It’s hard not to think of music when watching Olaijah Griffin play football.
There’s a rhythmic energy to the sophomore cornerback’s footwork and his ability to react to the receiver he’s covering, similar to the improvisational ability of some of the greatest jazz musicians. There are the leaping deflections he makes to keep receivers from getting their hands on the ball. There’s a grace with which he covers ground and jumps high in the air, arms outstretched. On the field, he’s the skilled ballroom dancer on a dance floor.
The connections are no accident, Griffin admits. As the son of rapper, songwriter and producer Warren G, music has undoubtedly influenced and, in his opinion, assisted his game.
“You’ve got to have a good rhythm to have good technique as well,” Griffin told the Daily Trojan. “And so once those two kick in, it’s just like a beat just going in my head that just matches with my feet. And that’s why I think I have great feet. And my rhythm is just on point.”
Football and music have been two of Griffin’s greatest loves in his life. To this day, he enjoys getting in the recording studio at his family’s house, playing around with his dad’s equipment and having fun on the drum machine.
But his family, including his father, also helped Griffin discover his true passion on the gridiron.
He recalls watching former Browns running back Jim Brown on TV and mimicking his plays on the field. He was just 4 years old.
“One day, my [older] brother went to practice, and I was too young to play, but I was practicing with him,” he said. “And once it was my time, I put on the cleats and I shocked everybody on the field.”
Griffin’s background has played a prominent role in his sports career. He has a self-assured nature that comes naturally from seeing high-profile celebrities visit his home from an early age. The lights of the Coliseum don’t seem too bright in contrast.
Fans may have noticed Griffin frequently dances during games, whether it be on the sideline, during timeouts or waiting for kickoffs. That’s just part of who he is; he has a deep appreciation for how music and rhythm affect life — and it’s hard for him to contain.
“Music to me is just something that’s always in my head,” Griffin said. “That’s why people see me dancing on the sideline, because just being around music, just getting the rhythm, hearing beats, it’s just something that makes me move, and that’s something I love as well. The world wouldn’t even be the same without music.”
Griffin’s expressive nature has endeared him to his Trojan teammates, who know him as “OG.”
“He’s a dude that can dance a lot, that’s for sure,” sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga said. “He just brings a great attitude of energy — a sense of charisma. Everybody wants to be around him all the time.”
Griffin’s moves are a hot topic of discussion among his teammates. Redshirt sophomore safety Isaiah Pola-Mao joked that he thinks Griffin sits in his room for hours on end dancing in the mirror to see what he thinks looks cool.
Freshman defensive lineman Drake Jackson, in particular, connected with Griffin upon arriving at USC. Jackson said he was drawn to both Griffin’s musicality and his comedic nature.
“He’s jokes. Funniest guy ever,” Jackson said. “He’s just full of energy, always dancing, always hyping other people up. Being around OG — he makes sure you’re naturally happy.”
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said Griffin has learned to channel his energy in a way that helps the team.
“Music to me is just something that’s always in my head. That’s why people see me dancing on the sideline, because just being around music, just getting the rhythm, hearing beats, it’s just something that makes me move, and that’s something I love as well. The world wouldn’t even be the same without music.”Olaijah Griffin
“He’s [got] attention to detail,” Pendergast said. “He wants to be the best that he can be at his position. And, you know, he’s a guy that loves challenges, and that’s one of the things I liked about him as a player.”
Griffin’s passion doesn’t always manifest itself in productive or entertaining ways, though. Too many times this season he has let his competitiveness get the best of him, picking up bad unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for late and unnecessary hits. That’s something he needs to iron out, but it’s also part of the OG experience — for now. He wouldn’t be the same player if he wasn’t ruled by his need to succeed.
That desire traces back to early childhood, when he first fell in love with football. From a young age, Griffin always knew he wanted to go to the NFL.
“That’s a dream that I’m trying to fulfill, and I’m getting closer to that accomplishment, and that’s something I’m proud of as of right now,” he said. “But I just need to keep going.”
He’s certainly progressing along that path. Despite being a sophomore, Griffin has established himself as the team’s top cornerback. Granted, just about every corner on the team’s roster is a sophomore or younger, but Griffin has set himself apart with his growth from his freshman season. Pendergast noted Griffin’s jump in performance and chalked it up to improved focus.
However, it hasn’t always been easy for Griffin. After undergoing surgery on both of his shoulders over the offseason, Griffin struggled with back spasms that kept him out of the Washington and Arizona games. At times, he said, the recovery process was disheartening.
“At first, I didn’t think I was going to be the same because I was out for so long,” Griffin said. “I never had football not [be] in my life for that long, and just to be back and doing more than what I was doing before, it’s just a great feeling.”
Griffin said a big reason for his development was his relationship with former USC cornerback Iman Marshall, who was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft. The two Long Beach products had known each other for years before Griffin arrived on campus, and their relationship only grew when they became teammates.
“Just seeing him playing and getting the chance to see him play in front of my eyes, it was just a great experience,” Griffin said. “But now I know it’s my time to finally take over his place.”
Griffin speaks about all of his teammates, especially the defensive backs, as though they are family. But there was a time that he seemed unlikely to become as ingrained in the USC culture as he is now. After initially committing to UCLA, the five-star recruit didn’t choose the Trojans until National Signing Day.
It was Griffin’s given family that ultimately played the biggest role in determining his chosen family. When he switched schools, he picked USC so that his family could still come see him play every game, and he doesn’t take their support for granted.
“It means everything to me, because even while I’m playing, I could hear my family’s voice cheering me on or telling me something that I need to know,” he said.
Griffin is proud of his family name and his role in representing it. He said his 4-year-old brother Royal loves watching him play and that he wants to be a role model for him. Griffin could hardly contain his smile when he said he hopes Royal turns out like him.
Increased attention comes with the territory of having a famous father, but it’s not too often that celebrities’ family members make waves in their own right.
In OG’s case, however, the son of the star has already made a name for himself.