Griffin's versatility fortifies Patriots' defense


Heritage Academy’s Moak Griffin (1)  celebrates with quarterback Carter Putt after a score against Magnolia Heights.

Heritage Academy’s Moak Griffin (1) celebrates with quarterback Carter Putt after a score against Magnolia Heights. Photo by: David Miller/Special to The Dispatch


Adam Minichino



Moak Griffin knew changes could come to the Heritage Academy football team's defense early in the season. 


After a series of injuries riddled the Patriots' linebacking corps, Griffin had a feeling he might be a candidate to move from his free safety position to outside linebacker in an effort to fortify that position. 


Griffin said that speculation became a reality when defensive coordinator Russ Whiteside talked to him about the position change at practice prior to the team's game against Lamar School. 


Griffin, who has been playing safety since he was in the ninth grade, didn't mind. 


"I just knew we were down a few people in that position and I was willing to play whatever position for the team," Griffin said. 


Griffin's ability to transition from free safety to outside linebacker enabled the Patriots to shore up what could have been a problem area on defense. Instead of becoming a sore spot, the play of Heritage Academy's linebackers in a 3-4 defense proved to be one of the important pieces to the program's success in 2018. 


For his accomplishments, Griffin is The Dispatch's Small Schools All-Area Football Team Defensive Player of the Year. 


"I felt like I brought speed and quickness down to linebacker to add on to what we already had," Griffin said. "I felt like I was able to help more on run defense than I would've been able to at safety. 


The 6-foot-1, 185-pound athlete played nearly every position for the Patriots, who went 4-0 to win the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 title en route to a 10-3 finish. Heritage Academy lost to eventual state champion Adams County Christian School 28-10 in the third round. 


Griffin, who started playing football in the fourth grade, said learning to be run read first probably was his toughest adjustment because he said he always had been a pass-read-first player. 


Griffin made the transition look easy while seeing significant action at running back and at wide receiver. He also played some at quarterback out of the Wildcat formation as the season progressed. 


Despite Griffin's success at linebacker, Heritage Academy coach Sean Harrison wasn't sure about moving the senior standout from free safety. 


"Coach (Tommy) Howard wanted Moak at outside linebacker from the get-go just because he was so athletic and so fast and stopping things at the line," Harrison said. "I fought it because my thought was if we put him at outside backer he was only going to be on one side of the field, whereas at free safety he could roam both sides." 


Harrison said Griffin started the season at free safety, but a bevy of injuries to the linebacking corps essentially forced his hand. Turns out Griffin was good at it, too, as evidenced by the fact he was named defensive MVP of Class AAA, District 2. 


Harrison joked he felt like he had the last laugh after seeing Griffin record two interceptions -- and nearly making a third -- in the annual Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Senior All-Star Game. Griffin also scored caught a touchdown pass to help his White team earn a 24-22 victory against the Blue team in the annual MAIS All-Star Game.  


"We really didn't have any other guys who played there," Harrison said. "We had been practicing Moak there -- probably not enough -- and then in the Lamar game when he has to move down, he has taken about two practices worth of snaps there, but he was able to step in and did well. It turned out to be a good year for him." 


Harrison said Griffin didn't care if he played free safety or linebacker. He said Griffin was willing to play any role the Patriots needed him to this season. The move to linebacker actually wasn't a drastic change of scenery for Griffin because Harrison said there aren't many differences between the positions in a 3-4 defense, which Heritage Academy played this season. 


"We were fortunate that we had a group of kids -- with him being one of them -- that they wanted to do whatever they needed to do to help the team," Harrison said.  


Harrison said Griffin surprised him with how well he adjusted to playing linebacker. After all, Griffin missed his 10th-grade season of football due to an injury. Last season, Griffin played nothing but free safety before suffering a season-ending injury against ACCS.  


Harrison said he was worried about what was going to happen when Griffin came down to make a play against the run because he had never done or and the coaches had never seen him do it. The apprehension proved to be unwarranted because Griffin's physical style enabled him to handle going against bigger players, whether they were linemen or tight ends. 


"I don't think there was anybody he was scared of on the field," Harrison said. "He had so strong in the offseason and had some weight to bring with him that he hadn't had before to know he could take on anybody who came at him." 


Griffin credited Whiteside and Howard for helping him refine his technique. He said he also had to adjust to getting off blocks and finding the football. Griffin said he watched a lot of film on the line of whomever we were playing and that the coaches helped the defense a lot on what formations they like to run out of and pass out of. 


Griffin said he doesn't prefer to play on either side of the ball or a particular position. On a team with so many versatile players and individuals who had dual roles, Griffin fit in just fine and played an integral role in one of the Patriots' most successful seasons in recent memory. 


"With the number of people on our team, most of the guys had to learn to deal with playing both ways," Griffin said. "This is why the team worked so hard in the summer, so we could be in the best shape possible and ready to play both ways, so we just had to accept it and move forward." 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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