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senior day 2021

Finishing out strong: Griffith applies the pressure during final season with the Irish 

| Friday, November 19, 2021

Known for his extensive physical talent and ability to play all over the field, safety and defensive team member Houston Griffith plays in his final home game for the Irish this weekend. The 6-foot Chicago native has amassed 63 total tackles and 45 solo tackles over his four seasons at Notre Dame, making him an integral part of the defensive squad. 

However, Griffith’s time at Notre Dame has not been considered typical. Always willing to do what’s best for the team, Griffith played all over the field his first three seasons. This, however, sacrificed the chance for him to play to his specific skills.  

“In the past few seasons I played nickel and corner, and that wasn’t always in my best interest, but I did it for the team,” Griffith said. “Playing several positions doesn’t always give you a chance to master a position.”

This lack of clarity in terms of a position caused Griffith to reevaluate his future. After initially entering the transfer portal after the conclusion of his 2020 season, many were shocked that Griffith would be leaving Notre Dame with only 14 credit hours left to graduate. It wasn’t until defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman chose to join the Irish that Griffith started to rethink his transfer decision.

“Coach Freeman played a major role in me coming back here,” Griffith said. “He showed that he wanted me. I talked to him every day. Coach Freeman was always calling me, asking me how I was doing and how my family was doing. It was the small stuff like that.”

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish graduate student safety Houston Griffith goes one-on-one with a route runner during Notre Dame’s 34-6 win over Navy on Nov. 6 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Both Freeman and head coach Brian Kelly made it clear that they wanted Griffith back on the team. The personal and professional connection the three established was integral to Griffith’s return to South Bend for his senior season. Griffith wanted to be a part of the energetic environment that Freeman’s presence created among the defensive team.

“Coach Freeman brings a lot of juice to the room and makes defense exciting,” Griffith said. “It’s multiple fronts and multiple coverages with him. It’s good for us and everybody in the safety room.”

Leaving the past behind, Griffith put his focus into his final season. He went into the fall prepared to lead the defense and get them fired up on Saturdays. Advice from his father kept him grounded, he said. 

“I don’t really look at the past,” Griffith said. “My dad has told me you have to go out there and stay present where your feet are. Just worry about what you do today and what you can accomplish to get better. Continue to have that work ethic even if you aren’t where you want to be right now, and focus on improving and getting better as a player.”

Griffith certainly showed out early for the Irish with eight total tackles at the season-opening win against Florida State. Since then, Griffith has made an appearance in every game this season. He has consistently applied pressure and contributed to defensive efforts on the field. Another season-high was his six tackles during Notre Dame’s face-off with UNC, where the Irish claimed another win. 

“Being in Coach Freeman’s defense, I’ve been able to really show my physical traits and my tools and work on those things,” Griffith said. “It’s exciting because some of those things I didn’t really know I could do. Now that I’m actually going out and doing them, I can go out there and play at a high level.”

In addition to Freeman, Griffith has also enjoyed the presence of defensive backs and safeties coach Chris O’Leary. Griffith said he appreciates the energy and personality O’Leary brings to the room. O’Leary’s younger age has allowed Griffith and other players to relate to him on a personal level, making for a tight-knit environment. Furthermore, O’Leary’s past experiences on offense as a wide receiver at Indiana State have also proven to be beneficial in terms of talking strategy and technique.

“One thing Coach O’Leary has taught me is how to go through to the next play,” Griffith said. “If the play didn’t go how you wanted, just flip the switch and move on. That’s something I had to do in the spring. If it was a ball or position I didn’t want to be in he’d just look at me and I knew what I had to do.”

Griffith’s inner desire to improve for the sake of his teammates and supporters has always motivated him as a player. This has served him well when doing his part to contribute to success on defense and dealing with personal difficulties.

“My ‘why’ is to just perform at a high level and do it for the people who have always believed in me since day one,” Griffith said. “That’s something that’s just driven me and that’s the attitude I try to bring out in the field. When I’m out in the field, I’m out there with the guys, but once you get in between those white lines it’s all competitive. We try to play with that fire and bring the pressure.” 

Griffith was able to finish his credits and officially graduate from Notre Dame this past fall after three years studying Film, Television and Theater. Catch him in action as the Irish wrap up their home season against Georgia Tech on Saturday. The two teams will meet back in South Bend at 2:30 p.m.

About Madeline Ladd

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