Some thought it would never happen again. Some thought two-sport stars were impossible because kids are now forced to choose their sport of choice at a young age. Names like Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders or Jim Thorpe were thought to be a thing of the past.
Meet Derrick Griffin from Texas Southern.
The 6-7, 230-pound Houston native was named Second Team All-SWAC as a wide receiver for the Tigers' football team, leading the conference with 11 touchdowns and an impressive freshman campaign of 35 catches for 709 yards. He took off his helmet and shoulder pads after Christmas and laced up a pair of sneakers to join the basketball team early in the New Year, six games into the Tigers' season.
After a two-year absence from playing basketball, Griffin dominated the conference in his 27 games, which saw him average 13.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. For his efforts, he was awarded the SWAC Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, First team All-SWAC and was an honorable mention AP All-American. Not a bad resume.
Griffin was so dominant both on the football field and on the basketball court that it now begs the question: NBA or NFL?
Coming out of high school in 2013, Rivals.com had Griffin listed as a four-star recruit and the No. 3 wide receiver in the country. He signed to play football for the Miami Hurricanes after being recruited by other powerhouses like Notre Dame, Auburn, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
However, he didn’t qualify academically and was unable to play or attend school, which left the young man in a state of limbo, wondering if he would ever get an opportunity to showcase his skills in either sport. Instead of going the junior college route, Griffin opted to enroll at Texas Southern, which sponsors both sports in Division I, though football at the FCS level.
The long road to Texas Southern, ironically just minutes from where he grew up in Houston, may have been a blessing in disguise. As a Hurricane, he would have been forced to just play football in order to keep up with the demands of the game in the ACC.
Watch two minutes of a Texas Southern game, and it is blatantly obvious that Griffin’s freakish athleticism is in a class well above his opponents on either the football field or basketball court.
"He reminds me of Kenneth Faried," Texas Southern basketball coach Mike Davis said. "He's that kind of athlete. I've never coached one like him."
After seeing Griffin catch and dunk an alley-opp pass from half court in just his second college game, David told his team, "From this point on, no bounce passes. If you throw him a bounce pass, it's your fault."
Griffin has had to maintain his 2.0 GPA to remain eligible for the upcoming season, and so far, so good. The challenge, however, will come when the season ramps up and Griffin has to balance academics with football and basketball responsibilities.
Think about some of the special athletes that have come along in the past 25 years that have been asked to simply focus on one sport at the college and professional level, simply because it’s what people consider the norm. Charlie Ward could have been a decent NFL quarterback, had he been given the opportunity. Randy Moss could have had a solid look at the NBA, had he been able to play basketball in college. High school football fans in Virginia may swear to this day that Allen Iverson is the best high-school football player they’ve ever seen.
For anybody outside of the Houston area, there hasn’t been much reason to tune into a Tigers football or basketball game in recent years. Yet now, Griffin has now made the Tigers must-see TV from September through to March.
The Tigers' football team was an uninspired 3-7 last season, which caused the school to make a coaching change and bring in Michael Haywood, who’s hiring at TSU is a chance at his own redemption. The Tigers' basketball team went 18-15, but has a legitimate shot at winning the SWAC and earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Attending a smaller school like Texas Southern has allowed Griffin the opportunity to be a little different and explore the opportunities that college provides for every non-student athlete across the United States, and that is the chance to explore who you are as an individual and try to find out what you can be good at in life, free of judgement or outside influence.
They also say that one door closing will simply create another door opening for you in the near future and Griffin’s recent path in life is definitely a testament to that.