Tommy Griffin is something like Corona del Mar High royalty, and he’s been a most regal figure in the Sea Kings’ secondary this year as they seek to match the achievements of that great 2013 football team that won CIF Southern Section Southern Division and CIF State Division III Bowl Game titles behind his older brother.
Griffin, a junior free safety, quarterbacks the CdM defense, which has surrendered just 123 points through 10 games — astounding numbers in the modern prep game — and held seven foes to two touchdowns or less while romping to a 10-0 mark, the Sunset League championship, and the top seed in the Division 3 playoffs.
His imprint for the Sea Kings rivals those of quarterback Ethan Garbers and receiver John Humphreys, their big-name, Pac-12 Conference-bound superstars.
“I will say with all due respect to the other guys in the Sunset League. There’s not a better safety in the Sunset League, period,” said head coach Dan O’Shea, whose team takes on Corona Santiago (3-7) in the first round Friday at Newport Harbor High at 7 p.m. “He is without a doubt an All-[Orange] County guy. He is that quality as a hitter, as a pass defender, and as a leader with the skill set to set [our defense].”
Opponents don’t want to deal with Griffin, so they throw away from him. But he made Los Alamitos pay in last week’s 48-14 triumph, picking off two passes — the first he returned to the Griffins 13, leading to a quick score that put the game out of reach in the first half — to lead another dominant CdM display.
It was a meaningful win for the Sea Kings, erasing the only blemish on the program’s league record since 2011 — last year’s meeting was a tie, shortened by thunderstorms, and a shared Sunset League title — and giving them their first perfect regular season since 2013.
Griffin’s brother, Charlie, made the MaxPreps.com California Division III All-State Football Team as a safety and defensive quarterback of that group, and his little brother watched it from the sideline. Tommy Griffin, who turned 11 in the middle of that season, was a ball boy for CdM.
“He was probably 3-foot-6, this little runt, and he would run around faster than anybody,” said O’Shea, who was the Sea Kings’ defensive coordinator at the time. “I kept thinking, ‘Gosh, I hope this kid grows one day.’ Nobody was more excited to be on the sidelines than Tommy Griffin. He couldn’t get enough of that.”
It was a natural spot for him. His father, John, is CdM’s director of football operations and freshman head coach, with a 94-5-1 record and five 10-0 seasons in 10 years. His mom, Jillian, played on the Sea Kings’ 1984 CIF State Division I girls’ volleyball championship team, went on to play at Princeton, and serves, O’Shea says, as “the ringleader of community support” for the team.
“If the Kennedys and Roosevelts are the iconic families of the U.S. presidency,” O’Shea said, “the Griffin family is the iconic family of the Corona del Mar football program.”
Charlie and middle brother Jake Griffin have coached alongside their father with the freshman team, Jake — who focused on basketball following his sophomore year — when he was a junior and senior at CdM. All of this informs Tommy Griffins’ status within the program.
“Tommy’s the kid in that junior class that bridges the gap between the seniors and our young sophomores, and Tommy does it particularly well, being a glue guy, because he’s been around the program unlike anyone else,” O’Shea said. “Nobody knows the foundation and culture [of CdM football] better than Tommy Griffin, and he’s able to [impart that to teammates].”
Griffin can remember back to the 2006 season, when he turned 4. The campaign that was particularly special to him was in 2013.
“I just remember how long of a season that was and how tight-knit of a group that [team] was, very similar to our team,” he said. “They all took me in as their little brother, just hanging around all the older guys, thinking how big they were.”
Griffin, who’s 6-2, has somewhat modeled his game after his big brother’s.
“He prides himself in going 100% of every snap and being one of the toughest guys on the field,” he said. “Growing up, [I looked] up to my brother. I just love the way he played, how he hit so hard and flew to the ball and played with so much passion and love for the game.”
O’Shea says Charlie Griffin, the only senior starter on the defensive unit, was “papa bear to some young puppies,” and he sees a bit of Charlie when he watches Tommy.
“They’re extremely similar in their mental preparation and quarterback mentality, to direct the defense,” O’Shea said. “But Charlie would be very eager with a handshake and smile, and Tommy does it with a more fierce intensity. He’s about as intense a dude as you’ll find within our program.”
He’s “ultra-competitive” and “naturally curious” about schematics, the coach says, with “an insatiable appetite to know the game and just play his little butt off.” He studies the game with his father and brothers.
“They help me out so much. I’m so lucky to have such good football minds in the same household as me,” Griffin said. “We’re constantly watching film and going over stuff, and my dad’s a really good source to have. ...
“Maybe I see myself as a coach [someday]. I love football. Yeah, I think I could see myself as a coach.”
Born: Oct. 13, 2002
Hometown: Huntington Beach
Height: 6 feet 2
Weight: 178 pounds
Coach: Dan O’Shea
Favorite food: Mexican
Favorite movie: “21 Jump Street”
Favorite athletic moment: Beating rival Newport Harbor in this year’s Battle of the Bay showdown.
Week in review: Griffin, the Sea Kings’ defensive quarterback from his free safety position, intercepted two passes and made two tackles as CdM completed a 10-0 regular season and second Sunset League championship in as many tries with a 48-14 rout of Los Alamitos, the seventh team it has held to 14 points or less.
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