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No matter what happens next, the Shaquem Griffin pick has been a success

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Kansas City Chiefs v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The move was a bold one in a sense, not because of what it cost the Seahawks in draft capital, but in what it would mean if Pete Carroll subsequently went back on the pick months later. If you have the “feel good moment of the draft,” it just as easily sets you up to have the “feel bad story of training camp.”

It’s now January of 2019, and we’ve yet to feel bad about Seattle keeping the Griffin bros together for 16 games and counting.

It was a story prior to the 2018 draft season, but Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin caught more national attention this past April when ESPN posted this video detailing their story. I’ve even recently shared this story with someone as a way to endear them to the team and show, “Even if you don’t care about the Seahawks, maybe you can care about two players on the Seahawks.”

Of course it worked. And of course she immediately sent it to her mom. And this video came out before the draft. Before a pairing of teammates so on-brand for a Disney movie that I’m surprised the “The Blind Side” version of this hasn’t hit before the next Super Bowl has.

I guess Disney could still be waiting to see if the ending to the real story could outdo the Hollywood version. We all are. But first we should reverse to the first act and lead our way into the montage first before all of that.

Shaquem Griffin first became known to Seahawks fans a year before his own name was called when Seattle picked his twin brother Shaquill in the third round on April 28, 2017. During that year’s training camp, The News Tribune’s Gregg Bell detailed the history of the two brothers:

It’s a role reversal for Griffin, a student rather than a teacher and mentor.

He’s been an inspiration for his twin brother – and vice versa – ever since Shaquem had to have his left hand amputated when they was 4 years old, because of a congenital disorder known as amniotic band syndrome. It occurs in about one out of every 1,200 births. The twins played sports together throughout growing up in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. So Shaquill told college recruiters, such as from his dream school, Miami, if they wanted him to sign for a scholarship, that program would have to sign his twin brother, too.

Heart strings check one: Familial bonds.

Next, Griffin goes over why he started giving back to the community as a barely-teen athlete who felt he had a greater purpose:

Throughout that experience Shaquill realized he should mentor and motivate kids. That’s why when he was 14 he began the St. Pete Nitro track team for kids aged 4 to 18. He still has the club in St. Petersburg, his birthplace, though he has surrogates coaching for him now that he’s in Seattle.

“I feel like the situations that we have to overcome that me and my brother go through, I felt like I was in a position to try to reach kids,” Griffin said. “I have my own track team and I have a lot of kids who look up to me and I feel like I found a way to reach out to people. People tend to listen to me, so I feel like it’s easy for me to be a motivational speaker. I always feel like I want to give back. I was just raised that way. I want the team to do that and use this platform to reach everybody that I can.”

Heart strings check two: Giving to others in need.

And while some may feel apprehensive to talk about Shaquem in regards to his amputated hand, Shaquill was not among them. In fact, in talking to Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times, Shaquill says he loves to motivates others and that Shaquem is a big reason why:

“We don’t have anything here that’s like that and money is an issue sometimes with people,” Shaquill told the paper. “I want to be able to help out and give back to people and give them something nice to be able to train at and get a chance to get a head start on things.

“And just continue to push out my brother’s story while I reach out to kids.”

5, His brother, Shaquem, had a great reaction when the Seahawks drafted him.

“I think he just ran out,” Shaquill said. “I didn’t see him. He was too excited. He just ran out. I didn’t get a chance to see the expression on his face. He knew the word when the phone started ringing.”

The same story was echoed by ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia in May of that year, well before ESPN ran their video piece 11 months later, including the horrifying moment when their mother Tangie realized that Shaquem’s pain in his fingers grew to the point that a a four-year-old he grabbed a knife and begged to have his hand cut off.

“When it got to the point where it was so bad that I saw him literally grab a knife to cut his hand off, I knew at that point, it was time to do something,” Tangie said.

Added Shaquem, “I guess I kind of gave a hint to my mom.”

Shaquem doesn’t remember much about the surgery. One minute, he was pulling his red wagon down the hospital hallway. The next, he was waking up with his hand bandaged. A day later, Shaquem was outside playing football with his brother.

”Ever since that procedure, he’s been able to do everything else anyone could do,” Shaquill said.

Heart string check three: the unbreakable connection between Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin. And this was the one connection that Seahawks fans, and potentially Pete Carroll and John Schneider, didn’t want to see broken.

Shaquill and Shaquem formulated a plan around the age of 10. They would go to high school and college together. They’d marry another set of twins. They’d pool their money to buy a house and live in it together with their families.

Tangie never believed they were serious until Shaquill started getting recruited heavily in high school.

“I started having some of the coaches calling me and saying, ‘Hey, we’re offering Shaquill, but he’s telling me if we don’t offer Shaquem, he’s not interested,’” Tangie said. “And I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ That’s when it hit me that they are really serious about this.”

