The 90 Illini #28: Caleb Griffin

Aug 3, 2022

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The toughest thing about being a college kicker, I'd think, is waiting your turn. We have seen a lot of "wait your turn" of late. And the kicker who has had the longest "wait your turn" of all is Caleb Griffin.

Let's just go through the last six seasons. In 2016, Lovie Smith took over the program in March. The placekicker from the previous season, Taylor Zalewski, had just graduated. Recruiting-wise, Lovie had just inherited a scholarship kicker signed by Bill Cubit a few months earlier - James McCourt.

But he also had two other kickers on campus: sophomore walkon Chase McLaughlin and senior David Reisner. Reisner had won the job over Zalewski in 2014 (and kicked the game-winner over Penn State that year), but then Zalewski won it back and Reisner became more of a punter than a placekicker.

In 2016, after a camp battle between McLaughlin, McCourt, and Reisner, McLaughlin was named the starting kicker. Reisner ended up sharing the punting duties with Ryan Frain that season (Frain punted 53 times and Reisner 23), and McCourt... had to wait his turn.

And that wait was three long years. I always think about that when some sophomore wins a starting job. The freshmen behind him? They can't not have the thought of "man, this is gonna be a long time standing on the sideline waiting for him to graduate". For McCourt, when McLaughlin won the job, he knew he'd be on the sidelines in 2016, 2017, and 2018. And he was.

Lovie also added a scholarship kicker in 2018: Caleb Griffin. So after a redshirt year for Griffin, there was a kicking battle in camp in 2019: James McCourt (fourth-year junior) vs. Caleb Griffin (second-year freshman). McCourt won that battle, McCourt won the Wisconsin game, and Griffin... had two more years of waiting on the sideline.

And with Covid, that turned into three more years. The 2020 season didn't count towards eligibility, which meant that McCourt didn't use up his eligibility until after the 2021 season, not the 2020 season. That meant that Griffin, who arrived in the fall of 2018, has now waited four years for his shot at being the starting kicker. Remember when we started 0-8 in the Big Ten in basketball in 2018 (Underwood's first season)? And then we finally got a win over Indiana at home? That's the week that Caleb Griffin committed to Illinois. He's been waiting that long for his shot at the starting job.

Here's maybe the best way to emphasize this. In May, Griffin got his Master's degree in Management. And now he finally has the chance to be the starting kicker.

28. Caleb Griffin

Uniform number: 5
Year in school: Redshirt Junior (without the Covid waiver, 1 year to play 1; with the Covid waiver, technically 2 years to play 2)
Height: 6'-3" -- Weight: 225 lbs.
Hometown: Danville, Illinois
High School: Danville HS
Best offers: Iowa, Ball State, Bowling Green
Tom Cruise rating: n/a - I don't rate specialists

2021 statistics: Kicked off twice in the Iowa game.


I guess I covered all of his background above so I'll just say this. He's been waiting to be the starter but he has been on the field. When McCourt tested positive for Covid (or maybe he didn't test positive - I think his roommate tested positive and he had to quarantine), Griffin was the starting kicker against Purdue in 2020 (1-1 on field goals, 3-3 on extra points). And that wasn't the only time he was on the field that season. He was the starting punt returner in the Iowa game (#athlete).

So he's had some fun over the last four years, playing receiver here (no stats) and playing punt returner there. But he came here to be the kicker, and this season he'll get that chance.

2022 Outlook

I should probably note that he has not won the job yet. This is still a camp battle with the other kickers. Coaches don't like to just hand the kicking duties to the next guy. They need to perform under pressure at practice with all 105 teammates gathered 'round.

So this camp it will be Griffin, freshman PWO Will McManus, and Air Force transfer Fabrizio Pinton battling for the job. Griffin is the only scholarship kicker, so it's his job to lose, but... he needs to win it first.


jdl on August 3, 2022 @ 02:54 PM

2 Danville guys in the top it.

Robert on August 10, 2022 @ 04:03 PM

(Bumping this ahead of all the old posts with spambot comments.)

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