Long before they led Rome High to its first state championship, played for rival ACC schools or perhaps even dreamed of such a day coming to pass, Jaylen, Ja’Quon and Jamious Griffin shared a much smaller stage. Along with a fourth Griffin brother, Ja’Kolbi, they went after each other in a yard down the street from their home on Leafmore Road in Rome.
“It would just go back and forth, and the games would never really last long because we’d end up fighting,” Jaylen Griffin said. “I’m glad you said that because I haven’t thought about that in awhile. Those are some good memories.”
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The collective Griffin memory bank needs to make some room, as the three brothers will be central to a day perhaps unlike any other in ACC history. On Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium, defensive tackle Ja’Quon and running back Jamious will take the field for Georgia Tech opposite Jaylen, who will be at defensive end in the maroon and burnt orange of Virginia Tech. Multiple people who have covered or worked within the ACC for decades could not recall an instance of three brothers playing in a league game with two on one side and the third on the other.
“Man, it’s really hard to describe it,” said Tyrone Griffin, father to this remarkable convergence. “It’s just a blessing. Things like this don’t happen too often. We’re just seizing the moment. Don’t know how to feel – just happy to be a witness to this moment.”
He’ll have plenty of company in the stands. He estimated about 50 family members, friends, teachers and coaches, mostly from Rome, will be there.
Tyrone had about 70 shirts printed up for the occasion, with a photo graphic of the three brothers on the front, each in uniform, below the heading “Dem Griffin Boys.” The right half of the long-sleeve shirt is navy and the left half maroon, with the brothers’ jersey numbers on the back.
“I don’t know. I’m sure once I get on the field, it’s going to be hard to fight back some tears because it’s a bit of a blessing to have boys on both teams,” said LaBretha Griffin, Tyrone’s wife and the mother of Jaylen and Jamious. (Ja’Quon’s mother is Misty White.) “Because all three are playing Power-5 ball. It’s truly a blessing.”
It was not mere coincidence that all three earned scholarships to ACC schools. (According to the NCAA, the odds are 3 in 100 that a high-school player will play in FBS or FCS, meaning the probability of earning a power-conference scholarship is significantly lower.)
Since the boys were young, motivated by a desire to help his children excel athletically and eventually earn scholarships, Tyrone ran workouts for his children (the youngest of the five is Breana, a rising eighth-grade basketball star) – running, weightlifting, resistance training and, most grueling, doing repeat climbs of a roughly 130-foot hill in a Rome cemetery.
“The plan was to doggone just go as hard as we could as long as we could and hope for an opportunity like this,” Tyrone said. “They always loved the game, and they always wanted to be great at the game, so I had to do my part if they were willing to put the work in, and I couldn’t fail them.”
Said Ja’Quon, “Now that we see the big picture, we’re just forever grateful for him doing that.”
The Griffins helped lead Rome to the Class AAAAA state titles in 2016 and 2017. All four were on the team in 2016, with Jaylen and Ja’Kolbi seniors, Ja’Quon a junior and Jamious a sophomore. (Ja’Kolbi is now at a junior college playing baseball.)
Jamious, a running back, was the only brother on offense, turning Wolves practices into a gauntlet and trash-talk bonanza.
“So every time we go out to practice, we’re always trying to get him, so it’s always us against him because he’s got the big mouth, so it was just time to shut him up,” Ja’Quon said.
The chatter has resurfaced this week on the family’s group text.
“Jaylen tells Jamious, ‘You better hope they don’t call a play to my side,’” LaBretha said, “and Jamious is like, I’m going to run on your side on purpose.”
Even Tyrone is stirring the pot, Jaylen said, chiming in that the Hokies are favored to win.
“He said, ‘I’m probably going to take G.T.,’ getting at me, starting it up,” Jaylen said.
Not that Jaylen, who has had the unusual assignment of studying his brother’s game video this week, isn’t up for it.
“I’m not going to approach it any differently, but once I do hit him, I’m going to let him know,” Jaylen said. “I’ll let it be known.”
Who will the family root for?
“I’m going for Tech,” LaBretha said. “That’s just what we’re doing.”
And imagine this – as Jaylen is a sophomore, Ja’Quon is a redshirt freshman and Jamious a freshman, this will likely happen two more times.
Jaylen was hopeful that the three will be able to meet before the game to pray, continuing a ritual that Tyrone led when the brothers were at Rome and that he continues via FaceTime.
Whether they gather, there is much to give thanks for.
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