COLUMBUS — Adam Griffin knows what it’s like to follow in the footsteps of an icon. He has had to adjust to carrying around the weight of a famous name his entire life.
It’s something you have to learn from and adapt to when you’re the son of the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, and perhaps the most revered Buckeye of them all, Archie Griffin.
“Probably my sophomore year in high school playing football, that’s the first time it ever hit me,” said Adam, a backup cornerback for 14th-ranked Ohio State.
Jamar Butler, a member of the Big Ten champion Buckeyes basketball team, came up to Adam that night — Adam’s first as a starter — and said, “You’re Archie Griffin’s son!”
It was the first time he realized that his family and his father were different, that he would have to live up to a lot while living a normal life.
Archie never made a big deal out of his college and NFL exploits at home. He didn’t even pressure Adam or his other two sons, Andre and Anthony, to play the sport — although he urged them to play a sport.
“The choice of what sport was theirs,” said Archie, the president and CEO of Ohio State’s massive alumni association. “I wanted them to play sports because of the wonderful lessons you learn, like getting up when you get knocked down, the teamwork, and all those other good attributes.”
The boys played sports, all right. All the time. Around the house, in the neighborhood, in school.
None really had a problem living up to the responsibilities and expectations of being Archie’s kids.
“I don’t really think about it that much,” Adam said. “I guess it’s kind of the way I’ve always been. I even thought that way back in Little League.”
It’s apparent that Adam is comfortable being his father’s son. He even welcomed the challenge of not just attending Ohio State, where his father became one of the greatest running backs, but also playing the same sport.
Adam grew up playing on star-studded AAU basketball teams that included former Ohio State star and current Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger. He was a standout football player at DeSales High School in Columbus, and ran track.
When it came time to pick a college, he approached then-Buckeyes football coach Jim Tressel about joining the team as a walk-on. A short time later, after two or three other top recruits didn’t sign on the dotted line, Tressel offered Adam a full scholarship.
“Actually, we call him ‘Young Arch,’” starting safety Christian Bryant said with a grin. “He came in our freshman year, and we didn’t know what to expect. We just knew his dad was Archie Griffin. ‘Arch’ (Adam) has made great strides to become a better player. He made a lot of plays this offseason in the fall in camp. He’s been moving forward.”
Asked if Adam downplays his famous name, Bryant laughed, “Oh, no. He looooves his last name. He talks about it almost every day. He knows what his dad did.”
Adam was redshirted two years ago and then saw action on special teams last year. Now he has caught the eye of first-year Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer.
Meyer said many would think it difficult to be compared to your father.
“You would think it’s almost impossible,” he said. “Then you get to know Archie and his wife (Bonita). And then this young guy. He was a workaholic in the offseason. You guys know Archie. What a class act. I don’t see him putting that pressure on his kid to be Archie Griffin.”
On the contrary. Archie said he has made it clear he wants his son to live his own life.
“I don’t ever want to get in the situation where I’m trying to encourage him to be like me,” said Archie, who won the Heisman in 1974 and ’75 and still holds Ohio State’s rushing record of 5,589 career yards. “I want Adam to be Adam. And I want him to be the best that he can be, certainly in the classroom and most definitely on the football field because he loves the game.”
His parents don’t meddle, either. Adam said he never heard his father’s voice even once during his high school days because Archie preferred to just watch the games and be a supportive dad.
“Archie not one time has ever asked me, or his wife has asked me, about how (Adam is) doing,” Meyer said. “I’ll give him information: ‘You’d be proud. He’s a good dude.’ Because he is. He’s a great kid.”
Meyer conceded he didn’t think much of Adam after he played poorly during spring practices. Clearly, he’s come around.
Now he’s climbed the depth chart and is a backup to Travis Howard at cornerback.
“It’s coming along. I still have work to do,” Adam said. “I’m not a starter right now. One day I fully plan to start.”
The Griffins remain a typical father and son. Archie is as friendly, even-tempered and patient as anyone, but Adam said like any father he has been known to raise his voice.
“Just stupid little things I did in high school,” Adam said with a grin. “He’s definitely lost it a couple of times.”
Archie said even two Heisman Trophies don’t exempt him from an occasional dismissive eye-roll from his son.
“Yes!” he said, trying to contain his laughter. “That’s exactly right. He does!”