Part two of three
Life is more about the journey and less about the destination.
If I were to talk about Chris Griggs’ playing days and then immediately jump to the present day, it oversimplifies how he got to this point. It’s because of his experiences, both positive and negative, that he’s reached his current state.
The first part of this three-part installation on Griggs detailed his time as a high school superstar at East Surry. His 6,897 career rushing yards and 100+ touchdowns are still atop Cardinal football rankings today. Part one illustrated just how dominant Griggs and the East Surry teams of the early 2000s were.
Griggs will always be known as an East Surry legend, but it’s important to realize his legacy goes well beyond Pilot Mountain.
Never applied myself
Griggs described his time after high school as “a scramble.”
It looked for a while as if he might follow a path similar to that of his archnemesis, T.A. McLendon. McLendon went on to play Division I ball at N.C. State University, where he was named 2002 Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year and even tied the ACC record for single-season TDs as a rookie with 18.
David Diamont, Griggs’ high school football coach at East Surry and current head coach at South Stokes High, believes to this day that the sky was the limit for Chris.
“He should be playing on Saturdays and Sundays, he’s that good,” Diamont said. “Probably would’ve been a better defender because he just had no fear.”
Unfortunately, Griggs’ plans were often derailed for one reason or another. In some cases, his struggles were a result of his academic standing.
“I was a smart kid; I just never applied myself for whatever reason,” he said. “My parents were on my butt all the time about it.”
“He just didn’t take care of the academic side,” Diamont recalled. “His mother and I had several discussions about things he should be doing, and I had to discipline him a little bit.”
Ups and downs
In an attempt to raise his GPA, Griggs’ first stop after graduating from East Surry in 2003 was Hargrave Military Academy. Hargrave is an all-male military boarding school in Chatham, Va.
He tried out and earned a spot on the team. He was one of four running backs on the team, joined by D.J. Ware, Darrell Blackman and Keon Lattimore.
Ware played at the University of Georgia and won an SEC Championship in 2005, later winning two Super Bowls with the New York Giants.
Blackman switched to wide receiver and return specialist at N.C. State then later signed with the Detroit Lions.
Lattimore, the half-brother of NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, played at the University of Maryland at College Park and spent time on the Dallas Cowboys.
Griggs led Hargrave in rushing touchdowns and tied for the second-most yards rushing. His time at Hargrave made him eligible to play NCAA football.
He went on to enroll at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. He wasn’t made an active member of the roster, though, but was instead redshirted.
In high school, Griggs was a star player on a team that came close to winning the ultimate prize before falling just short. Then in college, he wasn’t able to play his first year – though success did follow him. James Madison went on to win a share of the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship and later the school’s first NCAA Division 1-AA National Championship.
Griggs was still thrilled to be part of such an electric season with JMU despite not playing. This excitement diminished later in the school year as his academics got him in trouble.
“You hear people talk about ups and downs in this world,” Griggs said. “I ended up picking a school that won the Division I-AA National Championship my redshirt freshman year … then end up having to transfer out the next spring because of grades.”
Griggs took a hiatus from football in late 2005 in order to become academically eligible. This led him to Louisburg College, a private school north of Raleigh, where he spent the fall semester.
Even though Chris was three years removed from high school in 2003, he was still considered to have the eligibility of a freshman because he redshirted at James Madison.
Knowing he still had time to prove himself as a Division I or II caliber player, Griggs opted to attend Lackawanna Junior College in Scranton, Pa., beginning in the fall of 2006. This also kept his dream alive of one day reaching the NFL.
There have been plenty of JuCo products to find themselves in the League. A few years prior in 2002, a young man by the name of Bryant McKinnie was drafted No. 7 overall by the Minnesota Vikings. McKinnie played two years at Lackawanna before becoming an All-American offensive lineman. McKinnie went on to play in the NFL for more than a decade, winning a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013.
Lackawanna gave Griggs his first opportunity to shine at the college level and he didn’t disappoint. He helped Lackawanna to its first undefeated season in school history while capturing the Northeast Football Conference Championship. The regular season went like this:
28-0 vs. Bucknell Jayvee, 23-20 (OT) vs. Hudson Valley Community College, 70-0 vs. Berean Institute, 14-13 vs. Nassau Community College, 30-6 vs. Erie Community College, 36-21 vs. Delaware Valley, 7-6 vs. US Naval Academy Prep, 40-0 vs. Alfred State College and 28-7 vs. Dean College.
Griggs led the team in rushing touchdowns (10) and was the team’s second-leading rusher (460 total yards) despite only playing in seven of the nine regular season games. He tied for 15th in the National Junior College Athletic Association in rushing TDs.
The only player to average more yards of offense for Lackawanna was quarterback A.J. McKenna.
