On Tuesday morning at the Mellencamp Pavilion, Griffith was an unseen presence, a freshman wide receiver who, thanks to good friends, good luck, good health, good prayers and, perhaps, divine intervention, was poised for a much anticipated return.
This much, receiver Shane Wynn said, is certain: Griffith will contend for a receiving role this fall — near drowning be darned.
“He was having a good spring,” Wynn said. “He'll still be in the mix. He's a young guy just getting better, paying attention to details and listening in the meeting room, so when he gets to the field, he performs.”
Griffith is in Fort Wayne recovering from an almost fatal swimming accident during last week's spring break Florida trip. He nearly drowned after being caught in a rip tide near Sarasota, and he had to be pulled to shore by fellow IU student Mitch McCune, along with help from Hoosier football teammates Nick Stoner and Ty Smith. McCune performed CPR on the unconscious Griffith until medical help arrived.
He spent five days in a Sarasota hospital, three of them in a medically induced coma to allow his lungs to heal. He is on antibiotics to clear up the pneumonia that developed after his lungs were filled with saltwater.
Coach Kevin Wilson said the hope is Griffith returns to school Monday, and then to football whenever doctors say he's ready. It might happen before the April 12 spring game, but more likely during summer workouts.
“It looks like in time he'll make a complete recovery,” Wilson said, “not just a normal lifestyle, but a normal athletic lifestyle. He wants to get back to normal and get back to football as soon as he can. That's what we'll do. When he comes back we'll have our doctors let us know when he can start physical activity.
“Football will take care of itself. He has had a bump in the road, no different than if it was a high ankle sprain. Now it was a major story and nearly very tragic, but he's come out of that to where he'll miss short period of time, much shorter than (safety) Antonio Allen coming off six-month knee surgery.”
IU has 10 spring practices left, including three this week.
“We won't push him,” Wilson said. “I don't know if it's realistic that he can come back this spring, but (doctors) anticipate he'll be back with our summer program. He'll be back doing some things Day One, it's just a level of what. The real deal is the trauma to the lungs, but he's young and very healthy, was in great shape, and has responded well. He's got a week of rest and then hopefully gets back in class.”
Griffith had redshirted last season. He emerged from winter conditioning bigger, stronger and better prepared to make an impact, especially with IU losing key receivers Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson. They combined for 134 catches, 2,002 yards and 16 touchdowns.
The Hoosiers led the Big Ten in passing last season, and that pass-happy approach doesn't figure to change, which means many opportunities for receivers.
“We'll play six to seven to eight guys at receiver,” Wilson said, “and he'd shown he'd be in the mix. While talking to him, I told him, 'Don't worry about the depth chart. Concentrate on school right now.' He gets good grades. We got his syllabus and shipped up some books to him because he's going to miss a week of school.”
Griffith had had a solid start in the first four spring practices before spring break produced unexpected drama.
“It was devastating,” Wynn said. “It's a relief knowing he'll be back. He's a great kid. He smiles a lot. He didn't talk much at first when he got here, but now he's starting to talk a lot.”
Wilson said “a number” of players and coaches were vacationing in Florida and stopped by the hospital to see Griffith.
“We're grateful that he's well,” Wilson said. “There were a lot of prayers from (inside) and outside the program, from peers and colleagues, from people and fans. His family appreciates it. Our football family does, too. We just keep praying for him to get well.”