By Gabriel Stovall
JONESBORO, Ga. — The last time Jordan Griffin and Cam Newton crossed paths, the Carolina Panthers star quarterback was giving the Jonesboro corner a pick-me-up.
Griffin and his Jonesboro squad just lost in the Cam Newton 7-on-7 Passing League tournament at Atlanta’s Westlake High School, and the rising senior and Kentucky commit knelt to the ground and burst into tears. Even in a summer passing league, the pain of losing was tough to take.
But this past weekend at Newton’s All-Star version of his namesake tournament, Griffin didn’t receive encouragement from Newton as much as he did congratulations.
That’s because the 6-foot-1, 190 pound DB had just grabbed the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award. And this time, after getting over a different kind of pain, Griffin was able to smile instead of cry.
“At the time, honestly, I was catching cramps when I first heard I’d won it, so I wasn’t really taking it in too much,” Griffin said. “But once I got settled and got the cramps out, I felt completely honored. It’s been a long road to get where I am, and it just let me know that the hard work out there is paying off. I definitely don’t take it for granted at all.”
Neither does he take for granted the way he and the rest of his Jonesboro teammates played at Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill, SC.
The Cardinals fought their way back from the losing bracket to finish in the tournament’s top three, losing in double-elimination play to Cartersville (Ga.).
But that setback didn’t sting Griffin like the first time. In fact, he has absolutely nothing but good things to say about the opportunity to play in such a prestigious tournament.
“Yeah, I don’t even know where to start,” Griffin said. “It was just another crazy good experience with my teammates where I got the chance to compete with the best of the best. And our team coming in as a wildcard meant a lot to us. We did the best we could.”
Griffin said Newton made it obvious that he remembered Griffin and his Jonesboro squad.
“He was there, and when we were in the game, he would do little things while he had the mic to mess with me,” Griffin said. “Like when a game got close, he’d be calling out my name before a play, and say, ‘Jordan, I hear your heart beating,’ and he would make the heartbeat sound.”
Griffin said he enjoyed the good-natured ribbing, and had the chance to personally show Newton his gratitude.
“He’s just an awesome guy,” he said. “Even after the all-star team experience, I just thanked him over and over again. I thanked him for just being there and giving back to the community. It did a lot for me to get out here and see how I can compete against the best of the best. Again, I just thank Cam Newton a lot for the opportunity.”
It was more than just personally gratifying, though. Griffin said that while there are still some who have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of 7-on-7 summer passing leagues, Griffin saw how beneficial it was — not only for himself, but for his teammates.
“I can see how people can get (a negative) mindset from 7-on-7s,” he said. “It definitely has ups and downs, but my mindset with the position I play, there are more ups. I played more 1-on-1. It gave me a chance to perfect my craft. Just working in and out on your technique that you learn in practice, 7-on-7s are good to me in my eyes. You always wanna see how you fair against people who are the best, because ultimately those are the ones you’re playing against every year.”
Same for his teammates, whom he raved about.
“I can go on and on about each and everyone of my players at Jonesboro,” he said. “Jonesboro football is all I care about at the end of the day. Hats off to those guys. Without them, there wouldn’t be me. Without the team there is no them. I credit them and my coaches for putting me in the position to be able to even be where I am.”