Shaquem Griffin was one of the final Seattle Seahawks to leave the field following Monday's training camp practice.
He stopped near the entrance to the team's headquarters, acknowledging a throng of screaming fans begging for more autographs.
"Y'all make it so hard," said Griffin, clearly torn between the adoration and his responsibilities.
"I'm so sorry, but I've got meetings," he finally said with an apologetic smile and wave before heading in for more work.
The fifth rounder was the feel-good story of the 2018 NFL draft, inspiring people across the nation as he reached the professional level despite losing his left hand to amputation at age 4 due to a congenital birth defect.
That narrative is well known. But Griffin's new teammates want to broadcast a different one: This kid can play.
"Shaquem is definitely one that stands out to me," fellow linebacker Bobby Wagner told USA TODAY Sports. "All the people that doubted him because he doesn't have a hand? He's a great player. He's flying around making plays, he picked off Russ, he's batting down passes, making sacks."
The interception of star quarterback Russell Wilson in a previous camp practice, as noted by Wagner, is important on several levels. It shows Griffin — undersized for his position at 6 feet and 227 pounds — can play with first stringers. It also provides further evidence that the former American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year can handle a scheme that will demand he play in space and likely put him in pass coverage far more often than at the line of scrimmage, where he frequently lined up for Central Florida while collecting 18½ sacks over his final two college seasons.
"He's playing surprisingly really good," Seattle defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. told USA TODAY Sports, clarifying his surprise is a nod to how quickly Griffin has grasped his new assignments.
"I mean, this kid is fast, he's really smart, he's really physical, he doesn't make the same mistake twice, and he shows up every day. He's for real. We understand that he's missing a hand — and everybody focuses on that note — but he's a real football player.
"He's a joy to coach."
Griffin has impressed on special teams, too, and already earned first-team reps alongside Wagner when veteran K.J. Wright has rested.
Still, Griffin knows now is no time for complacency.
"I got a lot to prove. I got to prove myself every single day, I’m not going to get comfortable where I’m at. I’m blessed and happy to be here, but the work is not done. Far from done," he said Friday, while thanking Wagner and Wright for all they've done to mentor him on and off the field.
"I’m just here to learn more and be the best player and be the best teammate I can be.”
He became an overnight fan favorite, which has put pep in his step considering twin brother Shaquill, a cornerback, is beginning his second season with the Seahawks and poised to assume departed Richard Sherman's role as the club's top corner.
“Well, I don’t walk around too much. But, definitely the fans are just amazing, they show love wherever we go," said Shaquem Griffin. "If it’s just going to the store, everybody always is just going to show love. They are happy that I’m here, and I’m glad to be here. I’m extremely blessed. The thing is, I just got to get a better reaction for my brother. He’s not too happy that I moved in with him.”
The Seahawks are thrilled he's moved into their linebacker room and are expecting Griffin to make a difference for a defense that fell out of the league's top-five overall ranking last year for the first time since 2011.
"He's a great rookie, man. He listens. He hits people. It's fun to watch him," Wright told USA TODAY Sports. "He sits right between me and Bobby in meetings and asks us a lot of questions.
"He gets the job done, he'll be fun to watch this year."
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