Published September 14, 2006
DULUTH — Justin Griffith, Atlanta Falcons fullback, looks taller than the 5’11” height ascribed to him on the team roster. Number 33 weighs in at 232 pounds with muscles like polished steel. The Magee, Miss., native is a formidable force on the gridiron, but off the field his winsome smile and affable demeanor contribute to a somewhat unassuming, but magnetic, personality.
While he may block and run with a reckless abandon between the sidelines, he walks with Christ with a rock-solid determination to honor Him. In fact, his ultimate goal is to serve the Lord as a preacher of the gospel.
Justin and his twin brother, Julius, and their twin sisters were born into a Christian home and grew up with the church being a vital part of their lives. Justin’s father is presently the pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Brandon, Miss.
The Falcons fullback admits, however, that although he joined the church as a child, he was a lost church member until 1999 when he accepted Christ in a hotel in Atlanta. Griffith played his college football for Mississippi State University, who were in Atlanta to play Clemson University in the Peach Bowl. Kenny Williamson, the starting fullback for the MSU team, witnessed to Griffith in the Omni Hotel and it was then and there that he accepted Christ as his personal Savior.
Griffith had a stellar career in high school and rushed for 4,700 yards and 66 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Magee High School in Sanatorium, Miss., where he was instrumental in helping his team win the state championship in 1997. The tough, physical runner was selected for the all-state football team in Mississippi and played in the Mississippi-Alabama High School Football Classic. His 100 yards rushing on 16 carries helped Mississippi win the game 9-0.
At the college level Griffith caught 85 passes for 937 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 852 yards and 10 scores on 213 carries in 39 games for Mississippi State. His 32 receptions out of the backfield his freshman year at MSU set a school record. In his senior year, he received the Mississippi State Most Valuable Player award in football and represented his school in the Senior Bowl.
Griffith admits that his most thrilling collegiate game was the victory over the University of Mississippi in 1999 when he caught the final pass to set up the winning field goal. However, the MSU standout not only excelled in football but in the classroom, earning a spot on the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll.
Griffith was the second player selected by the Falcons in the 2003 National Football League draft and the second fullback selected overall. In 2003 he became the first Falcons rookie to start on opening day in two years by edging out George Layne in training camp for the starting fullback position.
Although the Falcons offensive scheme has typically used Griffith to open up holes for running backs Warrick Dunn and T. J. Duckett over the past three years, the starting fullback has carried the ball effectively when called upon and has helped the team become the rushing leader in the NFL. Since Duckett has been traded to the Washington Redskins, Griffith will be called upon to run the ball more frequently at the tailback position along with rookie Jerious Norwood, another Mississippi State product. Last year Griffith also had 21 receptions for 111 yards with a career-high three touchdowns.
It is obvious that Griffith enjoys football, but he is also using the sport as a platform to express his commitment to Christ. He recently spoke at a meeting of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Black Mountain, N.C. He expressed great enthusiasm as he commented, “It was a wonderful privilege to speak there. I had an opportunity to experience God on another level. There were 500 high school athletes there. I spoke – no, I preached, – on the prodigal son from Luke 15.”
Griffith continued, “When I gave the invitation I could not believe the response. There were 150 of those student-athletes who came to the altar making decisions for Christ. I broke down in tears and cried because of what God had done. God moved in a powerful way that night to call people to repentance and to change lives.”
One of the students that professed faith in Christ at the FCA meeting was the daughter of John Hendricks. Hendricks is the present head football coach at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., but was the defensive line coach at Mississippi State when Griffith was there.
After the invitation at the FCA worship experience, Hendricks approached Griffith and stated, “Thanks for the message. I have been praying that God would keep my daughter safe when she goes off to college this fall and now I believe He will, because she professed her faith in Christ tonight.”
Griffith has not only submitted to the stringent discipline required to play professional football, but has disciplined himself spiritually. He arises at 5:30 each morning to pray and read his Bible. He explained, “Every day you have to meditate on the Word of God. I just finished reading through the gospel of Luke and now I am reading through Joshua. When T. J. (Duckett) was here we read through books of the Bible and discussed them.”
Griffith believes it is important to set a good example for others. When the team arrived at the Atlanta airport at 2:30 a.m. from a recent road trip to Green Bay, Wisc., it did not deter Griffith from going to church at nine that morning. He said, “During the season when we play games on Sunday it is difficult to get to church, but I go on Wednesday nights and to the Falcons chapel service on Saturday night.
“My teammates know I am serious about my faith,” Griffith declared. “When the players are discussing some moral or theological issue, they will say, ‘Let’s ask Justin and get his opinion.’”
Griffith continued, “Before every game we have this routine of all crowding in the shower, fully dressed out for the game to have a prayer. Several players will pray, but I am the one they depend on to close out the prayer time.”
For the past two years Griffith has held a free football camp for kids in the Gainesville area. The fundamentals of football are taught, but Griffith majors on character building and teaching lessons for life. He always has a character word for each day such as “respect” or “sportsmanship.” And he always defines the word with a verse of Scripture and has the camp participants memorize it.
One of Griffith’s life verses is Joshua 1:8, a verse that offers the challenges to “be strong and courageous.” Griffith commented, “I try to live by that, and I tell young people to be strong and resist peer pressure. You have to do that to be successful and true to God.”
The Falcons fullback loves being a spokesman for Christ and is particularly delighted that he has been invited back to his alma mater to speak. Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom has invited Griffith to be the chapel speaker prior to their football game with West Virginia on Oct. 7.
Griffith, who has made a personal vow to God to remain physically chaste until marriage, consistently tells today’s youth, “Stay close to Jesus! Read the Word! Pray! Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the power of the Lord! Ask God to open doors and follow Him!”
Falcons fans, when you watch your favorite team this year, look for number 33 and point him out as a good role model for your children and grandchildren.
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