UK Football

Has Kentucky football found the ‘perfect person’ to lead its secondary?

Know this about Jordan Griffin: He couldn’t be interviewed for this story because he was headed to class right after practice on Wednesday morning.

It’s pretty much all you need to know about the Kentucky defensive back, who played in eight games last season, mostly on special teams.

Griffin keeps a schedule. He follows the rules. He tries to do it right.

No tongue in cheek, junior safety Mike Edwards said: “Jordan Griffin, he’s just like the perfect person. The perfect person.”

Or cornerback Derrick Baity’s assessment: “The thing about Jordan is when he came, I took Jordan under my wing, and now I look up to him. On the field, he takes notes from me, but off the field, he’s just a great person. He does everything right.”

Fans are going to see it on the field this season, those two veteran playmakers promised of the versatile, 6-foot player who came in as a four-star prospect, one of the highest rated in the Cats’ 2016 class.

Mark Stoops has coached his share of highly rated defensive backs. At Miami, 10 who played at least a season under Stoops were NFL Draft picks, including seven in the first round.

The head coach isn’t exactly one to sprinkle praise on players.

But on Sunday at media day, Stoops gushed about Griffin when asked about expectations for the sophomore from Georgia, who will be competing for playing time in a secondary that returns veterans such as Edwards, Baity and Chris Westry.

“He’s a guy that I love working with, because he just is very conscientious,” Stoops said of Griffin. “You give him the tools, you give him the details and work with him, he takes it all in and he soaks it up and he really works at it.

“I’ve seen players that have done that, that have developed themselves into first-round (NFL Draft) talent just by the work ethic. And I hope he takes some steps like that.”

The coach stops short of heaping that kind of pressure on a player like Griffin, who had just six tackles in eight games in his true freshman season, but Stoops said it’s hard to miss Griffin’s work ethic.

“He goes about his own way, he’s kind of a quiet kid, but he’s become a leader because people respect him,” Stoops continued.

There’s a lot of truth to that, the members of Kentucky’s secondary said of Griffin, who won back-to-back championships in basketball for Jonesboro High School in Georgia and was a member of the National Honor Society, Beta Club and Future Business Leaders of America.

He took something from that last organization and has become a quiet leader in the defensive backs room.

“He’s around the building all the time,” defensive coordinator Matt House said of Griffin, who could see time at cornerback or nickelback this season. “Whether it be getting extra treatment or extra film study, he works at the game.”

If Griffin tells his friends in the secondary that he’s going to go watch extra film, they want to go, too.

“We take his work ethic — like all of us have the same work ethic now — and Jordan was the guy who really started that,” Baity said.

“He does everything right. Jordan is a good vibe to be around. Point blank period. On the field, off the field.”

Edwards agreed.

“He saves his money,” he said of Griffin. “He’s always on his job. He goes to bed at a decent time, wakes up at a set time. Be in his playbook all the time, watches film. He’s just the perfect person. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I gotta be like that.’ He’s younger than me, and I’m like, ‘I gotta get like him.’”

Even before this summer, his coaches saw something special about to emerge.

As the Cats were preparing for their first bowl game since 2010, defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale noted Griffin’s “great potential.

“He could be one of the best guys I’ve been around just because of how much he cares and how much he invests,” Clinkscale said in December. “I’m not just talking about his athletic ability, but how much he wants to get better and he does it. He’s not a guy who’s just talking about it. He’s doing it.”

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