In better times, perhaps, a freshman who touched the ball just 42 times in 12 games would not have been voted his team’s Offensive Most Valuable Player.
It’s the potential good times ahead, though, that make Jay Griffin a worthy choice.
Griffin, a small (5-10, 162 pounds) but breathtakingly fast slot receiver, was accorded that honor in a vote of his teammates.
“It made me feel really good,” Griffin said after Monday’s UNM spring practice session. “I wasn’t expecting my teammates to pick me because I was a freshman. I was expecting them to give it to an upperclassman.”
Regarding his qualifications for the honor, those 42 touches last fall — as meager as they might seem — speak volumes.
In UNM’s ground-oriented attack, Griffin was the team’s leading receiver with 29 receptions for 393 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed 13 times for 126 yards. He had scoring plays of 71, 62 and 61 yards, the first two via the pass, the third on the ground.
The Lobos ended a beyond-disappointing, 3-9 season on Nov. 24 with a 35-10 loss at San Diego State. Griffin’s 62-yard catch-and-run for UNM’s lone touchdown was virtually the only bright spot.
During spring practice, new offensive coordinator Calvin Magee will be installing a scheme more diverse than the triple-option based attack the Lobos have been running the past six years. That scheme, highly productive in years one through five, took a major dip last fall.
Griffin likes what he’s seen thus far of the new offense.
“I’m excited,” he said. “There’s a lot of plays, a lot of new stuff being thrown at us.
“We’re throwing the ball a lot, and that’s exciting. The slots have a lot to do in the offense, also.”
And Griffin has a lot to do this month.
Friday, after UNM’s first football spring practice session, Griffin ran the 200 meters for the Lobo track team. His time of 21.44 seconds at the Don Kirby Invitational (21.51 when adjusted for altitude) ranks third all-time in UNM history.
Lobos football coach Bob Davie’s decision to begin spring practice in February, rather than in late March as in the past, has done UNM track-and-field coach Joe Franklin no favors where Griffin is concerned.
Davie will allow Griffin to run for the Lobos at the Mountain West Conference championships on Feb. 24, but otherwise he’ll be practicing with the football team.
“We’ll do whatever we can to help our track program and help our athletic department,” Davie said, “(but) it’s not exactly a down-the-middle share.
“We’re paying for the scholarship. We’ll let him run track when the meets are here, because that’s what’s best for him and that’s what we talked about when we recruited him.”
Having recruited Griffin (and his cousin, Lobos cornerback Corey Hightower) out of Huntsville, Texas, is looking like one of the UNM coaching staff’s best decisions.
Griffin believes the best is yet to come. With converted cornerback Elijah Lilly joining Griffin, Anselem Umeh and walk-on Rafael Hidalgo at wide receiver, and with the schematic changes Magee is making, he sees big-play potential.
“I think we all have good speed,” he said, “and I think we all can catch those deep balls and make the defense pay.”
ABOUT THAT AWARD: The Journal learned of Griffin’s award on the player’s Twitter feed, where he displayed the plaque he received. Otherwise, there has been no information from UNM regarding annual awards. For the first time since Davie took over the program, no postseason banquet was held.
INJURED LIST: Davie said four players will be held out of spring practice while rehabbing from injuries: safety Stanley Barnwell (hip), wide receiver Elijah Lilly (shoulder), offensive tackle Teton Saltes (knee) and safety Michael Sewell (shoulder).
He said wide receiver Emmanuel Harris, who underwent surgery for a torn ACL last fall and missed the 2017 season, is being held out for now but likely will be able to participate in individual drills before spring practice ends.