It’s been a while since Mike Hughes was shocked by anything that former University of Central Florida teammate Shaquem Griffin could accomplish with no left hand.
“I used to see him playing video games, and I was like, ‘Dude, how?’ ” said the Vikings’ rookie first-round draft pick. “But once you see him do things and how he adjusts, it’s pretty normal to see.”
Talk about being able to adjust.
Twenty-three years ago, Griffin was born with an underdeveloped left hand because of a birth defect called amniotic band syndrome. Nineteen years ago, his parents had the hand amputated after waking up one night to find Shaquem trying to cut it off himself with a kitchen knife.
And Friday night, the fifth-round pick of the Seahawks stood alongside his old buddy Hughes as NFL rookies. They met on the field at U.S. Bank Stadium before their teams’ third preseason games.
“He’s definitely a great story for the NFL,” Hughes said of a league that can use more of them. “We talk junk now that we’re on different teams. But he’s a guy I look up to, to this day.”
Hughes didn’t suit up because of an undisclosed injury. Griffin, meanwhile, continued proving to coach Pete Carroll and General Manager John Schneider that this 6-0, 227-pound linebacker was worthy of a Day 3 selection.
Listed as the backup to K.J. Wright at weakside linebacker, Griffin played on special teams in the first half and at linebacker as well in the second half.
In his first defensive series — a three-and-out by the Vikings — Griffin had tight coverage on an incomplete pass to running back Mike Boone and assisted on a tackle on a second-down run. In his second series — the last one before this edition of the Star Tribune went to press — Griffin had a solo tackle.
In his first preseason game, a 19-17 loss to the Colts, Griffin had a game-high nine tackles, including four in his first seven NFL snaps. In his second preseason game, a 24-14 loss to the Chargers, Griffin played a team-high 49 snaps, including 12 on special teams.
With Wright in the last year of his contract, some in Seattle have speculated that Griffin could be a starter in waiting for 2019. His twin brother, Shaquill, a second-year player, already starts at left cornerback.
“People would be so surprised on Saturdays last year to see what Shaquem could do,” said Hughes, referring to UCF’s 13-0 season. “But I saw it every day in practice what he could do. We were playing Temple, I think. He’s running stride for stride with a receiver. Quarterback throws the ball, Shaquem turns, goes up and uses both arms for the pick.”
Hughes spent only one season at UCF after transferring from Garden City Community College in Kansas. The guy who met him on campus to show him around the first day was Shaquem.
“I didn’t know much about UCF, let alone Shaquem,” Hughes said. “I didn’t know he didn’t have a left hand. I didn’t ask him about it. I just watched from a distance and saw spectacular things.”
Shaquem posted 11 sacks while winning American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Then he wowed the league at the scouting combine with the fastest 40-yard dash time by a linebacker (4.38) in 12 years.
“You can do anything you set your mind to,” Shaquem said. “Stay away from the negativity.”
Hughes said Shaquem’s positivity was infectious on the field and in the locker room.
“When guys just weren’t feeling it, Shaquem was the one who lifted us up,” Hughes said. “There’s nothing negative about the guy. I met his mom [Tangie] and she’s a strong woman. I’m sure she helped build him into the person he’s become.
“She told me that Shaquem actually learned to tie his shoes before Shaquill did. That’s crazy. But that’s Shaquem.”