2016 ALL-AREA OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nash Central's Griffin not too big to play QB
By PATRICK MASON
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Large humans who play football often begin each play with one hand in the dirt. These are the players that coaches stick on the offensive and defensive lines, using big bodies to get in the way of other big bodies.
This was Travis Griffin. He was a kid with a big frame, but he didn’t want to block or tackle. He wanted to play quarterback, but was stuck being cast for roles he didn’t want. And it’s happened to him throughout his life, until he got his chance.
Each time Griffin stepped onto a football field in his youth, coaches would envision a mobile, blocking offensive lineman, or a bruising linebacker. That’s because Griffin, a Nash Central junior, has always been just so darn big. In team photos, he’s the one in the back peering over his teammates.
“A lot of times coaches would look at me then send me over to the lineman groups,” Griffin said. “One even wanted to use me as a tight end. I just wanted to play quarterback, but everyone only wanted to notice how big I was.”
Now, what makes Griffin a standout quarterback for the Bulldogs is also what held him back throughout the early stages of his career - his size. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he has a strong arm and can see the whole field. He was given a chance to play quarterback when he was in seventh grade after showing interest in the position. But his first real opportunity to lead a team came when Chris Lee took over as coach for Nash Central in 2015.
Griffin played at the JV level his sophomore year to hone his skills before he was called up to play in the final three games of the 2015 season. He tossed five interceptions, but the experience only made him want to improve. Lee told him to expect to be the starting quarterback, so Griffin prepared all offseason in anticipation of leading his teammates. And in his first full season at quarterback he led the Bulldogs to their best season in recent memory.
It is no coincidence that Nash Central made the playoffs for the first time since 2011 after Griffin took over at quarterback. He solidified an important position, and the Bulldogs erased their routine of finishing in the cellar of the Big East Conference with a 7-5 record, erasing the pain of a 4-39 mark during the four-year stretch without a playoff berth.
It was all possible because of Griffin, whose breakout season earned him 2016 Telegram All-Area Football Offensive Player of the Year honors.
“I’ve always loved the position because you’re in control of everything,” Griffin said. “You have the ball in your hand every play, and you get to make the decisions. You also have to be accountable for what you do.”
Being accountable was the biggest aspect of the position that Griffin had to learn. He hates to make mistakes, so much to the point that he would not uncork some iffy passes in fear that they might be intercepted. A strong trait to have, but he was far too in the conservative direction, and it took some time to break him out of that fear.
“There were a couple passes that I caught that I didn’t think he would throw my way,” receiver C.J. Pearce said. “I thought he either didn’t have the time or the room, because Travis is the type of QB where he doesn’t want to mess up. But eventually he started throwing some riskier passes, and throughout the season he got over the fact that he was going to mess up sometimes.
“He is always better with other people than himself. He will never raise his voice at a teammate, but will help them get better. Nothing is anyone’s fault with Travis. You just move on and try to get better. That’s a leader to me.”
Griffin finished this season with three 100-yard passing games, including a 222-yard performance against Wilson Fike in the regular-season finale. He also threw a touchdown in 10 of the 12 games, finishing with 16 against six interceptions. His 1,616 passing yards led the area.
Pearce helped Griffin along with the intricacies of the position. Pearce, after all, was a quarterback throughout his playing career, including being the Bulldogs’ quarterback before Griffin took over for him at the end of 2015. Pearce helped Griffin prepare. The receiver would always drag Griffin outside to work on throws, and the two would run routes and play catch until the sun went down, sometimes needing to use car headlights to be able to see.
Pearce never complained about being unseated at quarterback, and instead helped Griffin improve. It was just how Lee envisioned the switch would go.
“When we made the decision, we thought it would be a good fit for both players,” Lee said. “We can get C.J. out to make plays, and we thought Travis would fill into his role. The rest, as they say, is history. It worked out for us.”
Pearce and Griffin grew up together, and their chemistry on the field was apparent. The two live near each other, played on the same junior tackle football teams, and spent time together outside of sports. Griffin was a lineman on a team that Pearce quarterbacked in elementary school. Pearce was Griffin’s top target this past season, catching 44 passes for 826 yards and six touchdowns.
The receiver has been more than a teammate to Griffin. Pearce has always been the one dressed in white whispering in Griffin’s ear from his good shoulder. Pearce sends nothing but positive vibes his friend’s way, an important character in shaping who Griffin is today.
“He was the one who is always telling me that I can do things,” Griffin said of Pearce. “He knew I wanted to be a quarterback when we were young, and even though he was the QB, he told me to go for it and told me I had the ability to be what I want. He’s always sticking up for me, even when it’s me that’s doubting something.”
There’s not much doubt left that Griffin can become an even strong quarterback. Lee sees Griffin evolving into a dynamic dual-threat player next season, though even he thinks that he will have to remember to not get too run heavy. Lee still wants to feature Griffin’s arm, which Lee believes is one of Griffin’s better attributes.
