New Redskins defensive back Cedric Griffin has the unusual reputation as a hard-hitting cornerback and playmaker from his time in Minnesota. Off the field, he’s a devoted husband and father, shoveling his own snow and running his own charitable foundation called “Stand Up For Kids.”
With 11 career takeaways, he matches what the Redskins want on defense. With a selfless history of charitable work, he matches the Redskins’ emphasis on character.
It turns out that both sides of Cedric Griffin can be traced back to a difficult childhood, and finding his emotional outlet on the football field.
In 2009, Chip Brown of Orangbloods.com caught up with the former Texas Longhorn, following the signing of his first big NFL extension. At the time, Griffin was in the process of finishing his college degree, and had finally found peace in his life after a tumultuous youth.
When Griffin was a sophomore in high school, he fell into a bad crowd and stole CD players from the local mall. A trip to the local prison as part of the Scared Straight program was enough to give Griffin perspective, but it wasn’t enough for his mother, who locked him out of the house.
Homeless and alone, Griffin found a true friend in Anthony Johnson, a Pee Wee football teammate. Johnson and his family took Griffin into their home, and gave him structure and stability for the first time.
Even then, it was a process to trust others and release the pain he felt:
“I could see it hurt,” Tony Johnson [Dad] said. “I know sometimes he was scared. He would never admit it. But you have to be when you’re 12, 13, 14 years old, and nothing’s working out with your mom and dad.”
During his time with the Johnsons, Griffin learned to express his feeling through poetry, a habit that he carried through college and into his pro career:
“It helps take away some of the pain,” Griffin said. “Or show some of the happiness.”
College football also helped him to express the emotions that burdened his adolescence. Texas head coach Mack Brown and secondary coach Duane Akina believed in their young corner, but really needed him to believe in himself:
Cedric admitted he was on his way to flunking out during his freshman year at Texas when Duane Akina pulled him aside and said, “You have no idea how special you are.”
“Coach Akina believed in me before I believed in myself,” Griffin said. “I wouldn’t have made it without him.”
Griffin loved to flatten people, stand over them, dance, beat his chest and carry on…Mack told him celebrating didn’t equate to tough and told him to express himself with hits and not “by what we say or how we act before or after a play.”
The guidance resonated with Griffin, and he learned to channel his talent into production. Griffin learned to “lay it all out there,” and the team rode his defensive dominance to a BCS National Championship over Fred Davis’s USC Trojans.
Griffin was taken by the Vikings in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He earned starting time as a rookie, and played five strong seasons in Minnesota before tearing his ACL last season. With the Redskins, he has a chance to provide that all-important roster depth that head coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen discussed this offseason.
But in addition–and perhaps more importantly–Griffin has the ability to be a positive force in the Redskins’ locker room, and is sure to touch many lives in the DMV community. One of his biggest events each year is a “Poetry Slam” that he holds for youth to come share their work.
Here’s one of the readings from last year’s event, with Griffin standing behind the poet (on the right):