HOSCHTON, Ga. -- On Friday, the No. 13 defensive tackle in the ESPN 150, Kelsey Griffin (Hoschton, Ga./Mill Creek), was honored during an Under Armour All-America Game jersey presentation as part of the 2013 American Family Insurance Selection Tour. The 6-foot-3, 285-pound defensive lineman was excited not only for his honor, but the chance to put his high school program on the map. Mill Creek is in Gwinnett County, where powerhouse programs such as Brookwood, Grayson, Norcross, North Gwinnett, Parkview and Peachtree Ridge have enjoyed top billing over the past decade. Griffin hopes to change that this season.
"It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of a game that guys like Jadeveon Clowney, A.J. Green and Stephon Gilmore took part in," said Griffin, who will follow Clowney and Gilmore's lead and attend South Carolina next year. "It means a lot that they thought enough of me to invite me and give me an opportunity to showcase what I have learned at Mill Creek. Now other guys at my school can look at this and see they have a chance to make a name for themselves here, just as I hope my team can put its stamp on history."
Growing up, Griffin was always big for his age and the biggest kid on his team, so football came easy for him. His toughest struggle early on was not the physical aspect of the game, but focusing on what he was asked to do. His father, Craig, was unsure if his son would be able to adapt to the structure and more leveled playing field that he would face entering high school.
"My biggest fear I had was that when everyone was his size and strength or even stronger, how would he perform then?" Craig said.
After two games of junior varsity, Kelsey approached his father.
"'Dad they are not any better than I am,'" Craig remembers his son saying.
The then 6-foot-1, 275-pound freshman was bumped up to the varsity level shortly after, and at that point the light came on. Craig said his son's mind had finally caught up with that big body of his and he started to show some promise. By the time his sophomore year was over, colleges had started showing interest and Griffin had amassed 96 tackles and six sacks.
"The older he got, the better he got," Craig said. "It has been really fun watching him turn into such a wonderful human being."
Offers started pouring in. His report card, which had been average before, was full of A's and B's. But one thing that did not grow was the hype surrounding Griffin. In interviews, Griffin maintained a calm demeanor and an almost indifference to the process that puts hundreds in the limelight each year. That approach is a reflection of the Griffin household.
"His character has really come out in his interviews. So far you can tell he wanted his peers to see him for what he is: a friend and a teammate and nothing more," Craig said. "It has been wonderful to see his approach and to know that the things we have been trying to instill in him at home were not going in one ear and out the other. Reading the articles, we saw that he was actually listening and utilizing what he has learned to his advantage. We are very proud of him for that."
The 6-foot-2, 290-pound lineman, who led his team in tackles the last two seasons with 140 combined, has taken trips to several programs over the last year including Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. The No. 134 prospect in the nation originally planned to make his commitment to the University of Georgia, but Kelsey says he is happy to now be committed to South Carolina instead.
"I have been happy ever since and I am looking forward to coming in and competing for a starting position," Griffin said.
Griffin also has a chance to earn a college degree, which is what his father is most excited about.
"All of this is just a means to an end, though," Craig said. "Football will come and go, but the chance to get an education is something he can keep for life and he has grown to understand his opportunity."