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St. Paul grad Griffin settling in at Div. II Ashland

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Sep 28, 2016 at 5:19 PM

ASHLAND — When Michael Griffin signed his letter-of-intent to continue his track and field career at Eastern Michigan University in 2013, a small part of him knew he would miss football.

But not nearly as much as he did.

The 2013 St. Paul graduate missed it so much, he left EMU after one year and walked on the football team at Division II Ashland University. Today, he's a blossoming starting defensive back for the Eagles (4-0), ranked No. 5 in the latest Div. II coaches poll.

“I just missed football too much,” Griffin said. “I had a great time playing in high school, and a year away from it showed me how much I missed it. I had the opportunity to come here, and it’s worked out great for me.”

When Griffin expressed in interest in transferring to AU, he turned to former St. Paul teammate Eric Schwieterman, a standout safety at Ashland.

“Eric came to me and said Griff was interested in playing here,” 13th-year AU head coach Lee Owens said. “I said, 'That's great, but can he play?' And I'll never forget Eric said, 'Coach, he's a lot better than I am.'

“Remember, Eric was an All-American for us and a superstar in high school,” Owens added. “But man, Michael can fly; he can run. We also put him on our kickoff team, and we've had pretty good track athletes on kickoff, but he's always five yards ahead of everyone else. Teams have to find ways to block him — because he's so fast, he outruns most return teams. It's hard to find boundary corners with his length who can still run with receivers.”

In 2014, Griffin appeared in limited action in seven games, making seven tackles. Last season, he played in 11 games, making 13 tackles and returning an interception 44 yards. He also forced a fumble and returned three kicks for 70 yards (23.3 average).

The 6-foot-2, 197-pound redshirt junior had to adjust to playing defensive back full-time. Through four games, he has 13 tackles and a QB hurry on a blitz.

“It’s been an adjustment learning the techniques and how to play certain coverages and defend certain routes,” Griffin said. “But I just take it one day at a time, trying to learn more about each defensive scheme. It’s been going well.

Defensive coordinator Tim Rose is as accomplished of a defensive coach one can find at any Ohio school at any level. The former high school head coach at Lorain St. Mary's, Cincinnati Moeller and Cincinnati Elder also spent seven years at the head coach at Miami (Ohio) University. Prior to Ashland, he had assistant coaching stops at Memphis, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Boston College, East Carolina, Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech and Toledo.

Rose said there has been a learning curve with Griffin, but he's more than made up for it in other areas.

“Michael is an incredibly fast guy, he's tall, rangy and has the ability to play zone, yet he's tough enough to play the run,” Rose said. “And, he has the skill and height to play straight man coverage.

“He came here with limited experience, but has all the tools you want in a boundary corner,” he added. “Michael is playing at a real high level.”

In his first three years at St. Paul, Griffin produced just 11 attempts for 33 yards rushing and three tackles on defense, as injuries kept him off the field nearly every game as a sophomore and junior.

But finally healthy as a senior in 2012, Griffin ran for 1,651 yards and 19 touchdowns while catching nine passes for 165 yards and 4 TDs in 11 games for the Flyers. That included a program record 335 yards and 4 TDs on just 18 attempts (18.6 average) in a win over Ashland Crestview.

He was named Firelands Conference Offensive Back of the Year and first-team FC defensive back (929 tackles, 3 pass breakups). Griffin was also named Div. VI Northwest district first team and All-Ohio second team as a running back.

Later that spring, Griffin qualified for the Div. III state track and field championships in three events, and earned All-Ohio honors in the 200-meter dash (seventh) and the long jump (eighth).

Though injuries kept him off the field for much of his first three seasons, Griffin was a freshman on the Div. VI state championship team for St. Paul (15-0) when Schwieterman and his older brother, Brian, were star players. During his senior year in 2012, Griffin helped the Flyers to an FC title and a home playoff game.

That winning tradition has been helpful for Griffin today, as he plays for a team that has the pieces to contend for a Div. II national championship.

“St. Paul, obviously we had a winning culture there,” he said. “I think it set me up perfectly to come here and play. I don’t feel any pressure playing for a team ranked this high, I just go out and play each week. I’m used to that side of it, getting everyone’s best shot.”

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