This afternoon at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Joseph Griffin of Londonderry faces the ultimate challenge.
The 2008 New England Patriots Fan of the Year from New Hampshire will be forced to root for the other team in Red, White and Blue today … the Houston Texans.
“Well, he’d better,” warned Joe’s son, Texans’ rookie tight end Ryan Griffin. “I know this one is going to be tough on him.”
Facing his hometown team is only the next challenge in what has been a year-long battle for Ryan, the UConn product and sixth round pick of the Texans in last spring’s draft.
Griffin’s battle to move from the University of Connecticut to the pros was certainly not easy. It began last winter with a first step that the Londonderry High product wasn’t allowed to make.
When the NFL sent out invitations to its draft combine, Griffin’s name wasn’t on a list that included 19 tight ends.
“I was focused at that point in time. A lot of people counted me out,” said Griffin. “When I didn’t get an invite, it was a pretty big turning point for me. I’m there at UConn training with guys going to the combine, and I got left home. I still think about every day and use it as motivation.
“It hurt me. This wasn’t not making an All-Big East team or something like that. You know the people who make those decisions as to who to invite are the GMs, They are the people who matter. I still don’t know what it was.”
Only 15 of them were drafted — all of them ahead of Griffin, whom Houston took at pick 201 in the sixth round.
He admits, he still tracks the successes and failures of all the guys who went ahead of him.
Griffin quickly found a home in Houston, turning heads in camp despite the fact that the Texans already had a two-time Pro-Bowler in Owen Daniels and a reliable veteran backup in Garrett Graham.
The pro game slapped him in the face at the beginning. Not since very early in his freshman year at UConn had he been buried in the No. 3 spot on any depth chart.
The Texans asked him to perform like he never had before.
“Coming from college, there’s so much more detail in the playbook. The meetings are a lot longer, and you have to turn around and perform what we met about an hour later,” said Griffin. “I’ve played every special team since I’ve been down here. I had never covered a kickoff before I got here, ever. Preseason was literally the first time I had done it in my life. But I learned my lesson a couple of weeks ago, when I got knocked out.”
Griffin describe the suicide squad sensation as much like the scene in the movie “Invincible,” with Mark Wahlberg playing ex-Eagle Vince Papale.
“You learn quick you had better have your head on a swivel in the NFL.”
Griffin has played in 10 of 11 games this year, competing on all the major special teams and actually starting four games since Daniels’ leg fracture, that could cost him the rest of the season. So far, the 6-foot-6, 254-pound former Eagle-Tribune All-Star has a modest four catches for 57 yards. But he does have a touchdown.
Off the field, Griffin says the changes have been just as difficult.
“I still can’t find a decent pizza place down here,” he said, lobbying one pizza chain to contemplate a Houston franchise. “There are times down here that I’d do anything for a slice from Sal’s.”
Like most young college grads, he’s learning about life on his own.
“The stuff I was supposed to learn in college I guess,” Griffin joked. “Houston is a big, huge city. We’re just trying to make a home here. Other than our record (2-9), things have gone pretty well.”
GRIFFIN IN RARE COMPANY As you can imagine, the state of New Hampshire simply doesn't produce a ton of National Football League types. Griffin is the first player from one of our region's seven New Hampshire schools to actually make the NFL. Salem's Wayne Lucier, who grew up in Amesbury and played at St. John's Prep in Danvers, went on to a two-year career with the Giants. A "Google" search located a list of 24 players born in the Granite State to ever play in the NFL. Londonderry's Ryan Griffin, a rookie with the Houston Texans, understands he's on a short list. It's another huge factor that drives him. "It's something I can be proud of in the locker-room or the community," said Griffin. "I can only speak to what I've done, and that is try to make the most of my opportunities. Coming out of Londonderry High I had no (Division 1) offers before UConn. If they didn't offer, it was UNH. "We just don't get those offers. Guys have to get out more, go to camps and get some buzz about them. Then make those opportunities count. It can be done, but it's hard." DID YOU KNOW? At UConn, one of two head coaches Ryan Griffin played for was Paul Pasqualoni. Pasqualoni coached former St. John's Prep great and ex-Miami Dolphin fullback Rob Konrad, formerly of North Andover, all four years at Syracuse University.