Word spread quickly through Mount Vernon High School’s halls and classrooms last November that someone special was looking for Carlton Griffith and had a few words of advice to offer the running back.
As the Majors geared up for their final game of the season against Wakefield, Griffith stood on the precipice of shattering a school record. Mount Vernon alumni and current Arizona Cardinals running back Thomas Clayton wanted to personally meet the guy who was about to break his record.
What Clayton saw surprised him a little.
“He looked at me, and said, ‘you?’ ” Griffith, a junior, said with a laugh. “I’m kind of small so I guess he didn’t expect that. He told me to break [the record], keep my head on straight and [he] said that I’d go far in life. It felt good to hear that from someone who plays in the NFL.”
After standing for 12 years, Clayton’s record fell on Nov. 2.
Three quarters into play against Wakefield, Griffith lined up behind junior quarterback Brendon Maturey, received the handoff and sprinted 30 yards into Mount Vernon history.
“It felt good,” said Griffith on breaking Clayton’s record. “Thomas [Clayton] told me to break it and I did. I was really happy.”
Not content with just breaking Clayton’s record, Griffith also turned in a season-best performance as he scampered for 260 yards on the ground with 51 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
The 5-foot-8, 163-pound Griffith finished his junior campaign with a school record 1,671 rushing yards. He also added another 212 receiving to go along with 16 touchdowns. Even scarier than Griffith’s gaudy rushing totals is that Mount Vernon head coach Barry Wells scaled back some of his back's carries late into games.
“[His rushing total] could have been marginally higher,” said Wells. “I shut him down in the fourth quarter at least four times and he didn’t play at all. The number could have been much higher.”
While Griffith’s athletic achievements are cleary evident, his academic efforts are equally as impressive. The aspiring astronomy major names science as his favorite subject of study in school. He also said that while juggling football, track and school can present its challenges, he’s found a formula to help manage his time.
“I have a strict schedule after football practice that I stick to,” said Griffith. “I go home, do all of my homework, take a shower and go to sleep. I do it the whole season.”
Griffith’s formula has served him well as he currently boasts a 3.9 GPA.
"In addition to being a fine football player, Carlton is also a good student,” said Wells. “He’ll have his choice of [colleges] to attend as long as he stays on track. It’s part of my job to make sure that he understands that with good preparation, he will not miss out on the wealth of opportunities that will be before him in the next six to 12 months.”
Wells, who has coached at Mount Vernon for three years, paid Griffith an even higher compliment when speaking about his character.
“In all my years of coaching, you come across kids like Carlton once in a great while,” Wells said. “He’s a special person, a special athlete and a great student. He leads by example.”
Despite the success Griffith experienced last season, the soft-spoken youngster said he is hardly content.
“I want to stay above a 3.5 GPA, break my rushing record and be named a captain,” said Griffith of his goals for 2013 .
With just one season remaining, Griffith will try to help Mount Vernon win the National District and end his career on a positive note. Wells expects the same.
“He’s a joy to coach, he’s a special player and he’s the kind of kid we’re going to watch play on Saturdays,” said Wells. “And like Thomas [Clayton] said, if he does everything right and keeps his head on straight, he’s going to play on Sundays. And I’m looking forward to seeing that.”