You would think that someone who is six-foot-four and 275 pounds would be hard to miss, but Connor Griffiths was nearly not noticed amongst football scouts.
“He is an above average athlete, a kid who I think might have been under the radar because he did not play high school football, he played community football,” said Blake Nill, the head coach of the UBC football program.
“When you recruit a guy, you always start with genetics. He has good genetics, good football skills. But probably the most important thing is he is a quality young man, the kind of guy you knew could help you build a program and he has proven us correct.”
Griffiths played community football with the Langley Minor Football program, beginning at age 10 and all the way through the midget program at age 18.
After graduating from Langley Secondary in 2015, he was part of Nill’s inaugural recruiting class for the UBC Thunderbirds.
And while in some cases, a freshman year may be spent on the sidelines watching and learning the university game, Griffiths was on the field and making an impact.
In 13 games, the defensive lineman had 16 solo tackles and 13 assists. He had 6.5 tackles for a loss — tied for third on the team — and was third on the T-Birds with 2.5 quarterback sacks. More importantly, he helped UBC win the Vanier Cup as the 2015 Canadian Interuniversity Sport national champions.
“Honestly even getting on the field as a freshman is a big accomplishment. So the fact that I started was pretty big for me,” Griffiths said.
And this was not the only team Griffiths has helped to win a major competition.
Earlier this month, he was part of the Canadian junior national team which stunned the United States 24-6 in the gold-medal game at the 2016 International Federation of American Football U19 world championships in China.
The tournament began June 28 and wrapped up on July 10 in Harbin, China.
Canada went 3-1 at the championships, and their victory in the gold-medal game avenged a 32-14 defeat at the hands of the United States earlier in the tournament.
“I knew we had the ability to win gold. You just had to put it all together and just get the job done and we did that,” said Griffiths, who turned 19 while he was in China.
Now the focus shifts to helping UBC defend their Vanier Cup title from one season ago.
Training camp opens Aug. 13 in Vancouver.
Nill said Griffiths’ success as a first-year player was a pleasant surprise in 2015, but it was not wholly unexpected.
“(Success) happens when you put kids in the right position,” Nill said.
“A lot of programs and a lot of coaches have a hard time playing the young kids right away and that is because they just feel that the veteran player is always going to be ahead of the young kid.
“I’ve always had the belief you play the best player no matter his size, his age, whatever.
“You play the guy that is going to be the most effective on the field.”
Griffiths — who was always a bigger kid — got into football on the recommendation of a friend of his dad’s.
He played the first couple of years along the offensive line but in his last year of bantam, the coaches put him on defence, first as a linebacker and then along the defensive line, when he got too big to play the former position.
And it was on defence where he really excelled as Griffiths was able to use his speed and size.
“You have to be big, strong and fast; you can’t really just have one,” he explained.
Griffiths will look to build on his stellar first year with UBC with an eye on one day hopefully playing professionally.
That was part of the reason he accepted UBC’s scholarship offer, the coach’s reputation.
“He is well known and he knows how to win and how to send people to the pros.”
But until that time, Griffiths will focus on honing his craft, which sees him playing multiple positions along the defensive line, he said.
“I will play wherever I am needed along the d-line, defensive end, tackle, nose … as long as I am on the field, I don’’t have a preference.
“I’ll do whatever is needed for the team.”
Rich Lam UBC Athletics
Langley’s Connor Griffiths (blue) made an impact as a freshman with the UBC Thunderbirds, registering 16 solo tackles and 13 assists in helping his team win the Vanier Cup in 2015. Griffiths was also part of the Canadian junior national team roster which defeated the United States at the U19 world championships in China on July 10.
Langley coach also attended
There was not much notice to prepare, but Paul Orazietti could not turn down the opportunity.
Orazietti, the recruiting and special teams co-ordinator and running backs coach for the UBC Thunderbirds football program, was coaching in the East West Bowl, an all-star game for university players.
He was approached about coaching the running backs for Canada’s junior national (U19) football team which would be competing at the competition in China.
“Opportunities like that and the chance to represent your country don’t come around very often, so it was a ‘yes’,” said the 45-year-old.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect and it wasn’t an easy three weeks — it’s a different cultural experience — but I enjoyed it and it finished up as well as can be expected.”
Orazietti has coached with UBC for eight years and lived in Langley the past four.
Rams receiver also on roster
The Canadian roster also featured Langley Rams receiver K.J. Johnson.
The Surrey player is entering his second season with the Rams junior football program.