RENTON, Wash. — Twelve-year-old Logan Powell was already a die-hard Seattle Seahawks fan, even growing up in a household with a Steelers-loving dad.
If possible, Powell's enthusiasm for the Seahawks was amplified when Seattle selected Shaquem Griffin in the fifth round of the NFL draft last spring. Powell didn't know who exactly Griffin was before the Seahawks selected him. He just knew there was a college player with one hand who wanted to play in the NFL.
"I was like 'Ah, that would be cool if he was on the Seahawks,'" said Powell, who wears a prosthetic left leg. "And then he was drafted by the Seahawks."
Powell and seemingly everyone else now knows Griffin's story.
How doctors amputated Griffin's left hand when he was 4 years old, a day after his mother found him in the kitchen attempting to cut off his jelly-like fingers. His fingers hurt whenever he touched anything, the result of amniotic band syndrome, a congenital birth defect.
The chance he was given to play college football at UCF. The remarkable college career where he was the best defensive player in his conference and one of the best in the country.
And ultimately being provided a chance to play in the NFL for the team his twin brother already played for.
Griffin's story will likely add another unplanned chapter on Sunday in Denver, one nobody could have expected on the day he was drafted by Seattle. He'll do more than just play in his first NFL regular-season game. Griffin will be one of the starting linebackers for the Seahawks with K.J. Wright out due to minor knee surgery.
The player who has been told countless times he can't will make his professional debut as a starter.
For kids like Powell, it's even more inspiration. If someone missing a hand can start in the NFL, then what is possible?
"He's just proved he can do whatever he wants because he worked hard for it," Powell said.
Griffin's work ethic has been cited by coaches and scouts as the driving reason the 23-year-old is even in the NFL. But being an NFL player has brought another responsibility, one greater than what he experienced in college. Griffin understands he will always have a role beyond just being a football player.
It's the reason why after Seattle's final preseason game he spent time back on the turf of CenturyLink Field meeting with kids from NubAbility , a nonprofit whose mission is to "encourage, inspire and instruct limb-different youth in mainstream sports." He signed autographs. He posed for pictures. Powell was there among those listening intently to what Griffin had to say well after 11 p.m. on the field of a mostly empty stadium.
Griffin said he didn't have a specific message to share; it was simply a chance to relish in the camaraderie of being together and seeing what was possible.
"There's no exact message. It's just us doing what we love doing," Griffin said. "That's living out our dreams. That's us choosing what we want to do. There's not really a message because we're all on the same page. We all support each other. Having them come support me is another step along the way. It's just living out our dreams the best that we can."
Right in the middle of talking to the kids and signing autographs was Shaquem's twin brother Shaquill, the Seahawks' second-year starting cornerback. He's helped his brother manage the transition from college to the NFL. He's been just as important in supporting and promoting what his brother has already accomplished.
"It means the world to me. Just seeing the people that look up to us, kids that are still pushing for what they believe in," Shaquill said. "You understand what kind of role you've really got playing this sport, using this platform. I feel like what my brother is doing and what I'm continuing to do is way bigger than football — the giving back to others and motivating them and give them something to dream about. That's what we play for, and being in that situation and talking to those kids, it's a lifetime thing and something I always look forward to."
Of course, there still is the football aspect to Griffin's story and why so much attention will be placed on his debut. Seattle knew it was getting a tremendous athlete that could be an immediate contributor on special teams when it drafted Griffin. Whether he would play on defense would depend on how quickly he grasped the scheme and found a position.
The Seahawks ultimately decided to use Griffin in space and slot him as Wright's backup. Compared to Wright in size, Griffin looks more like he should be a safety than a linebacker. But he's taken to the position, even after a rough second preseason game when he looked lost and overwhelmed, which led to conversations with coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. about how to be more like the player they saw in college.
Griffin showed what Carroll and Norton wanted to see over the final two preseason games. And now he gets the chance to show it in a game that matters.
"When you're a young guy trying to do everything for everybody, it's insurmountable. That's kind of how he was looking at it," Carroll said. "He was tight, he wanted to please everybody, he was just trying to do too much stuff. We simplified it, got his language really clearer, what he was intending on trying to get done — like making his drops, making his reads and stuff, just simplify things — and he's a really good ballplayer, he just took to it.
"I think he took also the fact that we showed confidence in him. Instead of ripping his butt about what he couldn't do, we told him what he could do, and he's kind of followed it. All of a sudden he felt like he was very comfortable and much more at home, so we'll see how it works."