Football legacy Houston Griffith takes uncommon road to Notre Dame

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Houston Griffith is not common.

You could take any number of avenues to arrive at that same conclusion. A simple Google search would confirm it, spitting out a seemingly endless library of articles and message board posts devoted to the senior defensive back.

Or, you could scroll through his significant list of suitors: Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and Notre Dame, just to name a few.

Honestly, though, little research is required. The consensus four-star recruit’s last name is Griffith.

As in, the son of 11-year NFL alum and two-time Super Bowl champion Howard Griffith.

Even from an early age, “common” was not an option.

“When I was coming out of high school 90 percent of guys got offers after their senior year. Now, you’re an eighth grader and you’re getting offers,” Howard Griffith said on Tuesday night, hours after his son verbally committed to Notre Dame.

“I’m not saying that’s a bad deal, but I told him that when you start having the attention and you start having people writing articles about you, a lot comes with that. You may be a target. You’re always going to be scrutinized, and you’ve got to be able to take the good with the bad. Everybody’s not going to have great evaluations of you. People are going to point out your faults. People are going to say, ‘You’re not going to be good at this,’ and, ‘You can’t do that.’ You really just have to deal with it.

“It’s a lot of pressure for a kid to be under, but a lot of kids say they want to play at the highest level in college football, and you have to take the good with the bad when it comes to that.”

Thus far, for Houston, there’s been a lot more good than bad. The 6-foot, 194-pound defensive back is ranked as a four-star recruit, the No. 3 safety nationally and the No. 35 overall prospect in the 2018 class by Rivals, the No. 14 cornerback and the No. 142 overall player by 247Sports. He participated in The Opening Finals in Beaverton, Ore., last summer and will play in the Under Armour All-American game in Orlando, Fla., next month.

For Howard Griffith, this is a relatively unfamiliar process — and not just because of the dramatic expansion of the recruiting calendar in recent years. Before Howard won two Super Bowls while sharing a backfield with John Elway in Denver, and before he amassed 1,277 yards and 15 touchdowns in his final collegiate season, the relatively unknown fullback walked on at Illinois. Nearby Notre Dame did not pursue the Chicago product. Neither did Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan and all the rest.

In this aspect of his life, Houston Griffith couldn’t follow his father’s example.

That’s true, too, of his decision to transfer from Chicago Mount Carmel to Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy for his final two years of high school.

“I think the benefits were huge,” Howard Griffith said of his son’s stint at the Florida prep football powerhouse. “I think he matured a lot faster than he would have being under our roof. It’s definitely not for everybody, but he was the kind of kid that would be able to handle it. It was about getting outside of that comfort zone and not so much getting on your own but having to do things on a schedule.

“It really will prepare him for what he’ll have to face next month when he enrolls at Notre Dame — time management, knowing where you need to be without somebody looking over your shoulder, expecting you to be there.”

Granted, even a couple months ago, few people nationally expected Houston Griffith to be at Notre Dame. The national recruit was verbally committed to Florida State for more than a month and a half, before he officially rescinded that pledge on Nov. 29.

And, sure, new Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher’s departure from Tallahassee, Fla., probably had something to do with that.

But, according to Howard, Houston also had to reassess what should have mattered all along.

“When you look long term, everybody has aspirations of playing at the highest level, whether that be college or professional football. But at some point you also have to recognize that that’s going to go away,” said Howard Griffith, who lives in Chicago and works as an analyst for the Big Ten Network. “At some point you’re going to be out in the real world and you’re going to have to fend for yourself and provide for your family.

“Notre Dame gives him what he needs and what he wants on and off the field. It was a long process to get to it, but at the end of the day, he got there. That’s the most important part: he was able to figure out what exactly he really, truly wanted out of the college of his choice.”

So, on Tuesday night, Houston — who will sign this month and enroll early in the college of arts and letters — officially, definitively committed to Notre Dame. He committed also to defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, who his father once played with as members of the Los Angeles Rams.

But, family ties aside, don’t expect Houston Griffith to ask for any favors. He doesn’t need them.

After all, it’s not his name, but what he did with it, that prepared him for Notre Dame.

“He hasn’t had a common high school experience,” Howard Griffith said. “Going to an all-boys school in Mount Carmel, then making that transition to go to IMG and play with some of the best kids in the country, and now to go to Notre Dame … that’s just not common.

“But I think he’s ready for it. He’s ready for the challenge, and he’s looking forward to getting on campus and figuring it out.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Four-star defensive back Houston Griffith committed to Notre Dame on Tuesday, Dec. 12. (Photo courtesy of Rivals)