HOCHSTON, Ga. — When he was younger, Kelsey Griffin wanted to be a garbage collector. As he got older, that dream morphed into dentistry.
He’ll have to settle for being a defensive lineman at USC.
The soft-spoken, deliberate 6-foot-2, 290-pound Mill Creek High senior signed his letter of intent on Wednesday with all the flair of solving a math problem.
It’s that understated demeanor that speaks loudest about USC’s consensus highest-rated signee. According to his high school coach, Shannon Jarvis, it was the biggest reason why Griffin was considered a four-star recruit instead of a five-star.
“I can tell you why he wasn’t five-star: It’s because he didn’t promote himself,” Jarvis said. “He didn’t do all that stuff. He didn’t go to combines. He didn’t do any of that. When he got the offers he wanted, he was fine. (Five-stars) are out there and they’re tweeting. He doesn’t do that.”
The offer he wanted came from Georgia, the SEC school in his back yard. His announcement was well-covered by Georgia media and national recruiting services in September. That made Georgia’s subsequent decision to decline his commitment all the more devastating.
“It was a struggle to see the disappointment in him,” said Craig Griffin, Kelsey’s father. “That was the thing as a parent, to see your son dejected and disappointed. But we moved on.”
They moved on directly to the USC-Georgia game at Williams-Brice roughly a week later.
“That was the high point of the season for South Carolina and the low point for Georgia,” Craig said. “When we were at South Carolina, he knew that’s something he wanted to do, so he really got into that game.”
Days after the Gamecocks’ 35-7 victory, Griffin announced his new commitment.
“So that was a turning point for him as well,” Craig said.
His commitment didn’t stop schools such as Notre Dame and Southern Cal from coming to Mill Creek. As recruiting season hit its home stretch, Griffin told Jarvis to tell other schools to stop calling.
Wednesday, as he watched what he believes to be the next in a long line of successful USC defensive lineman horse around with his 4-year-old nephew in the Mill Creek High field house, Jarvis couldn’t help but think back to the first time he saw Griffin.
“It was our camp for eighth-graders coming up from seventh grade,” Jarvis said. “Kelsey is bigger than everybody, he’s taller than everybody, so the first thing we think is offensive line or defensive line and we start those first drills and there he is lining up with the wide receivers. What in this world?
“He ended up going as a tight end and I’ll never forget when he was running routes, I made the decision I’m going to leave him alone because I wanted him to come to Mill Creek.”
Karen Griffin has since filled four scrapbooks with her son’s exploits. Make no mistake, she supports him in anything he wants to do, but she’s glad he has moved on from his childhood goals.
“He wanted to ride on the back of the garbage truck without seatbelts and have that wind blow through his hair,” she said with a chuckle. “The next thing he wanted to try was to be a dentist, he said, because all you do is pull teeth.
“We just support him.”
Now, they’ll relish their son’s opportunity to line up next to Jadeveon Clowney. Ask him about that and he’ll become so animated he might arch an eyebrow.
“That’s where I felt I should be and that’s where I ended up being. Thank God I ended up there and I’m very happy,” Griffin said. “I want to go there and play and make a name for myself.
“As a little kid, I never really had the dream of being an NFL football player, or a high school football player or a college football player,” he added. “That was never one of my dreams. I was one of those little kids who wanted to be a garbage man, stuff that looked like fun. It all played out and I’m playing and doing the best I can. Free education, too. You can’t beat that.”