This is the ninth and final story in a series about members of Georgia Tech’s incoming freshman class.
From Broad Street, Myrtle Hill Cemetery rises about 130 feet to its pinnacle. The six-terraced graveyard, which overlooks this northwest Georgia city, is the final resting place for a first lady, four U.S. congressmen, a U.S. senator, hundreds of Civil War soldiers and many of Rome’s founders.
For Tyrone Griffin, though, its purpose had little to do with rest. From the time his four boys were as young as 6, Griffin rousted them out of bed for early-morning runs to the top of the graveyard, a climb equivalent to about 12 stories. They made repeated runs to the top, ascending along paths between graves and via steps of varying depths and heights, worn smooth by time. Depending on the route, it’s about 160 steps to the top.
“I know ’em all,” said Jamious Griffin, the fourth of Tyrone’s five children and the youngest son, showing the cemetery to a visitor.
The sun was setting on Myrtle Hill. The sky was clear. Jamious showed off a set of red-brick steps next to a mausoleum that was built into one of the terraces, perhaps 15 feet high. The steps were barely traversable, deep enough only to gain a toehold, creating a near-vertical climb. He scrambled up with ease.
Returning to the site where he and his brothers trained on countless mornings for years — part of a wider workout regimen that included other similarly grueling workouts — gave Griffin an opportunity to consider the training their father had invested in him and his brothers, and how it had put him on a path to develop into a four-star running back prospect who became the centerpiece of Georgia Tech’s freshman class.
“Grateful to have him in my life,” Griffin said of his father. “Without him, none of this would have happened. Him and God.”
The objective of Tyrone Griffin’s training was that all four sons, born within a three-year span, would star at Rome High and earn football scholarships. (The four sons and their younger sister Breana have two mothers. Tyrone’s wife of 14 years, LaBretha, is the mother of Jaylen, a sophomore linebacker at Virginia Tech, Jamious and Breana, a rising eighth-grader and burgeoning basketball star. The mother of Ja’Kolbi, who accepted a scholarship to Gardner-Webb but is now at junior college and playing baseball, and Ja’Quon, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle at Georgia Tech, is Misty White.)
Tyrone Griffin, who in his day starred at Rome High before playing at UAB, wanted his sons to surpass his football career and have a shot at the NFL. And, in so doing, they could take care of another objective – earning scholarships to college. College, he said, was a non-negotiable for his children.
“Nowadays, a high-school education just isn’t enough, and we can’t afford to pay for you to go to college,” said Griffin, who works as a material handler at a food plant in Rome. “So we’re going to push and hopefully y’all will be good enough to get a free ride. And all four of them got one.”
The pushing was not gentle. They trained multiple times a week, twice a day in the summer. They ran up hills. They ran up bleacher steps at Barron Stadium. They lifted weights at the YMCA. Griffin made sacrifices to purchase expensive training equipment, such as a treadmill that can simulate running with resistance parachutes or pushing a sled and a contraption called the VertiMax V8, a platform with a series of resistance bands and pulleys designed to develop explosive strength.
“It was worth it in the end,” Tyrone said.
Tyrone’s father, Tyrone Sr., started called him Joe Jackson, after the domineering father of Michael Jackson, when he took Ja’Kolbi (along with his brothers) to Myrtle Hill after he had played in a day-long baseball tournament. That didn’t stop families from sending their children to train with Tyrone, enough so that it has become a side business.
“He just pushes,” Jamious said. “He’s not a yeller. If he knows we’re not going as hard as we can, then he’ll yell.”
The boys competed at everything. They had their own crucible, two-on-two tackle football games in the yard. The two older brothers — Jaylen and Ja’Kolbi — vs. Ja’Quon and Jamious.
“I don’t know why we started, but, Jesus Christ, we were putting hits on each other like we were on TV on Sundays, trying to kill each other,” Ja’Kolbi said. “I don’t know why we did that, now that I think about it. I laugh now, but I wish we would have taken it easier on each other, but I guess that paid off, too.”
Perhaps especially so for Jamious.
“Jamious, he kept up with us like he was one of us,” Ja’Kolbi said. “Every situation he was in, he made it know that he was going to be there. That’s why he is who he is now. He’s not going to stop for anybody.”
For two years, 2015-16, all four were teammates at Rome High. Jamious was the lone Griffin on offense. Ja’Quon was on the defensive line, Jaylen was at linebacker and Ja’Kolbi was in the secondary.
“When they got a hit (on Jamious in practice), they bragged about it because it’s rare,” Jamious said with a smile.
Rome coach John Reid, who was hired months the winter before Griffin enrolled as a freshman, credits him for helping change the culture of the team, which won two Class AAAAA state titles (the first in school history in any sport) and was 49-7 in Griffin’s four seasons, including 41-3 in his final three seasons. Griffin, Reid said, was always willing to practice and train hard and then want to keep going.
“I think he was one of the ones that kind of perpetuated that ideology, that he was always pushing for more,” Reid said. “It kind of becomes part of the program.”
Griffin’s climb, initiated at the foot of Myrtle Hill Cemetery, has only begun. But it has brought him to the precipice of his college career at Tech. With his mix of speed, power and agility, he has the look of a difference maker. Ja’Kolbi predicts freshman All-American status for his little brother.
“I’m proud of myself,” Griffin said. “All my hard work paid off.”
The series so far:
Nazir Burnett's path to Georgia Tech was not an easy one
Zach Owens brings ‘a chip on my shoulder’ to Georgia Tech
Michael Lockhart is Georgia Tech’s ‘diamond in the rough’
Cornelius Evans’ path to Georgia Tech: Four different high schools
Drive, ambition define Georgia Tech quarterback Jordan Yates