The undefeated season put the Lackawanna Falcons in the 2006 Valley of the Sun Bowl. Their opponents: the defending NJCAA National Champions, Glendale Community College.
Glendale won the Valley of the Sun Bowl nine times from 1981-2005, while Lackawanna had never won a bowl game.
That didn’t stop the No. 7 Falcons from upsetting No. 5 Glendale 17-16 to cap off the 10-0 season. Griggs was named MVP of the win and Lackawanna jumped to the No. 2 spot in the country in the final NJCAA rankings.
Griggs was on top of the world. Things finally seemed to be going his way after coming so close time after time.
Then, history unfortunately repeated itself.
“That spring semester, what happens? I end up not concentrating on grades and I have to transfer again,” Griggs said. “Athletically, I knew I was good. I always played on teams and ended up elevating them to conference championships … but academically struggled.”
Chris landed at himself at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts, for the 2007-08 school year. Dean was a junior college in the same conference as Lackawanna at the time. The school is actually set to join the NCAA’s Division III in September 2020.
Griggs was the team’s leader in total yards rushing (575) as well as rushing TDs (8), which tied for 17th in the national NJCAA standings. A few spots down the list was East Mississippi Community College’s LaGarrette Blount, who went on to win three Super Bowls and lead the NFL in rushing TDs in 2016.
Griggs was also used sparingly as a receiver, finishing with 140 yards receiving and two receiving TDs.
Dean College was the latest program to experience success with Griggs on the team. The Bulldogs started the year with nine-straight wins: 33-7 vs. Assumption College JV, 41-20 vs. Springfield JV, 26-8 vs. Bryant University JV, 48-6 vs. Berean Institute, 33-0 vs. Bridgewater State JV, 34-28 vs. Alfred State College, 44-7 vs. Erie Community College, 17-13 vs. Nassau Community College and 25-10 vs. Hudson Valley Community College.
The 9-0 start gave Dean College its first Northeast Football Conference Championship in school history. This meant Griggs won a conference championship in all but one season of football since middle school.
Dean had a shot at the Junior College National Championship game if it were able to win its final game of the season, which just so happened to be against Griggs’ former school Lackawanna. Lackawanna, 5-3 at the time, upset Dean to spoil Griggs’ championship aspirations and give him his only college loss.
End of school
Griggs was set to return to Dean College for what would be his junior year of eligibility in 2008.
He needed to complete 22 credit hours over the summer to be eligible to play that fall. The feat was doable; however, Griggs wasn’t convinced staying at Dean was his best option.
For starters, he was pushing 23 years old at the time, which was already older than most players looking to get drafted. Second, Chris was never a fan of schoolwork, so the pathway of focusing on just football was even more appealing.
“I was good at test taking, I just never wanted to do the work; never wanted to do the things that came with it,” Griggs said.
So, Chris left college in 2008 and began trying out for Canadian Football League teams such as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts. Just like his college career, he experienced ups and downs in his pursuit of a professional career as well.
Part One of this trilogy detailed Griggs’ time as a superstar in high school. Coaches, both his own and those attempting to stop him, were blown away by Chris’ all-around athleticism. He continued to stand out in a crowd of college athletes regardless of the university.
While academics caused him problems in college, when he attempted to play professional football it was his athleticism that became the issue for the first time.
He hadn’t regressed since he left college. Instead, the problem was that every man trying to make the pros was a superstar athlete. Chris never had to push himself in the weight room until then and that hurt him.
“People that really know me will know this: I never worked out,” Griggs said. “This is all God-given ability, and that’s what pushed me to be good in high school and in college. I never even worked out in college.”
Diamont recalls never learning just how much Griggs could lift because he didn’t like being in the weight room.
“We never had found out what he could do on bench press or even what his 40 time was,” Diamont said. “I want to say he had maybe a high 4.5 at Hargrave, but I’m not sure. I just know he never officially ran it in high school.”
Griggs said his backup in college played seven years in the CFL, while he never sniffed training camp.
“It’s just as much mental as it is physical at that point,” Griggs said. “At that age, everyone’s big, everyone’s fast and everyone’s got the accolades, whether that’s DI or DIII.”
Chris spent more than a year of bouncing around training camps.
He was training in Chicago, where his parents and sister moved after his high school graduation, in 2009 when his son Jayden was born.
“With me having to prioritize being a dad and try out for pro teams, I wasn’t as focused and didn’t put in the time and effort into what I know now it takes to be an elite athlete,” Griggs said. “That’s when I gave up the dream of playing and started coaching. I’ve always loved the game of football … and been around good people growing up in a good community like Pilot Mountain. I decided to coach and give back.”
The third and final part of Where are they now: Chris Griggs takes an in-depth look at his life after retiring from football, including his coaching and business careers.