In his first year as a starter, linebacker Shaquem Griffin was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He’s been a huge part of UCF’s rebound this season — one in which defense carried the team — and has been the Knights’ most productive player. Shaquem saw little playing time under George O’Leary, but thrives in the base 3-4 defense the Knights field now.
With eleven sacks, Shaquem leads the conference and ranks tenth in the nation. He places second in the AAC in tackles for loss with 19 -- good also for tenth in the nation. And Shaquem accounted for about a tenth of the Knights’ total tackles this year.
It’s all the more impressive that he’s excelled this year with just one hand, his left one having been amputated when he was 4 as a result of amniotic band syndrome (a congenital birth defect which left him with painful and “jelly-like” fingers).
And yes, he did snag an interception this year.
Shaquem is the second UCF player to be named the AAC’s Defensive Player of the Year (cornerback Jacoby Glenn shared that honor in 2014 with Tank Jakes from Memphis).
UCF also placed multiple players on the AAC All-Conference Teams. Shaquem naturally made the first team, while his twin brother Shaquill made the second. Shaquill led the team in both interceptions (4) and passes broken up (12). Noseguard Jamiyus Pittman joined Shaquill on the second team, and safety Drico Johnson (who memorably scored two defensive touchdowns against Tulane) slotted in at honorable mention.
Fortunately for a UCF defense that graduates a ton of seniors, both Shaquem (a redshirt junior) and Pittman (a junior) ought to be back next year.