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 17 Cure Bowl - UCF v Arkansas State Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’ll set you up for heart string check four: Shaquem Griffin was also an underdog, even after UCF agreed to take both him and his brother.

For the first three years they were in college together, Griffin barely played. You may already know this because as I’ve said, this is a story that was echoed in Seattle for a full year before the 2018 NFL Draft. But Shaquem nearly quit, if not have the pair transfer somewhere else together, and they always planned to transfer together if that’s what it came down to.

“Every decision that we tried to make, it was a decision for both of us -- not just oneself,” Shaquill said. “And that’s kind of how we grew up together.

”We weren’t going to let anybody separate us. I’m glad I made the decision that I did to stay in Orlando with him and play football with him. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Said Shaquem of Shaquill: “He always says he’s my big brother, and he acts like it,” says Shaquem. “He’s a minute older, but he acts like it’s 10 years.”

It didn’t have to come down to a transfer though. While George O’Leary was the head coach that “took a chance” on Shaquem while recruiting Shaquill, Scott Frost was the one who actually allowed him to start, beginning in 2016. That UCF team went 6-7 after finishing 0-12 the year before. Shaquem won Defensive Player of the Year honors in the conference that season and Shaquill became the 90th overall pick in the following draft.

While Shaquill enjoyed a successful season as a rookie starter for the Seahawks opposite All-Pro Richard Sherman (who always spoke very highly of Shaquill), Shaquem helped the Golden Knights to a perfect 13-0 record. In fact, prior to their Fiesta Bowl loss to LSU on January 1, UCF hadn’t lost a game since Shaquill was there. In their bowl game prior to that, a 34-27 victory over Auburn, Shaquem had 12 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, and 1.5 sacks.

That was his final college game, which came in the only season of his football life that wasn’t shared with his brother. At best, he could come visit Shaquill when the Seahawks came to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars last season:

Seattle Seahawks v Jacksonville Jaguars

And after his final collegiate season, after Seattle missed the playoffs for the first time in the Russell Wilson era, there was only one thing in the near future for the Griffin bros to focus on.

The 2018 NFL Draft.

From a combine “snub” to a combine “superstar,” Griffin stole the show for most of the NFL winter-spring as it related to the draft.

(Even when the names aren’t spelled right.)

You could say that the connection between Shaquem Griffin and the Seahawks started right here at Field Gulls. I mean, you could also argue otherwise, but I’m the writer and I could say whatever I want, so I’ll start: the connection between Shaquem and the Seahawks started at Field Gulls! The burden of proof is on you!

In a January, 2018 preview of the linebackers in the draft, Alistair Corp talks about Shaquem as a prospect:

I mean, come on. Of course Shaquem Griffin is going to be on Seattle’s radar come draft time. He exemplifies everything Pete Carroll loves in a competitor; relentless, grit, unwavering belief in his ability. To boot, he flies around the field and is a helluva linebacker, being named the 2016 AAC Defensive Player of the Year. Shaquill Griffin’s twin brother, Shaquem has been everywhere during Senior Bowl week, practicing as an edge defender, as a single-high safety, and with the off-ball linebackers — likely where he belongs in the pros.

Others followed suit.

Shaquem was clocked with a 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine, fastest of any linebacker ever and the same as his brother Shaquill. Whether or not his 4.38 was well off-base from his second timed run at 4.58 — still very fast — it sure didn’t hurt the story. Neither did the fact that Griffin was of course the biggest Seahawks fan in the draft already, most likely:

Shaquem is a good talker — and a huge Seahawks fan. His chance of playing with his brother are about 1 in 32. So, judging from Shaquem’s path to this point, a pretty good chance.

Heart string check five: he’s desperate to be in Seattle with his brother, and Seattle desperately wants it too.

Leading into the draft, the steam for Shaquem to the Seahawks only built up, with people even clamoring to find him in Pete Carroll’s annual draft clues:

So two animals stealing a hubcap is probably where this theory really picks up steam. I’d like to think these brothers in crime are truly brothers in crime and they steal things because they are both defenders who like to steal the football. After the Seahawks steal more picks, they’ll draft a true football thief in Shaquem Griffin. Griffin had one interception and two forced fumbles; so this works.

No surprise, when day one concluded, Shaquem Griffin was still on the board. The Seahawks traded down and selected Rashaad Penny, but they had added a day two pick so they’d be on the board again on the 27th. Already questions were being put out there: Would Seattle take Shaquem with pick 76?

The people’s choice — Shaquem Griffin of Central Florida, twin brother of current Seattle cornerback Shaquill Griffin — could well be there for the taking.

While Griffin was among the players invited to the draft, he’s generally been seen as a late-second-day pick at the earliest, and many Seahawks fans will undoubtedly be rooting for him to fall to that spot and for Seattle to then take him.

