TURNER — Jack Griffin watched his older brother, Cam, win a state championship with Leavitt in 2009 and figured he’d be watching from the sidelines again last year when the Hornets returned to Fitzpatrick Stadium.

But an injury to defensive end Zach Frost forced Griffin into the starting lineup for Leavitt’s matchup with Mountain Valley. The Hornets lost, but Griffin had a feeling he might be back again.

“It was definitely big shoes to fill,” Griffin said. “Frosty was one of our best ‘D’ ends and I had to step up to it. It was a tough task, but I think I did well. It definitely gave me experience for this year.”

Now a senior, Griffin will be less wide-eyed when he steps on the Fitzpatrick turf Saturday night (6:06 p.m.) for the Hornets’ third consecutive Class B state championship game, this time against Wells. He will also be one of the best defensive players on the field, playing the defensive end position he has inherited from his brother and Frost.

Despite playing a position where it is best to go in a straight line, Griffin took a circuitous route to the line of scrimmage. As a freshman, he was a slotback and cornerback, then moved to linebacker and tight end as a sophomore. Last year, he was a backup offensive and defensive lineman and became a two-way starter this year at guard and defensive end.

Griffin’s confidence and impact on the game have escalated the closer he’s moved to the trenches. Perhaps it’s because his craving for contact is more easily satisfied.

“I love being a guard because I know every play you can hit someone. You can’t get that at slotback,” Griffin said.

He gets to hit people on defense, too, and he’s been especially adept at hitting quarterbacks. His ability to defend the run and rush the quarterback made him an easy choice when coaches picked the Pine Tree Conference all-star team.

Griffin’s primary responsibility as a defensive end in Leavitt’s 5-2 scheme is to keep outside contain, meaning he has to funnel ball-carriers back inside where the defensive tackles and linebackers can make a play. That also means he can go after the QB on passing downs, which he has done very well this year with a team-leading 10 sacks. But he still has to be disciplined and make sure he doesn’t allow the QB to get outside of the pocket.

It’s a tough task for someone who is often taking on double teams from tackles and tight ends.

“He’s real tough with the tight end in front of him,” Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway said. “He plays that guy very physical. And he’s become a very good pass rusher.”

Griffin concentrated on a couple of areas to improve as a pass rusher. He played summer basketball to improve his footwork, and on the advice of his brother, an all-state defensive end in 2009, he worked extra hard on a practice drill known as the “rip” drill, designed to help defensive linemen and linebackers defeat blocks.

“It’s probably one of the hardest drills we do. Nobody looks forward to it,” Griffin said. “It’s definitely a lot of work but (the benefit of it) definitely shows up in a game.”

While they usually line him up against the strong side of the offensive line, the Hornets will move Griffin around and even have him drop back into coverage to give their defense different looks.

“He’s given us a lot more versatility than we thought,” Hathaway said. “We knew he’d be real strong on the run and he’d be able to play real physical against tight ends, but I don’t think we knew what we’d be able to get as a pass rusher and in terms of being able to do some different things from that spot.”

Hathaway said Griffin, who hopes to study computer engineering at the University of Maine next fall, absorbs coaching quickly and pays close attention to his technique on both sides of the ball.

Sound fundamentals are critical, Griffin said, because he’s not going to overwhelm most of the linemen he lines up against with size or speed.

“A lot of it with me boils down to technique because a lot of the guys I play are a lot bigger than me,” he said.

But none has played bigger than him.


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