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May 6, 2009

Cedric Griffin's graduation is a true success story

Cedric Griffin just landed his second contract with the Minnesota Vikings (five years, $25 million) and is graduating from Texas this month with a degree in youth and community studies.

In July, he'll begin training camp for a playoff team last year that may be getting enough help at quarterback (Sage Rosenfels … or Brett Favre) to push deeper in the playoffs than a first-round loss at home to Philadelphia.

But let's rewind for a moment. When it comes to Cedric Griffin's powerful story, it's best to start at the beginning.

Before the big hit on Ryan Hamby against Ohio State in 2005, before busting up another would-be touchdown and posting 13 tackles in UT's first victory over Oklahoma in six years, before the helmet-popping collision with USC's fullback in the BCS national title game there was pain. And Griffin wasn't the one dishing it out. He was on the receiving end.

ON HIS OWN

Cedric's parents split when he was a young child. Cedric lived with his mother, who had a career in the military and moved Cedric and his sister from Louisiana to California to San Antonio - all before he was 10. But his mother basically gave up on him after he was caught stealing portable CD players from a mall stereo store and entered a Scared Straight program.

Cedric, at age 14, had to wear a prison jumpsuit, eat prison food and spend time with inmates getting in his face and cussing him out. When Griffin finished the program and looked for a second chance with his mom. She locked him out of her house.

A sophomore in high school, Cedric called his father and asked if he could move in with him in Mississippi, his father said no.

"I guess he didn't want the responsibility," Cedric told me back in November of 2005.

Cedric ended up moving in with Tony and Sandy Johnson, the parents of Cedric's childhood friend, Anthony, who played Pee-Wee football with Cedric. Day by day, stability entered Cedric's life.

"I could see it hurt," Tony Johnson said. "I know sometimes he was scared. He would never admit it. But you have to be when you're 12, 13, 14 years old, and nothing's working out with your mom and dad."

FIGHTING THE PAIN

In college, Cedric never went anywhere without a dictionary, pen and journal so he could write short stories and poems about his personal feelings.

"It helps take away some of the pain," Griffin told me in 2005. "Or show some of the happiness."

His upbringing made it hard for him to trust anyone. But a few coaches and mentors got through who recognized his talent and encouraged him to stay focused. School, however, was always a struggle.

Cedric admitted he was on his way to flunking out during his freshman year at Texas when Duane Akina pulled him aside and said, "You have no idea how special you are."

Those were the magic words that turned Cedric Griffin's life around. A college coach was not only believing in him, but praising him. Cedric Griffin had lived his whole life waiting for the next piece of bad news.

"Coach Akina believed in me before I believed in myself," Griffin said. "I wouldn't have made it without him."

ALWAYS AN EDGE

Griffin also tested his boundaries on the field early in his time at Texas. Griffin loved to flatten people, stand over them, dance, beat his chest and carry on. Griffin even told Mack Brown he should let his players grandstand more on the field because UT had a reputation for being uptight and soft.

Mack told him celebrating didn't equate to tough and told him to express himself with hits and not "by what we say or how we act before or after a play."

Mack won that day. In 2005, they found common ground, after Vince Young asked for the right to lead the team however he saw fit - with music during warm-ups and flow sessions on the buses to and from practices and games.

"We were just ourselves," Griffin told me last week. "I'm going to be Cedric. Vince was going to be Vince. Huff was going to be Huff. Michael Griffin was going to be himself. We led by example and had a lot of respect for the coaches. It all worked out."

Of his explosive hit against USC on the sideline that caused the helmet of USC's fullback to pop off like a Champagne cork, Griffin said, "I laid it all out there."

THE NEW BREED

Griffin has been around the current Texas players as he finishes up his degree. He has watched the players on defense interact with coordinator Will Muschamp. He likes what he sees.

"The guys are excited," Griffin said. "They're happy that Muschamp came into Texas and kind of turned around the attitude. When a lot of the 2005 guys left, a lot of the edginess and attitude left with them. The guys have said Muschamp came in and helped put that back in along with Duane Akina.

"They're doing a great job. And the guys are clinging onto them and taking coaching. I think they have a chance to be great this year. They have a lot of young guys who are growing up right in front of our eyes. They are really talented. I think it's going to be an awesome year for the Longhorns, and I'm going to be proud to watch them.

"It would be great if we could double up and the Vikings could win it all and the Longhorns could win it all."

A BETTER LIFE

Griffin is now married and living in Minneapolis with his wife and children. Despite his NFL income, Griffin plows the snow from his own driveway.

"I wanted that experience," Griffin said.

When you ask Griffin about the money he just landed in his second contract and what it means, he talks about what he wants to accomplish for the Vikings.

"It's going to take all of us coming together and bonding and playing as one unit," Griffin said. "We can't expect one player to take over the team. Sage Rosenfels can't be our savior. One player is not going to put us over the top. It's going to take all of us working together, better than ever, to put us over the top.

"I'm glad the Vikings rewarded me. I'm going to keep doing what I do - be an aggressive player and really become a team player and leader for the Vikings."

Griffin is so money-conscious he won't even joke about any purchases he might indulge himself with thanks to his new contract.

"I got some money when I was drafted in the second round (in 2006)," Griffin said. "That gave me a head start on life, and that's what I'm living off of. The money from this new contract is for my children and their children. I think my wife and I are doing a great job of managing our money, and I thank God for it."

PICTURE OF PERSERVERANCE

When you ask Griffin what it will mean to graduate on May 23, you see the proud little kid who somehow never lost his way despite losing connection with his parents during the formative years of his life. Griffin said he has forgiven his mother and father even though they are still estranged. His favorite tattoo is emblazoned across his chest and reads, "A Man Is Only As Good As His Word." It's something his mother always told him.

"My graduation will be a blessing," Griffin said. "I've always had to take school day by day. School was always a struggle for me. But I'm applying myself, because I really want my degree.

"It's all thanks to God. I've leaned on Him and on my family and coaches. It's going to be a great feeling to get my degree and look back and say I succeeded in an area I really wanted to succeed in. It's a great accomplishment. But I'm still working. I haven't arrived yet. I haven't gotten complacent. I'm still trying to better myself and my family."


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