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Griggs excelled on the gridiron for RFA, RCC and Washington St.

Steve Jones
Sports writer
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Posted 7/19/22

Calvin Griggs earned his spot in the Rome Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 with his play at Rome Free Academy, which propelled him to a college football scholarship and a shot at the NFL.

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Griggs excelled on the gridiron for RFA, RCC and Washington St.


Calvin Griggs earned his spot in the Rome Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 with his play at Rome Free Academy, which propelled him to a college football scholarship and a shot at the NFL.

In recent years, he’s begun passing his knowledge on to young athletes as a high school football coach.

“It’s quite an honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside some of the great, great athletes Rome has produced over the years. To be in the same sentence is pretty amazing to me,” said Griggs by phone from Michigan. The 54-year-old said that when he found out he’d been selected for the Hall he was “ecstatic. I was excited. I worked really hard in my years of high school, college and at the pro level. It was an honor.”

Also being recognized by the Hall of Fame for a lifetime of excellence are former gymnastics coach Phyllis R. Niemi, the late Mike Orbinati, an outstanding player and coach; hockey star JR Purrington, the late Joseph A. Ryan Jr., who is being inducted as a contributor and three-sport standout Randy J. Williams.

Griggs was born in Louisiana then came to Rome at age 2 to join family already in Rome. “My mom, who passed away, was my everything, my inspiration,” he said. She was adamant that he get outside and play anything and everything, he said. “Anything could help me get a scholarship.”

And it worked, because he excelled in football, basketball, baseball and track and field. In fact, his favorite sport in high school wasn’t even the one that earned him a full scholarship to Washington State University.

“Probably basketball with coach Stan Evans,” he said of his favorite sport as an RFA Black Knight. “Basketball was such an important part of my life growing up. We didn’t have a lot of money and I could play basketball all year round.” He said Evans was a father figure to him, not just a coach. “Taught me a lot of life lessons growing up.”

He was a point guard and shooting guard at RFA. “Basketball was so much fun. The whole Stan Evans show. We did the Harlem Globetrotters’ warmup, a whole show we put on for the crowd. I loved that and looked forward to it every game.”

But close behind “was football with (coach) Tom Hoke.” There Griggs starred at receiver. He also returned punts and kicks. Though he played a little as a defensive back, the RFA teams of that era had few two-way players. “We had so many great athletes in high school. You only played one side of the ball.”

When Romans reminisce about some of the best years of RFA football, Griggs’ era comes up often. “It was such a tradition in the 1980s and ‘90s,” he said. “Football was everything. The whole town shut down for an RFA football game.” The program boasted so many great athletes and won state and local titles. “Everybody wanted to be part of RFA. People would come from all over the place to see us play. Growing up, that was our number one thing. We wanted to play for RFA.” The coaches — such as Hoke, Tom Myslinski and Don Bruce — built a successful team that was also as close as a family, he said, and people wanted to be a part of that.

Griggs earned All-State honors his senior year as part of the Class of 1986.

He was also a baseball player for years until his junior year. That spring he switched to track and field. “I knew that it would benefit me for football and other sports.” He said teammates and coach Hoke encouraged him to make the switch as a way to train for football. “And I kind of fell in love with it,” he said, though he admitted that telling coach Evans he was done with baseball was not easy. Regardless, “It was the best decision I have ever made.”

He competed in the long jump, triple jump and the sprint relay. His senior year he finished third in the Empire State Games in the triple jump.

He said he didn’t have the high school grades to earn his way to a big college football school so he went to then-Herkimer County Community College. There he played basketball, helping the team earn a fourth place finish in the nation as a freshman. And though Seton Hall was inquiring about him as a transfer, “my heart was in football.”

So he transfered to Redwood Community College in Eureka, California, where he made Junior College All-American in football twice and earned Northern California Player of the Year honors his sophomore year. He also set school records in the javelin and triple jump. He was eventually inducted into the Redwood College Hall of Fame.

His performance at Redwood earned him a full scholarship to Washington State for football. He also had offers from other Pac-10 teams such as USC, UCLA and Oregon, he noted. He chose the Cougars in part because of the team’s offensive approach. “At the time, there were only a few schools that ran four-wide,” He said. “That’s great for me. They threw the ball 80-90% of the time.”

And the quarterback who would be throwing to him? Future Super Bowl champion and four-time Pro Bowler Drew Bledsoe. “It was wonderful. He was the best quarterback I’ve ever seen. He was an All-Pro. Extremely smart. He taught me a lot. We worked constantly on our routes and our timing. He threw the ball so freaking hard.” Between the cold and snow in Washington and Bledsoe’s cannon of an arm, Griggs started wearing receiver’s gloves, he laughed. “I knew he was special. When he can get on his knees on the 20-yard-line and can throw it into the other endzone that’s a pretty strong arm.”

In 1989, Griggs played in 11 games and made 29 catches for 525 yards and two scores. The next season he played 11 games again, with 31 catches for 390 yards and two touchdowns.

At WSU he earned Pac-10 player of the week honors three times and was chosen as a team captain.

That led to a shot at the NFL in the form of a rookie free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks. He wasn’t able to make it on a game day roster, but he played for several years in Canada.

“Playing Division I football is quite an accomplishment but to get to the next level is even harder,” Griggs said. “In the pros everyone is as good as you if not better. It’s constant work ethic. It’s more than just being physical, it’s mental.” He said he studied his playbook nightly, earning a spot on the Seahawks’ practice squad. “My work ethic was second to none.” He added, “It was a great opportunity for me.”

After starting a family, Griggs transitioned from playing to coaching, and has been at it for 20 years. He coached at three schools in Oregon — winning three conference titles and district coach of the year in 2019 — before moving to Michigan. There he coached at Detroit’s John Glenn High School starting in 2020. He was announced in April as the new head coach at Pioneer High School.

“I always wanted to coach, even when I was in RFA,” he said. “I knew what it did for me growing up. Being able to share that knowledge to younger kids” was what he wanted to do as a career. “When I got done playing and had an opportunity to put 100% into coaching I jumped right into it.”

His high school coaching has been “going to programs that are struggling to turn them around and make them into contenders and championship teams.”

His coaching style? “How I was taught and how I was brought up to be coached,” he said. He is passionate and energetic like his RFA coaches, he said. “I’m out there running around, and the kids feed off my energy. I’m definitely a players’ coach. All my coaches were like that when I was growing up.”

Griggs said he wants his legacy to be about how much he put into sports. “Anybody who knows me knows how hard I work, my work ethic (and) all the time I put into all the sports I was in. I wasn’t out partying. I took it very seriously. At 11 at night I was running routes” so he could be, he said, “like my idols,” the RFA players who preceded him.

The ultimate complinent, he said, is for people to say: “Calvin Griggs was one of the best athletes to come out of Rome because of his work ethic and how he wanted to be the best.”

There will be a reception for inductees and other award winners at the Rome Sports Hall of Fame from 2-3:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 31.

The Rome Sports Hall of Fame is located to the right of Erie Canal Village and the parking is to the right of the building and the entrance is in the front facing the Village. Extra parking is will be available in the Village parking lot.

The annual induction awards banquet will be held Sunday, July 31, at the Vernon Downs Casino and Hotel starting at 5:30 p.m. The tickets are $35 each. Tickets for children 12 and under are $15. Tickets may be purchased at Rome Sports Hall of Fame, 5790 Rome New London Road.

The museum is open Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The deadline to purchase tickets is Sunday, July 24.


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