INDIANAPOLIS — Shaquem Griffin's eyes widened as he stepped onto the podium this weekend inside the Indiana Convention Center.
The Central Florida linebacker has taken joy in every moment of this NFL Scouting Combine, and his session with the media was no exception.
But he somehow didn't expect to see the large crowd waiting for him.
"I thought I was gonna walk over here and there were gonna be like three people," he said, flashing that trademark smile.
Whether he recognizes it or not, Griffin has become the story of this year's Combine.
He was born with amniotic band syndrome — a congenital birth defect that causes parts of the body to become entangled in the bands in the womb — and a malformed left hand. His hand was amputated at the age of 4.
That didn't stop him from playing major college football at UCF. It didn't stop him from being named the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year. And he's determined not to allow it to prevent him from living out his dream of playing in the NFL.
Even if it might take awhile for teams to figure out just how he fits.
The NFL is a copycat league. Teams like to look for precedents and fit players into a profile that has been proven to be successful in the league.
There is no precedent for Griffin.
"You have to admire the type of success he's had already with that impairment," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. "But I think when you look at certain players like that, there is something to be said for what is in their heart. It's something you'd have to talk to the trainers about and see what his restrictions would be moving forward. Again, putting players in a position to succeed, that would be a key — can he do the things we ask him to do?"
Griffin is attempting to answer that question resoundingly in the affirmative.
He worked out on the defensive line, at linebacker and at safety during the Senior Bowl in January. And he was named the practice player of the week.
That versatility will continue throughout the draft process as Griffin plans to go through drills as both a linebacker and a defensive back. His football journey began in the defensive secondary, and he still has the muscle memory to play there.
His twin brother Shaquill — born perfectly healthy less than two minutes earlier — was a significant contributor as a rookie cornerback for the Seahawks last season.
Shaquem is open to suggestions from any team.
"I want them to know that I don't have to be the guy who just rushes the quarterback," Griffin said. "You need somebody to cover? I can cover not just tight ends but slots (receivers), too. I got a few interceptions against some slots (two in college). I want to show NFL teams that, whatever you need help at, I'm the player. You want me to play kicker or punter, all I gotta do is get a good stretch in and I can kick the ball, too."
Don't bet against him.
If Griffin says he can do it, he probably will.
And his attitude is infectious.
The Golden Knights were the darlings of the college football season, finishing 13-0 with a 34-27 victory against Auburn in the Peach Bowl and then awarding themselves a mythical share of the national championship.
With Griffin in the mix, anything seems possible.
That's even rubbing off on the other prospects this week at the Combine.
"I've been feeling that all week since I've been here," Griffin said. "And that's kind of cool when you have guys at that top level, the best of the best, and they come and talk to you about you motivating them and inspiring them, I feel really good hearing that from them. It motivates me to do more and keep pushing when you've got guys all over the place, the top in the country, and they're proud of me. That was an amazing feeling, and it makes you enjoy it that much more."
Griffin is more than a feel-good human-interest story.
He's a bona fide football player.
In his final two college seasons, Griffin totaled 18.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss. In addition to the two picks, he forced four fumbles and recovered five.
Some evaluators believe he'll have an instant impact in the NFL on special teams. And his tape suggests he's capable of far more than that.
"I watched his tape months ago, and I was like 'Wow,'" said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who calls the Combine action on the live brodcast with host Rich Eisen. "Just from the standpoint of a football evaluator, he’s a helluva player. I couldn’t believe he got the late invite here. He was really good on tape. He was the conference player of the year two years ago. This is a legitimate football player. Forget about the deformity or whatever you want to call what he has. He’s an energy giver."
And an inspiration.
Griffin takes umbrage at the term "handicapped," and he's out to prove he can do anything a person with two hands can do. And he often does it better.
If there are children watching him who are facing similar obstacles in life, Griffin is proud to be their champion.
"I hope I inspire a lot," he said. "I always tell everybody, if I can inspire one, and they can inspire another and inspire a thousand later. If I keep doing what I'm doing now, I can change the minds of a lot of other people later."