Camdenton senior Jay Griffin previously represented his country on the football field. Now, he is looking forward to the opportunity to serve it.

Camdenton senior Jay Griffin previously represented his country on the football field. Now, he is looking forward to the opportunity to serve it. 

The senior, who played football for the United States in a pair of International Bowls against Canada a couple of years ago, took a pen on Wednesday afternoon and signed his name on the dotted line to play football for the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. Griffin is excited to continue playing a sport he loves, but it was life after football that influenced the next chapter of his life.

“My final decision was not based off football, but I am very blessed to play at the next level. I had to realize that I am going to be serving my country after the academy and I have to be able to love what I do after I graduate,” said Griffin who had also received appointments from the Air Force, West Point and Navy. “They all provide an excellent opportunity to serve but whenever I realized that at the Coast Guard you get to serve here in the United States and save people’s lives on a daily basis, I really felt like that fit me and what I want to be.”

Griffin had also received Tier 1 scholarships from Air Force ROTC and Navy ROTC, scholarships that pay all tuition and fees for a 4-year degree in science, engineering, technology or math to a school of his choice. However, the idea of attending any academy was not even on his radar as he entered the latter half of his high school career. That all changed, though, when a man named Earl Farney walked into Farris Fruit and Vegetable Market in Camdenton one Saturday morning. 

Farney, a retired Air Force Colonel who served for 27 years and taught Air Force High School ROTC for another 25 years in Sacramento, Calif., walked in and saw Griffin scrubbing the floor of his grandparents’ store the morning after a football game. He soon introduced the idea of going to an academy to the Laker, who was a junior at the time, and has been instrumental in helping Griffin pursue his goals ever since.

“I’m fairly accomplished at assessing the character of young people (or people of any age) relatively fast. Perhaps my youth years spent on a farm helps me to do that,“ said Farney who retired from teaching in 2011 after about 50 years of working with young people in the military, and moved to the Lake with his wife Merle, a native of Missouri. “I had seen Jay play aggressive football, and bow his head in prayer prior to taking the field. I asked him his high school GPA, his ACT scores and his favorite subjects.

“His demeanor with store customers was exemplary. When I mentioned military academies, Jay showed a definite interest and I saw his respect for grandparents… One soon learns how to spot future success in certain kids with a high degree of accuracy. It almost becomes second nature and to me, it added up.”

Heading into his senior year, Griffin knew the path he wanted to pursue, but a new and unexpected obstacle stood in his way. As the Lakers were preparing to embark on a new season this past fall, the senior running back suffered a type-two PCL strain during the jamboree and those few tears in his knee kept him sidelined for most of the year. 

“Basically after that, a lot of doors were shut down, especially academy-wise,” Griffin recalled. “I was medically disqualified so all of my stuff was taken away and I had to go through a process to get a waiver for my knee.”

The senior said the three-month process was not easy, noting how difficult it was to get a waiver, but he was soon on the path back to recovery.

“I went from knowing what I wanted to do before school started to not knowing at all where I was going to college because everything was taken,” Griffin remarked. “But God was with me the whole time and he got it back for me.” 

One academy stood by his side, though, as United States Coast Guard Academy football coach Bill George was the only one to not pull the offer. 

“He really wanted me and I ended up regaining offers to all the academies, but Coach George was the one who stuck with me during the process and I really liked that about the academy,” Griffin stated. 

Camdenton coach Jeff Shore knows there is a probably good reason for that.

“Jay was on track to probably be the leading rusher here at Camdenton and that is saying something. We’ve had a lot of good tailbacks here and in my mind, he probably would have ended up being that,” Shore said of the rusher who amassed 1,378 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground as a junior.

Griffin entered his senior year with 2,230 career rushing yards and put up 378 yards on the ground in limited action his final season. However, he was starting to enter the territory of some former Laker greats like all-time leading rusher Murphy Ward (4,609 yards), Dennis Chairs (3,914 yards), J.W. Sweatt (3,069 yards) and single-season record holder Josh Martin (2,517 yards).

“It would have been tough for him to get that, but it certainly would have put him- I feel like with the year he was going to have- up there in the top three of all time,” Shore said of the running back who finished seventh in career rushing yards on Camdenton’s all-time list.

But what Shore may have found even more impressive than Griffin’s performance on the field was his character off of it, especially with an injury that took away at least half of what was shaping up to be an exciting final high school season. The coach said he was super happy for his running back to get this opportunity. 

“What impressed me so much is just the way he handled it. I’m sure it bothered him immensely, but boy he never let it show and he was so positive, worked hard to get back and was really a team guy,” the coach said of his running back. “Just all the support he showed his guys and his work ethic to come back, is what really impressed me. You talk about proving yourself as a man and going on to what he is going to do now, which is serving our country.

“I could not be prouder of him. He has a great future ahead and his character really came out and shined this year through an injury of all things… He is a super bright kid and very talented player on top of that so it is going to be a great spot for him.”

The coach went on to say that other players would do well to take note of the senior’s example. However, Shore knows that it is already rubbing off on other players, including Griffin’s sophomore brother Eli who also played football for the United States.

“He set a great example for our team this year through his attitude, came back and was playing so well towards the end of the season finally getting healthy,” the coach recalled. He has a little brother who works his tail off and he has obviously instilled that in him. It was very impressive to see the time he put forth in Eli too and the example he set for him that carries on to other teammates too.” 

And while Griffin is certainly looking forward to what lies ahead, he has not forgotten everything that football has provided him as well. 

“I fully believe that I would not be in this opportunity if it was not for football. It provides discipline and work ethic,” the senior said of the sport. “I am grateful for every lesson I’ve learned because there are countless lessons. Especially Laker football, the brotherhood and camaraderie, that is exactly what I am going to get at the academy. 

“It has prepared me way more than any classroom could have prepared me. To get in you have to be pretty smart, but I feel like being a man, a good person and having a strong work ethic- football goes beyond providing that.”

Griffin will also not forget what it means to be a Laker. He still vividly recalls waking up on Friday mornings and driving through town to see purple and yellow flags everywhere. He still vividly recalls the pre-game feeling and getting ready to go to battle with teammates he grew up with and regarded as brothers. He still vividly recalls what it felt like to take the field on Friday night and hear the sound of the band. 

“It is an unbelievable feeling and you won’t get that anywhere else besides Camdenton. I am very blessed to be a part of this program and I am going to miss it a lot, but I am glad there are exciting times ahead of me to make me not miss it as much,” Griffin said. “It was an unbelievable time in my life playing for Camdenton.”

He implores his younger teammates to carry on those special traditions and to take the field with a certain kind of attitude next fall.

“Never back down to a fight because that is Laker football and we never back down,” he said. “Go get a district title because we are needing one of those.”

Griffin plans to study aerospace engineering with the intention of becoming a search and rescue helicopter pilot.