Laurence Manning Academy's Jonathan Griffith may be going to college to play football, but his first love in the world of sports came on wheels.
"I literally started skating when I knew how to walk," Griffith said. "I mean, my parents have encouraged me along the way and said to do what makes me happy, and I'm still doing that."
Griffith grew up skating at his family's skating rink, Skate Station on Old Manning Road, and eventually picked up other sports. In the third grade, he started playing football. He went on to star for Laurence Manning, becoming one of the team's top tacklers as the Swampcats played for back-to-back SCISA 3A state titles in his junior and senior seasons. He says a lot of his success on the gridiron can be attributed to his work in the rink.
"I've always had good legs from skating all the time. Football is a lot of leg grinding, and skating helped me get good legs for football," Griffith said.
This past season, Griffith moved from defensive end to outside linebacker, where he was able to focus more on rushing the passer, his favorite activity on the football field. He drew inspiration from an Adam Sandler movie as he racked up seven quarterback sacks and 113 tackles this past season.
"The Waterboy," Griffith said with a laugh as he looked for something with which to compare his game. "I just like getting after the quarterback and going crazy. I like to let my demons loose."
He also likes to let loose on the rink. To an older generation, Griffith is more well known on the football field, but on the internet, he's a skater first and foremost. Griffith spends a lot of time making videos on TikTok, a social media app centered on short videos. Right after the Swampcats played Hammond for the state title last fall, the number of eyes on Griffith grew exponentially.
"On TikTok after the state championship, I can't remember if it was a week after or a few days, but I just remember I put a video of me putting a move on somebody in a paddle tag game, and I did him dirty and it got a million views almost overnight," Griffith said. "It's crazy because originally when I posted the video, I posted it and put in the caption "blow me up overnight," and that's exactly what happened.
"I posted the video and turned off my phone and went to sleep. When I woke up and saw all the notifications I was just like, `Oh my goodness, I can't believe that just happened.' "
Griffith has been making videos for a while, but he suddenly had a much bigger audience. Now he's trying to figure out how to keep that audience while making whatever content piques his interest.
"It's still the same, it's just more eyes on me, more attention. You've gotta not slip up. You've just got to do your thing and do it well," Griffith said. "TikTok, they know me for skating and if I'm not skating, they're not entertained. I'm trying to expand that audience, and hopefully they can understand that I want to be more than just a skater. I want to be able to do sports and have fun and do everything to the best of my ability."
One reason Griffith wants to expand the horizons of his audience is that he'll be leaving for college soon. Griffith signed to play football at Brevard College in North Carolina this year and may not have quite as much time to skate, especially without constant access to Skate Station. His time at Brevard will be different, but Griffith still plans on making videos.
"I'm still going to post content. It may not be skating, but maybe it will. I'm sure there's a skating rink somewhere in Brevard and I can go there during my off time," Griffith said. "We'll see. I don't know what the future holds."
That unknown future is part of why Griffith is excited to make the leap to playing college football. He's always looking to expand his horizons and get better on and off the field.
"The unknown," Griffith said. "I mean, I don't know what it's going to be, but you have to get out of your comfort zone if you want to excel in something."
One thing Griffith does know is that playing college football means he can't properly take advantage of going viral. With a big audience, Griffith could easily find ways to make money on social media, but not as a college athlete.
The NCAA has rules that say that college athletes cannot make money on their name or likeness, though there is currently a series of laws being worked on that might change that. For now, Griffith is just focused on building his audience.
"Whenever I'm allowed to make some money, I'd love to make some money off my name and likeness, but I can't right now," Griffith said. "It is frustrating, but I'll follow the rules."
Internet fame also comes with detractors. Griffith isn't too worried about the negativity that comes with his internet persona. He's just going to keep doing what he loves.
"I see that social media likes to call me a `try-hard,' but when you want to be competitive, you've got to put effort into what you do," Griffith said. "They're entitled to their own opinion and I'm going to stick to what I do. I can't let words get to me. It's OK to be frustrated, but that fuels me, fuels me to get better at what I do to prove the doubters wrong."
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