Lee installed several quarterback runs into the playbook for the playoffs, and the coach sees those plays staying in the future. But Lee was hesitent in saying that Griffin will become a running quarterback becuase being on the move so often opens himself up for injury.
And Griffin’s left arm is the Bulldogs’ path to another playoffs berth.
“He gave us so much more capabilites to throw the ball downfield,” Lee said. “Just Travis’ prescense, with teams knowing he can throw, got folks to loosen up against us so we don’t face eight or nine guys in the box each play. He’s a quick learner, a kid who understands the position.”
All it took was for somebody to give a big lineman a chance to throw.
ALL-AREA FOOTBALL TEAM
Travis Griffin, Jr., QB, Nash Central - Griffin threw for 1,616 yards passing with 16 touchdowns. He rushed for 7 more scores.
Kendrick Bell, Jr., RB, Southern Nash - Bell rushed for 1,075 yards and 16 total touchdowns for the Big East champ Firebirds.
B.J. Sanders, Sr., RB, Rocky Mount High - Sanders had 1,359 yards rushing on 213 carries for 16 total touchdowns. He had eight games with more than 100 yards.
K.K. Edwards, Sr. WR, Rocky Mount High - Edwards had 49 receptions and 715 yards receiving with four touchdowns for the Gryphons.
C.J. Pearce, Sr., WR, Nash Central - The senior had 39 receptions for 768 yards receiving and 7 touchdowns.
Zonovan 'Bam' Knight, So., FLEX, Southern Nash - Knight had 1,007 yards rushing, 21 total touchdowns and drew raves from Big East coaches.
Qua'tavis Harrell, Sr., OL, North Edgecombe - Harrell led the way for three 1,000 yard rushers on the 11-2 Warriors.
David Keck, Sr., OL, Rocky Mount High - Keck was the center and long snapper for a Rocky Mount attack that ran for more than 4,000 yards.
Michael Wiggins, Sr. OL, Northern Nash - Wiggins was crucial to the Knights’ push into the playoffs.
Josh Taylor, Sr., OL, Southern Nash - Taylor powered an offensive line that helped gain more than 3,300 yards on the ground.
Nathan Paris, Sr., OL, Southern Nash - The tight end-offensive lineman combo provided blocking for two 1,000 yard rushers.
Artavious Richardson, Sr., DL, Rocky Mount High - Richardson had 88 tackles, 19 for a loss, and 10 sacks for the Gryphons.
Thomas Battle, Sr., DL, Rocky Mount High - Battle had 48 total tackles and clogged the center of the Gryphons' defensive line.
Phillip Willoughby, Jr., DL, Tarboro - Willoughby had 147 total tackles, 67 of which were solo.
Demetris Perry, Sr., DL, Southern Nash - Perry had 62 total tackles, 20.5 for a loss, 11 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.
Sherrod Greene, Sr., LB, Rocky Mount High - The South Carolina commit missed the first two games of the season but still had 96 tackles and grabbed two picks.
Gerquayle Staton, Sr., LB, Tarboro - In the heart of the Vikings' defense, Staton had 170 tackles, 100 of which were solo tackles.
Alex Nobles, Jr., LB, Nash Central - The Bulldog had 108 total tackels, 16 for a loss, and two sacks.
Detrell Revis, Jr., DB, Rocky Mount High - Revis had 97 tackles and 10 interceptions, emerging as a defensive star.
Romello Denton-Pippin, Sr., DB, Tarboro - Denton-Pippin had 126 tackles and two interceptions for the Vikings.
Ahmad Lyons, Sr., DB, North Edgecombe - Lyons had 60 tackles, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two blocked field goals. He also rushed for more than 1,000 yards on offense.
Nadir Thompson, Jr., DB, Southern Nash - The junior had 20 tackles and 1 interception.
Dawson Harris, Sr., K, Tarboro - Harris was 51 of 56 PATs and hit seven of his 10 field goal tries.
Dae’one Wilkins, Jr., LB, Southern Nash; Dylan Hodges, Sr., LB, SouthWest Edgecombe; Deangelo Collins, Sr., RB, Rocky Mount High; Fookie Williams, Jr., RB, Tarboro; Vernon Whitaker, Sr, RB, Nash Central; Mike Sherrod, Sr., RB, North Edgecombe; DeCarlo Royster, Sr., RB, Northern Nash; Shy’Keem Hussey, Jr., WR, Tarboro; Rod’quon White, Sr., LB, Rocky Mount High; Isaiah Gay, Sr., DE, Northern Nash; Kevin Darden, Sr., DL, Nash Central; Chase Miller, Sr., K, Rocky Mount High; Raymond Bullock, Sr., DB, Northern Nash.