pain, Griffin wouldn’t be able to ease until months later, when he first stepped onto the turf at Howard Jones Field for fall camp and breathed a sigh of relief. It would take only a few days for a healthy Griffin, who arrived last year as a five-star recruit from Mission Viejo, to emerge as a potential No. 1 in a crowded group of young, talented USC corners, picking off more passes (five) during the first week of fall camp than USC’s defense had all of last season (four).

“You see me getting picks,” Griffin said, flashing a grin. “I’m feeling good.”

But he hasn’t forgotten about spring, a time he refers to as “the worst of my life.” Until he arrived at this more joyous juncture, he says, “I went through hell.”

After his freshman season, in which he missed four games because of injuries, he hadn’t expected any sort of surgery. His shoulders felt fine. But medical exams prior to his arrival at USC had suggested that Griffin had “loose shoulders”, which, coach Clay Helton explained Thursday, would have eventually needed to be operated on if he continued playing football. So the staff told Griffin it was best to take care of it right away, while he was still early in his collegiate career.

Both shoulder surgeries carried with them six-month recovery timelines, and each one of those days passed excruciatingly slowly. This was Griffin’s first real surgery, his first time away from the game he’d fallen in love with at 4 years old. It felt as if a part of his identity had been stripped away. That was an unfamiliar notion for a player whom Helton describes as “happy as a lark”.

As his recovery dragged on, Griffin began to notice the muscles he’d built up in his arms disappearing. He was horrified.

“I started to doubt myself,” Griffin said. “Like, ‘Dang, why do I look like this?’”

Every night, he called his parents, searching for support, and every night, they offered the same assurances. Eventually, they told him, you’re going to get better.

He wasn’t the only one eagerly awaiting his return. USC desperately needed him to make a full recovery. Four major contributors at cornerback had graduated. The secondary needed to be retooled, and Griffin, with his five-star pedigree and his preternatural cover instincts, was an ideal heir apparent.

As he eventually regained range of motion in his arms and the pain, emotional and physical, subsided, Griffin began working harder than he ever had. Every day, his father, the rapper Warren G, sent him texts to inspire him.

But now that he was finally able to move forward, there would be no slowing his progress. He wanted to prove — to himself, to his parents, to his teammates and coaches — that he could pull himself out of the dark place he’d descended into over spring. Coaches saw his attention sharpen in meetings. They watched him put the weight he’d lost back on.

“He’s made a lot of progress,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said.

“He had an unbelievable summer,” Helton added.

And by the time he arrived at fall camp a week ago, the darkness had disappeared entirely. His shoulders are now fully healed. On the first day of camp, Griffin forced a fumble and intercepted a pass. The next day, he jumped a short route, picked off presumptive starting quarterback JT Daniels, and took the interception to the house. Already, after one week, Griffin seems to have a stranglehold on the top corner spot.

“He fought his way through it,” Helton said, “and now, you can see him bouncing around here, and he’s the old OG.”

Griffin, though, understands he’s different now — perhaps, in a way that no one else could. His spring of self-pity left an indelible mark. He was stronger now. He was better for the misery. Because now, he knew he had the strength to get through it.

“I feel like this camp, for me, is about proving a point,” Griffin said. “You might have a little setback. But you can have a major comeback.”

latimes.com

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Trojan96
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It looks like we have another great CB in our midst.

Chris
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Anyone know the back story of why Petros is so anti USC? I don’t get it.

Paul_Muad_dib
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There are many reasons. He’s bitter that USC was successful after he left. He was captain of the worst USC football team ever. USC also fired him from being a basketball radio announcer as well. He mocked Pete Carroll as well, even when they were winning NC’s.

TrojanRJJ
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I just finished reading articles on other teams. Everyone has talent, everyone. The issue is getting it to play. The consensus I found was that most seem to think 2019 will turn on two factors: the QB and the OL. I would add how well Clancy can manage the D, but I digress. IMO, the success or failure of the O will be the QB – I think one of the four should be able to run this O at an elite level. But, that is an unknown at this time. As I have written in the past, if the… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
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Great article. My wife has torn rotator cuffs in both shoulders. We chose not to have the surgery because of what is reported above. It is a brutal recovery. We would have done them consecutively, not concurrently. Given our research, doing both shoulders concurrently is amazingly brutal. Delighted the young man recovered and is able to play. That was a high price to see the field! Talk about motivation. You do not want to go through THAT and not play!!

Jamaica
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Its players like Griffin that you really root for in overcoming setbacks and succeed. He is really needed on this team….badly! Sometimes a player’s talent can overcome the lack of coaching and be effective on the field like a Sam Darnold.

Steveg
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I am so excited to see a story like this. Our defensive backfield is full of hungry talent and that will create excellence with the coaching we have back there. Now if the linebackers do the job, and we know the DL will, Clancy may have saved his job this year.

trojandn
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Love reading stories like this. Fight On Olaijah! Seems like a lot of players are ready to step up and remove the memories of last season.