Griffin still a field enforcer after changing priorities

03/29/02 LaCrosse Tribune
If Michael Griffin had a time machine, he would go back nine years to St. Paul Johnson High School.

He hates to tell the story. He's played the scenario over and over in his head 1,000 times. He lived a sports stereotype.

Griffin had all the talent in the world. He was a football star on both sides of the ball. He could play almost any position. NCAA Division I coaches came calling.

"All my coach could tell them was I didn't have the grades," Griffin said.

It's hard to believe Griffin was the jock who couldn't get into college. The 27-year-old is articulate, well spoken. The La Crosse Night Train safety seems to have everything figured out these days.

Nine years ago, he was a different person.

"I'm not the same young, dumb kid I was who didn't understand that school was important. I made up for all my mistakes," Griffin said.

The bruising hitter who still makes his home in St. Paul, Minn., is married to Christina now. They have a boy and a girl, Michael Jr. and Kianna. He is just a few months away from his degree in law enforcement. He prides himself in being on the honor roll every semester.

Even though Griffin's priorities have changed over the years, he never quit playing football. He's bounced around different leagues. He played for the Minnesota Monsters of the Professional Indoor Football League and the Duluth Lumberjacks of the Indoor Football League.

This season will be the fourth year of his professional football career, with his fourth different team. Even though his heart will always be with outdoor football, he's grown to enjoy the game played on a smaller, carpeted field.

"You have a lot more chances to drill people. There are so many opportunities for interceptions," he said and then started smiling. "I love this game."

Opposing receivers have not loved having Griffin roaming the middle, looking for someone to demolish.

"He's all over the field," said Night Train coach John Schimon. "Any league he's been in, he's led the team in tackles."

It appears the trend won't change this season. He made 10 tackles and an interception for the Night Train on March 16 in the opener in Kearney, Neb. La Crosse suffered a blowout loss, but two weeks of practice have the Night Train players believing they can win tonight.

In the franchise's first home game, La Crosse plays a fellow expansion team in the Lincoln Capitols at 7 p.m. at the La Crosse Center. For the Night Train to win, they know they'll need a big performance from their defensive leader.

"Mike is one of the toughest guys I've ever known," said starting quarterback Colby Vogt. "He's got a lot of experience. You can look at him in the clutch time. Even as a defensive guy, he wants the ball. He wants to score the touchdown. That's just the kind of guy he is."

Fortunately for the Night Train, some things about Griffin haven't changed.

Quarterback Colby Vogt, who played his college career at Winona State, said he is ready to bounce back from his seven-interception performance against the Tri-City Diesel March 16 in Kearney Neb.

"When things weren't there, I tried to make too much happen. I put the ball up in the air for grabs," Vogt said. "Especially being as old as I am, and as much football as I've played - I can't do that. If I have to, I'll take the sack."

As for whether he felt his teammates still supported him as the team's starter, he said: "They know what I can do. Everybody takes some responsibility on their shoulders. I'm looking at what I did. They're looking at what they did. We're working on what we need to work on, and hopefully it all comes together."

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