Luke Griffin: In the center of things

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BY ERIK GREEN

North Murray graduate Luke Griffin spent four spring practices as the starting center on the University of Missouri’s football team. Then COVID-19 concerns cut things a bit short for the redshirt freshman, at least for now. “On a Wednesday, the start of our fifth practice, we all came to a team meeting room, coach pulled up film, we were dressed and everything, and coach (Eliah) Drinkwitz said, ‘Look, boys, there’s no more spring practice as of now,”’ Griffin said. “It was terrible. He told us we couldn’t be on campus and practice anymore.” Griffin packed up some of his belongings and made the 10-hour drive back to Chatsworth where he has been since March 13. “As of now, they have given us workout plans and all the things we need to keep doing what we’re doing workout wise at home,” Griffin said. “They don’t know when we’ll be able to come back yet; it’s up to the SEC and NCAA, but hopefully sooner than later. I know there has been some talk of postponing the season maybe a month; instead of September it would be October. I am perfectly fine with that. I just want to get the season in. Every team in the country has been putting in hard work and doing crazy hard stuff so I would hate to not have a season. They have been keeping in touch with us, letting us know what the latest updates are, but other than that we’ll go back when they say we can.” Griffin said he wasn’t stunned by the news that spring practice was ending abruptly, especially since Mizzou was the last SEC school to cancel. “I knew it was probably coming,” Griffin said. “The big programs, the SEC, if they stop practicing, they’re not going to let others continue practicing because it would be an uneven playing field. I knew it was coming, just didn’t know when. I wish we could have finished out spring ball, but it didn’t work out like that.” Missouri students, like thousands around the country, were in the middle of the semester. Class is continuing online, according to Griffin, and they still have access to services like tutoring. However, there is some talk of cancelling the semester and assigning students their final grade based on their current progress in the class. Doing so could have a far reaching impact on player eligibility. “Especially if someone is not doing well in class, they wouldn’t have a chance to bring their grade up,” Griffin said. “That goes into eligibility, whether you’re on probation or not.” If the season is lost, the NCAA is expected to grant another year of eligibility to players impacted by the COVID-19 cancellations, Griffin said. Another year of growth and physical maturity wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, Griffin said, but that’s not what he wants. He came to Missouri for an opportunity to get in the game early and he seems to be well on his way to accomplishing his goal. His experience has been great, Griffin said, but it hasn’t been entirely adjustment free. The Tigers finished 6-6 during Griffin’s redshirt year last year and coach Barry Odom was fired. Drinkwitz, noted for his offensive approach to the game, was hired as Odom’s replacement in December, following a 12-1 campaign as coach at Appalachian State. “Coach Drinkwitz came in and he’s a great coach and a great guy,” Griffin said. “I love him to death. He’s going to push you. He’ll love on you, but he is very intense and a smart football coach. I am looking forward to seeing what we can do on offense. He is an offensive minded guy. I am excited to see how many points we can put up.” Griffin, a Sports Management major, said the adjustment to college life wasn’t that big a deal. He didn’t get homesick, he said, because the coaches and staff kept them busy and their minds occupied. Adjusting to the SEC level of play was the biggest transition. “Obviously, coming in as a freshman, I am 18-years old playing against players that are 23-years old, grown men,” he said. “The speed of the game was a lot faster. Now it has slowed down a lot. I have my first year under me and know what to expect. That first year, I was really fortunate to redshirt. I got to see what it was all about and adjust to the speed of the game.” Griffin came out of North Murray as a left tackle then shifted to left guard and right guard and then, finally, to center. The experience helped him learn all the offensive line responsibilities and sliding over to center has been a natural transition, Griffin said. “Everybody on the offensive line needs to know what is going on,” he said. “Everybody needs to be on the same page. It wasn’t that big of an adjustment, but obviously, at center you make a lot of calls. You are the quarterback of the offensive line. It’s been good for me. In high school I was just playing football, now I know football. I know what is going on and what to expect. I know what the defense is going to run. It has been helpful to me playing center to really learn football.” Griffin was an early University of Georgia commitment, but the Bulldogs’ recruiting efforts cooled following a knee injury. Nonetheless, Griffin bounced back and had offers from a litany of big named programs. He was considered a three star recruit by Rivals.com and found a home in Columbia, Missouri. “It’s been a journey, but I found the spot that is best for me,” Griffin said. Griffin’s high school coach, Preston Poag, described him as a versatile lineman that can play all the offensive line positions, so it’s probably no surprise that making a switch to center was easy enough. What Poag is most proud of, he said, is the kind of person Griffin is and the positive impact he has on a team. “He is a really good football player, but he is an even better person,” Poag said. “He has always had a lot of pressure on him throughout the years because of his size, but he has handled that pressure very well. He is going to be a really good player for Missouri.”

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