AUSTIN, Texas — Lakewood (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
junior Shaquem Griffin
recorded the 20th best triple jump mark in the nation last season with a mark of 49 feet, 1¼ inch.
Not bad considering he never had a coach for the highly technical event.Click here to view our National Signing Day 2013 page
"I taught myself three years ago," said Griffin, now a senior. "Watched it on YouTube."
If that sounds pretty resourceful, hold on to your hat — and heart.
Griffin is a 6-foot-1, 183-pound safety for the USA Under-19 National Football Team and Wednesday he'll sign a letter of intent to play college football at the University of Central Florida.
Shaquem Griffin has only one hand.
His left hand was surgically removed at the age of 4 due to complications from a rare condition known as Amniotic Band Syndrome.
Pushed and guided by identical twin Shaquill Griffin
along with an extremely close, loving and inventive family, Shaquem has emerged as one of the nation's top all-around athletes.
Not to mention inspiring.
"How could you not be inspired," said U.S. safety Marco Delvecchio
, of Bishop Hendricken (Warwick, R.I.)
"He didn't deserve to be born that way. But the way he deals with it is fantastic. Amazing. Like it never happened."
What happened was that when his mother Tangie had the twins, a strand of the amniotic sac wrapped around Shaquem's left wrist. Fetal surgery to untangle the hand was too risky for both babies.
"It was really no choice at all," Tangie told the Tampa Bay Times
There came an excruciating choice four years later when Shaquem's deformed and largely useless left hand and fingers were in constant throbbing pain. He would ask his mom to go to kitchen to retrieve a knife to cut it off.
After many sleepless nights and much pleading, Tangie went to the hospital to relieve Shaquem's pain.
"(Removing his fingers) was definitely tough for me,'' Tangie told the Times. "You don't want your kid to suffer‚ and it's one of those things you pray on, you pray on, you pray on, and you're wondering: Am I making the right choice?'"Adaptation
If Shaquem's athletic prowess, outstanding grades (3.75 GPA), and college scholarship don't indicate a "yes" to his mom's question, then his verbal response does.
"Absolutely she did," he said. "I wanted to have fun in my life. I wanted to do what Shaquill and all the other kids could do. I wanted to do the things I love."
He first learned to tie his shoe — even before his brother — and then played Little League and flag football by the time he was 6.
That was the start of a never-ending free-for-all of sport and game from sunrise to sunset from two inseparable brothers. Shaquill (6-0, 184) is an U-19 National Team member and cornerback and he'll play at Central Florida too.
The twins will lead team USA against the World Team in the fourth annual International Bowl at Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex Tuesday night (8 p.m. CT) in a game broadcast live on CBS Sports Network and streamed internationally at
"Shaquem Griffin is one of the most amazing stories I've ever heard in football," said USA Football director Garrett Shea. "For the young man to overcome such a physical challenge to play at this level speaks not only of who he is but his brother as well. … To see and hear how they interact with one another and act as such a support system, it's just great for all of us to be around."
According to Shaquem, nobody ever made fun of his deformity.
"I adapted pretty fast so if kids noticed, they'd ask and I'd tell them and that was pretty much it," he said. "I never want people to feel nervous around me so I'm glad when they do ask."
A girl in elementary school once called him "pickle hand," which actually made Shaquem and his family laugh. Everyone except Shaquill, who got in trouble for hitting the girl.
"That was a long time ago," Shaquill said with a big smile. "I sometimes forget that (Shaquem) is missing anything. I think everyone just looks past it because he's so good. … Bottom line is he has my back and I have his."
Dad has both of their backs.
Terry Griffin built a contraption called "The Book," which helps stabilize Shaquem's left arm during weight training. Made from a book-sized block of wood and cloth, The Book goes wherever the twins go to workout.
Remarkably, Shaquem can bench press more than 200 pounds thanks to the contraption.
"Nothing that family or those boys can do surprises me," said USA U-19 coach Aaron Brady said. "They're just great kids. They're the first ones to practice, running routes. There is absolutely no chip on their shoulders. They just want to play football." Pursuing a dream
Some college programs questioned at first whether Shaquem could play at that level with a fingerless hand. That doubt is quelled quickly when witnessed in person.
He and his brother were offered 14 scholarships at the mid-major level. They requested only to be recruited as a package, otherwise each would have likely earned more offers. Both will sign their letters of intent along with at least 50 of the USA Football team members Wednesday in a breakfast ceremony in Austin.
Delvecchio, who tried out with the Griffins for the U-19 team last summer in Austin, said Shaquem is a remarkable talent regardless of birth defect.
"He's a ball hawk and a great hitter," he said. "And the most amazing thing is ironically he has really good soft hands. He catches everything."
Shaquem says he's just grateful for the opportunity to represent the USA and play college football. He puts no limitations on what he can do. It's a message he gives numerous kids in Florida, disabled or not.
"I just tell people all the time to keep your head up and pursue your dreams," Shaquem said.
Said Nebraska-bound Terrell Newby
, a starting tailback for the national team: "He just shows you that you can do anything."
Shaquem isn't talking NFL yet, but he does have a very tangible goal.
"I want to break the state record in the triple jump," he said, noting the mark is 52-feet, 7-inches. "But I might need a coach for that."