April 2, 2014 11:11:52 AM
STARKVILLE -- Nick Griffin immediately looks at his right knee when he is asked about the most trying times in his life.
Griffin's knee has multiple scars after two reconstructive surgeries to repair the anterior cruciate ligament. Those surgeries have forced Griffin to take a different outlook on his football career.
"I kept feeling blessed at the opportunity to get another chance," Griffin said. "I guess this would be my third chance, and sometimes people don't even get a second one."
Griffin made the most of his latest chance Saturday, taking a carry 52 yards for a touchdown in the MSU football team's scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium. MSU coach Dan Mullen knew he'd seen something special from Griffin.
"I'm really proud of him," Mullen said. "Nick is as high character of a kid as there is on the team. The football aspect has not always worked out the way it has due to the injuries he has suffered. We want him to perform at the level we know he can perform at."
Two major knee injuries have changed Griffin's running style. He no longer has the speed and quick he showed prior to the setbacks, but the addition of 20 pounds of muscle allows him to run over linebackers, which is something he wouldn't have been able to do when he was at Perry Central in New Augusta. In 2009, Griffin used his speed to lead Class 3A high school in Mississippi with 234 carries for 2,080 yards and 36 touchdowns. He is preparing for a role as a power back this season in what should be a deep backfield.
As a rising senior, Griffin has received first-team repetitions in place of junior Josh Robinson, who has a slight hamstring injury. On Saturday, Griffin had 11 carries for 74 yards and two touchdowns in the first scrimmage.
"If anybody knows if you get an opportunity you have to seize it, hold it, and grab onto it, it's me," Griffin said. "It felt real good because it let me know 'OK, I can do this at this high level again.' It's like that first hit is a breath of fresh air."
Griffin will compete for carries with Robinson and sophomore Ashton Shumpert in what could be a committee approach at tailback.
"We got this veteran group of guys that all know what they're doing and we can feed off each other's skills," Griffin said. "We're competing for time and snaps, but we know there's a package and time for all of us to get that production and help the team."
When Griffin came to MSU, he was seen as the program's next great tailback. He had it all: speed, athleticism, intelligence, and that 'it factor' confidence a four-star athlete needs to have. As a freshman, a knee injury in a 2010 bowl practice drill changed everything.
"I've seen the worst of it, so what we're doing out here on the field is kind of easy when you think about it," Griffin said. "There's always a point where you want to stop and think, 'Why am I doing this?', but there's always a reason to keep pushing forward."
In 2012, Griffin had 32 carries for 233 yards and a touchdown as a backup to LaDarius Perkins. Griffin had finished the mentally and physically rehabilitation only to suffer a second torn ACL injury that forced him to start over again and think about his career in football.
"The normal human being doesn't have the supporting cast I have, and that's the difference is my teammates, my friends and family," Griffin said. "I quickly realized they weren't going to let me quit even if I wanted to, and that helps so much."
The climb back from a second injury has MSU coaches concerned about Griffin's willingness to accept physical contact again.
"I think the nervous part for us as coaches is we still see maybe some tentativeness to stick that foot in the ground and cut like a person who has never suffered the injury," Mullen said. "At the same time, we expect that and also noticed he is a extremely smart runner and football player."
The good news for Mullen and running backs coach Greg Knox is Griffin seems most comfortable as a pass blocker, an element Knox said younger players are "clueless" on when they arrive on campus.
"The best player on the field is not the fastest or the strongest but the smartest in how they use their body and use it with the best angles," Griffin said.
The scrimmage Saturday showed Griffin might be able to do a little more than be an effective blocker.
"They still think I'm slow and maybe I'm not as slow as I once was," Griffin said. "They know it now and I feel good."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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