Brundidge’s Cornelius Griffin will take the field along with the Alabama Crimson Tide Saturday night in the Georgia Dome against the University of Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship G
Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 2, 1999
ALABAMA’S HIT MAN
BY JAINE TREADWELL
Every time Cornelius Griffin straps on his helmet and runs through the tunnel onto the field amidst cheers of thousands of crimson-clad fans, he realizes how blessed he is.
Playing college football is every little boy’s dream and, for Griffin, it’s a dream come true.
"I know there are thousands of people who would give anything to be in my shoes," the defensive tackle for the University of Alabama said. "I know that I’m living a dream and I’m trying to make the best of every minute of this opportunity. I got a chance to live my dream and I know that I am blessed."
Griffin was no different from a million other little boys who grow up dreaming of the grit and glory of college football. However, Griffin didn’t dream of scoring a winning touchdown. He dreamed of making the big hit.
"I’ve always loved the game and I loved to see people get hit," Griffin said. "I couldn’t wait until I could strap on a helmet and put some hits on some people."
Griffin put some hurt on a lot of people while a gridiron star at Pike County High School. He went on to All-American honors as a Mississippi "juco" star but he was just biding his time until he could "hit" the big time college football scene.
He had plenty of opportunities but he was leaning toward Auburn or Ohio State. The University of Alabama wasn’t in the running.
But for some reason, and Griffin is not sure exactly what, all of a sudden he got Bama fever.
"Auburn wanted to play me at tight end and Ohio was too cold," he said. "Alabama was a little down and I thought I could go up there and make a difference – and they were going to let me hit somebody."
Griffin said he can’t explain his passion to pop people.
"Putting a good hit on somebody is a great feeling but the greatest feeling in the world is when you hit somebody and you feel the hurt a little bit, too." Griffin said. "Then you know you have really affected somebody. That’s the name of the game. Football is a physical, intense game and, if you don’t enjoy that kind of play, you’re in the wrong game."
Griffin teetered between Auburn and Alabama but he wanted a chance "to dominate people" and his best chance of doing that was at Alabama.
"As a tight end, you can catch the ball and lower your head and hit somebody but I wanted to play defense," Griffin said. "On defense you can dominate. That’s what I wanted to do."
When Griffin arrived at the Capstone, the coaches gave him jersey #97 and some big shoes to fill – those of former Bama great Cornelius "Biscuit" Bennett # 97.
Griffin’s teammates dubbed him "Cornbread" and "Big Country" and they also voted him defensive captain for the 1999 season – his senior season.
Griffin had not pressured himself to fill Bennett’s shoes but evidently his teammates felt he had done the job.
"Being voted captain by my teammates was a tremendous honor," he said. "I hope they voted me captain because they feel I have had an impact on the team and the kind of season we’ve had."
There is little doubt Griffin has had an impact – a big, crushing impact on opposing teams. Just ask LSU. Just ask Auburn.
Griffin put a hit on LSU quarterback Josh Booty as he was heading into the end zone for the potential winning touchdown. Marvin Constant put the initial hit on Booty and Griffin slammed into him, turning him around and preventing him form falling into the end zone.
A jarring blow never felt so good, Griffin said.
As big as that hit was, it was a much softer hit that Griffin said was the biggest of his career. It came against Auburn Nov. 20. With Auburn leading, 14 – 6, Griffin and Kendall Moorehead combined to bring AU quarterback Ben Leard down in the Auburn end zone for a safety. That play turned the game around and the Tide rolled to a 28 -17 victory over the Tigers "at their place."
As Leard crumpled to the ground, Griffin could smell victory.
"That was big," he said. "I’m always positive and I thought all along we would win but, at that point, I was confident the game was ours.
"The papers said we had overcome the Tiger Jinx by beating them at their place but I don’t believe in jinxes. I believe in miracles and blessings. That one was a blessing."
Griffin has been in some big games and some disappointing ones. The one against Louisiana Tech this year is probably the most disappointing.
"We had eight sacks and we lost the game," he said. "If somebody had told me that would happen, I wouldn’t have believed them. We didn’t make the plays we needed to make to win and we lost the game. But, it was a wakeup call for us. We came back ready to play. We beat Arkansas and Florida and put ourselves in a position to play for the SEC championship."
With Alabama poised for a rematch with Florida for the SEC Championship Saturday in Atlanta and a bowl bid for certain, Griffin is gearing up for his last two games in crimson and white.
Bama’s odds against Florida are good, Griffin said.
"The game will be our chance to fight deep and see what we’re made of," Griffin said. "I’ve got two games left and I want to go out a winner. We’re all hyped up and ready to go. We’ll be ready. Bama will be ready."
When that last whistle blows on Griffin’s college football career, he will only have one regret.
"I’ve had two great years at Alabama," he said. "I just wish I had had four."