Friday Night Legend: North Rowan’s Daniel Griffith
Ask Scotland County’s 24-year-old assistant coach Daniel Griffith if he’s got any memories of the fierce North Rowan-Lexington game in 2006, and he chuckles.
Sure he has.
“I’m at the North-Lexington jayvee game, and a bunch of the Lexington players have come over to North,” Grifffith said. “They were asking if that North quarterback they’d been hearing about was around anywhere, and my teammates started pointing at me. That’s when the Lexington players all busted out laughing. They were like, this guy? Seriously? They laughed at me. Literally laughed at me.”
For Griffith, who always tried to find a chip to put on his shoulder before he took the field, this one wasn’t hard at all to get up for, and 24 hours after the chuckling episode he filled the air at Lexington’s loud Philpott Stadium with accurate aerials.
He hit Bryson Walker, Lathan Charleston and Bryson Gaymon with TD passes as North stormed to a 32-10 lead.
But Lexington had its own terrific quarterback in Teland Todd, and when Todd darted into the end zone with eight minutes left and then ran for a 2-point conversion, the scoreboard at Philpott said 32-32.
“They’ve got momentum, and then they’ve got us backed up at our 10-yard line, third-and-long, and we didn’t punt well,” Griffith said. “We had to do something.”
The desperate call that came next took Lexington by surprise. Griffith set up a middle screen to his brother, Justin Nunn, and Nunn took the ball a long way.
That got a drive going, a drive Griffith finished with his legs. He scored the deciding touchdown from the 3 — and he had the last laugh.
Griffith’s step-dad Rodney Nunn had played football for North’s biggest rival — Salisbury. Griffith’s mother had played in the North band.
“My competitive nature came mostly from my step-dad, but my mom was into sports too,” Griffith said. “It was a sports-oriented house. Lots of Sundays in front of the TV watching the NFL.”
Griffith was a youth-league tailback and slotback growing up, but his arm strength was hard to hide.
“My step-dad was always telling me I could really throw the ball,” Griffith said. “And I liked quarterback. I liked being in control.”
He became a quarterback his freshman year at North, but he broke his hip, and his season was over.
He came back as a sophomore JV and looked like a potential star.
“For a jayvee team, we put up some crazy passing numbers,” Griffith said.
Griffith’s QB hopes then stalled when Keegan Linza, a tall, talented quarterback/pitcher transferred from East Rowan to North.
“Keegan was going to be the quarterback,” Griffith said. “A lot of people wanted me to transfer to Salisbury or West to play quarterback for them, but I was a Cavalier. It was in my blood.”
Linza quarterbacked the 2005 Cavaliers (9-4), and he was good — 2,264 passing yards and 18 TDs.
Griffith played slot receiver his junior year and was part of a talented pass-catching corps that included Gaymon and Brandon Ford. Griffith caught four of Linza’s TD passes.
Griffith also was a very good basketball player, but he spent most of his time between his junior and senior football seasons working out.
“I ran stadium steps and I ran stairs,” Griffith said. “If I was going to be a receiver, my thinking was that I was going to be the best receiver that I could be.”
The summer before his senior season, Griffith was still focused on catching passes, but Linza was getting big-time Division I baseball offers (he would sign with South Carolina). Linza announced a decision to focus on his baseball career, and suddenly Griffith was North’s quarterback.
“I had half a summer to work as hard as I could work,” Griffith said. “I remember going with Coach (Avery) Cutshaw to watch Albemarle scrimmage because our first game was Albemarle. I could see Albemarle ran a 4-4 with Cover-3 and never deviated from that, and I knew I could make the reads and we could do well. I came back and told our guys, ‘Albemarle is bigger than us and faster than us, but we’re going to beat them.’ ”
Griffith directed North’s smashing 41-6 win against Albemarle opening night, a performance that included 126 rushing yards by Nunn, and it was clear North had found yet another star quarterback.
Griffith’s history-making senior season would include his epic 287-yard night against Lexington that would convince Catawba to offer him a scholarship.
Griffith passed for 2,412 yards in North’s first 11 games, more yardage than any Rowan QB had ever thrown for in a regular season and breaking a mark that had been held by North legend Mitch Ellis since the early 1990s.
There was just one blemish on Griffith’s marvelous 2006 season: Salisbury.
“That game still haunts me,” Griffith said. “Last game of the regular season and we’re playing for a conference championship. I tried to force a ball deep to Gaymon when I had Charleston open in the flat. I’ll always feel like I lost that ballgame.”
Salisbury won 16-13. Brilliant all season, Griffith was 8-for-27 against the Hornets for a season-low 133 yards.
As North prepared for its first playoff game against Surry Central, some of his teammates got on him.
“Teammates can always get on each other, but I heard a little too much that week from some of our defensive guys and we almost fought,” Griffith said. “I was angry, ready to play again.”
North’s defense had performed admirably against Salisbury, but in the playoff game with Surry Central, Surry proved hard to stop.
“Surry had a running back who was good and it became a shootout,” Griffith said. “I remember one of our defensive guys who had been getitng on me came up and said, ‘Hey, Daniel, I’m sorry. This one is up to you.’ ”
Griffith delivered a career game — 319 passing yards, including the game-deciding TD throw to Charleston in the final minutes.
“Everything fell into place that game,” Griffith said. “Mitch Ellis presented me with a ball before the game for breaking his record, and it was just a great night.”
Griffith’s career at Catawba never blossomed. He had opportunities to transfer, but he stayed loyal to the Indians and threw five TD passes as a backup.
“Football-wise, it just didn’t work out for me at Catawba,” Griffith said. “That was frustrating, but at the same time, I learned so much about the X’s and O’s of football from (coaches) Chip Hester and Matt Barrett. They were good men and they taught me things I’ve taken with me to Scotland County.”
Griffith helped some at North and almost landed a fulltime job at Knox Middle School. There were setbacks and disappointments, but he just kept filling out applications and sending them out.
“Then one day the phone rings, and it’s Coach (Richard) Bailey at Scotland offering me a teaching and coaching position,” Griffith said.
Scotland County is not only a 4A school, it’s a 4A power, one of the state’s best.
Griffith is getting married in November, and his fiance, a nurse, was willing to make the move with him. He feels extremely blessed about that.
“Daniel’s been a great addition” Bailey said. “He works with our varsity quarterbacks and he’s our jayvee offensive coordinator. He’s not only brought a wealth of quarterback knowledge, he’s a tremendous role model for our kids as a well-spoken, well-educated young man.”
Griffith is loving it, and he’s getting to work with former Catawba linebacker Cory Johnson, the coordinator for Scotland’s JV defense.
“I believe there’s a reason I’m here,” Griffith said. “This is mostly a poor area, but we have some great kids. I believe I can touch a lot of them in a positive way.”