We’ve tried to read Adam Griffith's body language to no avail.
Alabama’s 5-foot-10, 192-pound kicker has seen ups and downs and everything in between, and through it all, we’ve tried to assign meaning to what’s transpired. We know his compelling backstory as a Polish orphan, but we’ve never been clear on what he’s felt since landing in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as a top recruit, entering college football’s most successful, most demanding program.
Was he healthy? How’s his confidence? Was he forever broken that night in November 2013?
Who is Adam Griffith and how’s he doing?
You go back through Nick Saban’s press conferences this season and it paints a picture that might as well stretch through Griffith’s entire career. After going 0-for-4 on field goals in the first two games, we wondered whether it was possible to over-coach him. A month later, after he made four straight, we asked how much more confident Griffith was. After setting a career-long with a 55-yarder against LSU, a reporter asked how much it helped him mentally that the coaching staff had stood by him.
“We stuck by him and we believe in him,” Saban answered, “and we try to be positive with him.”
If that sounds vague, that’s because it is. Griffith is a kicker, so naturally his situation is hard to understand. Saban tries to compare Griffith’s bouts of inconsistency with that of a golfer trying to successfully repeat a swing. But Griffith only half understands the comparison, saying, “I mean, he might be right. I don’t play golf, so I don’t know.”
Here’s the thing: It’s not that complicated. Just ask the coach who can remember Griffith as a quiet seventh-grader who’d never seen a football.
“They were outside one day [during P.E.], messing around with a football and he kicked it one time,” said Hal Lamb, Griffith’s former coach at Calhoun High School in North Georgia. “That’s how it all started.”
It was that simple, and it’s stayed that way ever since.
“He treats the game of football as a game,” Lamb explained. “The reason he’s so successful is his mindset that, ‘I’m going to do the best I can, and if it goes through, it goes through. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.’ It’s important to him, I don’t want to say it isn’t. But what he’s been through, I think life is more important than the game.”
That mindset might have saved him from a 2013 Iron Bowl that, “For the average Joe, would have ruined their career,” said Lamb, whose son was Griffith’s holder throughout high school.
As Griffith prepares to return to Auburn for the first time since that failed 57-yard kick that forever put his name in the history books, teammates aren’t worried how he’ll respond. In fact, Crimson Tide linebacker Reggie Ragland said he was never concerned about Griffith in the first place.
“Not Adam, because I know what kind of person he is,” Ragland said. “Adam doesn’t worry about too much. He doesn’t let too much stuff get to him. But when he gets in a groove, he’s in a groove.”
In terms of being in a groove, Griffith was ice cold. He hadn’t attempted a field goal in more than a month. And even then, he was 1-for-2 on the season as Cade Foster’s backup.
But Saban was relentless. He got one second put back on the clock and called on his redshirt freshman to kick the game-winner.
To this day, Griffith says he’s confident on kicks 55 yards and in. But that Saturday night in Auburn, Alabama, he faced a 57-yarder to send his team to the SEC championship.
A packed house. Pom-poms waving. A timeout from Auburn coach Gus Malzahn for good measure.
The kick had good height. Griffith dipped his left shoulder as the ball sailed upward and he took a few steps back as the ball descended, landing in hands of Chris Davis.
That’s when all hell broke loose. Davis fielded the kick and cut left. Two Alabama linemen overshot him. Brian Vogler dove and missed Davis, who tip-toed down the sideline. Griffith drifted toward the action and was blindsided by a 300-pound defensive tackle. A split-second later, Cody Mandell got only his fingertips on the back of Davis’ jersey. The rest is history.
It was Griffith’s first meaningful kick. It ended with six points the other way and a soul-crushing loss.
"At first it bothered me a little bit because I didn't know how to take it," Griffith told Al.com earlier this season. "Now that I'm older, and I've been in games I've been good and bad, you just can't worry about that."
Griffith wasn’t made available to speak to the media this week, but earlier in the season he said he felt confident after everything, including missing 7-of-12 field goal attempts to end last season.
That’s no surprise to Lamb, who watched the 2013 Iron Bowl on TV and shouted, “Oh no!” Given how young Griffith was at the time, Lamb said, “I didn’t want him to be out there.”
But Lamb said whatever confidence Griffith was lacking before, he has back now.
According to Lamb, Griffith has even reached out to other specialists who “have failed in key situations,” including Michigan punter Blake O'Neill. The message, Lamb said, was, “Keep your head up and remember it’s just a game.”
Just a game? That's not a phrase you’ll hear often from the hoard of fans who live and breath rivalries like the Iron Bowl.
But that’s not Griffith. While the media and fans have tried to make sense of his ups and downs through the years, it’s his ability to keep the game in perspective that’s allowed him to keep going.