Except when the 27th was over, Seattle had added defensive end Rasheem Green, not Griffin, who was still available for anyone to have. Normally, you’d never see connections between a team and a specific player still available in the draft, but “Seattle and Shaquem” was again being talked about as the 28th approached with the promise of rounds 4-7.

But only a temporary place-holder. The Seahawks still want and need a younger cornerback to development opposite Shaquill Griffin, last year’s rookie starter on the right side.

Speaking of Griffin, his twin brother Shaquem, the wondrous, all-conference linebacker with one hand from Central Florida, was available for the Seahawks to draft in round three. That’s one round sooner than I thought Seattle would take him.

The Seahawks chose the most pressing and prudent pick over the better story and sentimentality, at least for now.

Saturday will begin with Shaquem Griffin still available for a reunion with Shaquill. Last year was the first one the twins had ever been separated.

As pick 100 opened, the Seahawks had 20 picks before their time on the clock on day three. So many people “obviously” wanted Shaquem to come to Seattle.

But when pick 120 came and went, the Seahawks went with another prospect who had ties to Seattle: UW tight end Will Dissly. No Griffin, and the tensions of “Will he really not play with his brother” got tighter. With 22 picks until the Seahawks next pick, anything could happen, and maybe Seattle would again pass on Shaquem with additional picks in the fifth round coming. Two linebackers went off the board between 120 and 141, including Kenny Young to the Ravens and Marquis Haynes to the Panthers.

Then finally, the Seahawks are back on the clock.

Getting drafted was the easy part. Taking it in without getting emotional: impossible. No surprise though, Shaquem said he’d cry after he was drafted but he’d hand the phone off to Shaquill if he had to because “we sound alike.” Yeah, but you cry alike too.

Heart strings check six:

Shaquem got confirmation that his introduction into the NFL, at least, would be with his big brother, his twin, his partner from birth to today.

And likewise, the opportunity for disappointment and a sad story was also present, if for any reason Shaquem didn’t make the team. It seems like a forgone conclusion that Shaquem was drafted to be a part of the 53, but so are all players. Since coming to Seattle in 2010, Carroll and Schneider have drafted some of the Seahawks most incredible players in the fifth round (Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman), but also some of the most forgettable, including before round five: E.J. Wilson, Mark Legree, Jesse Williams, Chris Harper, Jimmy Staten, Tye Smith, and even just this year, saw fifth rounder Jamarco Jones land on injured reserve before the season started.

Opportunities were open for Shaquem, but so was the competition as the Seahawks looked to replace veteran linebackers Terence Garvin, Michael Wilhoite, and had also added Barkevious Mingo, Jacob Martin, and had players like D.J. Alexander and Marcus Smith still in camp. Then even if Shaquem made the final roster, what next?

That’s when good news, great news, bad news hit.

The good news was that Shaquem made the final 53-man roster. The great news — for the story at least — was that Shaquem would be called upon to start in Week 1 in Denver for an injured K.J. Wright. The bad news is that the game did not go well. Shaquem recorded three solo tackles but Seattle was beat up by Case Keenum of all people who had three touchdowns and 329 yards == despite it being Week 1, these remain Keenum’s season highs for 2018. In addition to that, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman combined for 30 carries and 142 yards.

The Seahawks lost 27-24, then immediately signed Mychal Kendricks to replace Griffin at outside linebacker for the time being. Would his days now be numbered as quickly as they began? That became an even bigger question when Kendricks was suspended by the league for insider trading and Seattle now had to find more options at outside linebacker.

Luckily for Shaquem, Shaquill, and all with an investment in this great union, there were still contributions to be had on special teams.

Shaquem played 50 snaps on defense this season, with 41 of those coming against the Broncos. That’s just nine snaps in the final 15 games. However, he had 219 special teams snaps in that same period of time, seventh-most on the team but virtually making him one of the 10 or so starters on that side of the ball.

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

But best of all, we never had to face the reality of “What if the Seahawks cut Shaquem Griffin this year?” Seattle and Shaquem and Shaquill have stayed together through all 16 regular season games and that’ll continue for as long as their playoff run does. What happens after that is as open-ended as it is for just about every player on the team save a few: this was a franchise that parted ways with “the un-partable” a year ago and of course more changes are coming. Maybe with another year and another opportunity, Shaquem will show out in the same way he did at UCF once the right pieces come into place. Maybe Shaquill will do the same as he is also looking to take a step forward in his career as a hopeful long-time starter at cornerback.

What we know is this: the Seahawks still have at least one more game. Shaquem and Shaquill have at least one more game together. We don’t have to focus on the “what if” past that because we can still enjoy the “what we know” of today, and we know that this story book has not hit its ending yet. And it’s been quite a page turner so far.

Heart strings check seven: It’s not over yet.