One of the top players who will be on the field for Friday’s showdown between state No. 5 Mission Viejo and state No. 6 Long Beach Poly will be receiver/corner Olaijah Griffin. The UCLA commit will be tested on both sides of the ball by the talented Jackrabbits but he should be up to the task. And it’s easy to guess which team Olaijah’s famous father will be rooting for even though he’s a Poly grad.
Note: This feature story was part of the SportStars Magazine Southern California preview issue. To check that issue out in its entirety, CLICK HERE.
For a feature story we did earlier in the summer on Long Beach Poly quarterback Matt Corral, CLICK HERE.
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Perhaps the most famous album of the six that have been released by rapper/hip hop producer Warren G is the one called “Take A Look Over My Shoulder.”
Did Warren G, whose full name is Warren Griffin III, know that someday he’d have a son who’d become one of the top defensive backs in high school football in which looking over the shoulder and doing that at just the right time can be such a hard skill to master?
The son, Mission Viejo senior Olaijah Griffin, actually has mastered many skills of the top cover corner. Whether that’s battling for the ball in the air, being able to come down with an interception or having the speed, size and leaping ability to stay glued to any opposing receiver, Griffin has become as well-versed in that craft as some of the rappers that his dad works with in theirs.
“Yes, I guess that is a great message for a DB,” Griffin said of the “Take A Look Over My Shoulder” title. “It’s part of what we do. We know the first job is that we’ve got to regulate all of those receivers.”
As with most elite cover corners, you can’t base evaluations on interceptions and tackle stats. Griffin had two interceptions last season plus nearly 40 tackles for a Mission Viejo squad that finished 11-1 before having a 39-game winning streak snapped in a CIF Southern Section Division I quarterfinal playoff loss to Rancho Cucamonga (which also was 11-0 at the time). He also had 39 catches for 759 yards and 11 touchdowns.
So far this year, in helping Mission Viejo to a 3-0 start and to a No. 5 state ranking heading into a monster game this week at No. 6 Long Beach Poly, Griffin has only caught seven passes but has taken them for 142 yards and two scores.
As a sophomore the year before, Griffin was a top corner on defense and also a key receiving target on offense when the Diablos went 16-0 and won the CIF Division I-AA state title.
“It helped a lot being on that team as a sophomore,” said Griffin, who was named to the 2015 All-State Sophomore Team and then last year was on the All-State Junior Team. “It prepared me for the next level. After you go 16-0, a lot of people the next year want to prove themselves against you. I knew a lot of teams would be out to beat us, and that made us get ready for the next year.”
Griffin is now a senior leader and team captain and even though legendary Mission Viejo head coach Bob Johnson says he has to “calm him down sometimes” the responsibilities of being a prominent player are not lost on Griffin.
“I know I can control myself, but I always want to have a little fun,” he said. “I know when it’s time to get serious and when to stop.”
Johnson started the season with 333 coaching wins since his first season in the 1970s at Los Amigos-Fountain Valley. He should pass Herb Meyer (formerly El Camino-Oceanside) during the season to move into the No. 3 spot on the all-time state list. Meyer won 338 games and also coached at Oceanside High. Johnson also has helped tutor many elite players as a quarterback coach, including Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez.
So how does Griffin rank as an elite player?
“He’s very gifted and one of the best,” Johnson said. “He’s also a real gym rat with great focus. When it’s on, it’s on.”
Griffin’s development as a cornerback also has been enhanced by being able to work out alongside Diablos’ senior receiver Austin Osborne. Osborne also was a sophomore on the state title team from two years ago and has committed to Washington. Others on this year’s team heading to the Pac-12 Conference are linebacker Christian Lavalle and offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson, both of whom are going to Arizona State.
The Diablos opened their season in Hawaii on Aug. 19 with a 39-14 triumph against Baldwin of Maui. They won their game last week 42-27 over La Habra, but were dealt a significant injury blow when standout junior Jamari Ferrell suffered a broken leg and will now be out for the rest of the season.
As for Griffin, he had offers from throughout the Pac-12 as well as Nebraska, but recently committed to UCLA.
“They play at such a really high level and the coaches there made me feel that it was a place where I could play early,” Griffin said. “I am excited.”
Still, Griffin knows he’s been blessed to have been able to be coached by someone like Johnson.
“He’s been amazing,” Griffin said. “He’s the best coach I’ve had and he’s been teaching the game to me with a lot of logic behind it. He’s just made me feel at home, like part of a family.?
Johnson also has dealt with all types of fathers over the years as well as players. He’s had Joe Montana at some of the quarterback events of the past and he’s had those who are demanding of playing time for their sons and those who are more laid back.
With a famous dad like Warren G, Johnson said the experiences have all been positive and he praised the elder Griffin for making his son’s athletic career a top priority.
“(Olaijah) and his dad are best friends,” Johnson said. “His dad is at every every game. I know he’s busy during the day, but rarely is he not around. He likes it on those days when we get on (Olaijah). He’s told me more than once that he knows his son is in good hands.”
Warren G went to Long Beach Poly at around the same time as Snoop Dogg and while Snoop is well-known to root for the Jackrabbits, Olaijah says that his dad “loves Long Beach but he’s not going to like Poly (when we play them).”
And it looks like Warren G has also prepared his son very well for the rest of his life.
“I think it’s been great,” Griffin said of the experiences with his dad and high school football. “He’s not the type to just show up and do a show. He always tells me before every game to prepare. He prepares me before the game and during the game.”
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports