COLUMBUS — Not every place is like Ohio State. Not everywhere is like Columbus.
Diante Griffin’s belief that Ohio State is a special and unique place tells a lot of the story of how the former Lima Senior defensive back became a preferred walk-on for the Buckeyes and will be in an OSU jersey, number 43, on the sideline for Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan game.
It’s like he had an internal global positioning system that was always set for Ohio State.
One of his grandfathers is two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin. His other grandfather, David Reynolds, a first-team all-state running back at Lima Senior, was an Ohio State running back in the mid-1960s. His father, Andre Griffin, an assistant coach at Ohio Northern and a former Lima Senior head football coach, played at OSU from 1998-2001.
His uncle Adam Griffin and two of his dad’s uncles, Ray Griffin and Duncan Griffin, played at Ohio State. His mother, Deanna Reynolds Griffin, and his grandmother, Dorothy Reynolds, have OSU degrees. He is the seventh Griffin to wear an Ohio State football uniform.
“It’s really surreal. My family runs deep on both sides. That’s why I could never switch up even if I moved,” Diante Griffin said. “It was kind of like I was born with it. I feel like I was born to be here.”
His devotion to Ohio State never changed. But his address did and home became, of all places, Michigan, when Andre Griffin spent nine seasons as an assistant coach at Saginaw Valley State University.
Family members tell the story of how on his first trip to a restaurant in Michigan, a much-younger Diante stood up and shouted “O-H” and was shocked not to get the usual Ohio State fan reply. “He asked, ‘Why didn’t anyone say I-O?’ ” Dave Reynolds said.
His attachment to Ohio State never weakened. As a 5-10, 170-pound cornerback who was second-team All-Three Rivers Athletic Conference, he was not highly recruited. But he made the decision to pursue his Ohio State dreams.
“He has always dreamed of it. He grew up in it. When we were in Michigan he would still come down to some games. He used to wear my brother Adam’s jerseys, my dad’s jersey. He just wanted to live it out,” Andre Griffin said. “His dream was to play at Ohio State so we decided to go ahead and try to get those dreams.”
Part of pursuing that dream was approaching Buckeyes football coach Ryan Day at a Lima Senior-Findlay boys basketball game last season to express his interest in coming to Ohio State. Day was at the game to see Findlay’s Luke and Ryan Montgomery, both recruiting targets for OSU.
After more contacts with Day and Ohio State’s coaching staff, OSU offered him the chance to be a preferred walk-on in April.
Diante Griffin called running out of the tunnel at Ohio Stadium before this season’s opener against Notre Dame “a dream come true.”
“I’ve sat up in the stands or watched it on television my whole life and I just pictured myself in that moment. When I lived it, it was very special to me and my family,” he said.
Archie Griffin said he told his grandson he should expect a lot of hard work as a student and as a walk-on athlete.
“I told him you’ve got to work hard and be the best you can be. Go to class every day and you’ll be fine. I told him it was going to be hard but you can learn on the scout team and you can be noticed by working hard.
“Being a walk-on, it’s a difficult role. But if you really want to do it you can make it happen. He’s working hard and who knows, down the road he might get a shot,” he said.
Archie Griffin was Ohio State’s leading rusher in three of the four games he played against Michigan and never lost to the Wolverines. Dave Reynolds appeared in the 1966 Michigan game as a kickoff returner.
Diante Griffin was encouraged by recently being named scout team player of the week. But he knows as a freshman walk-on on a roster loaded with 4-star and 5-star recruits, it’s a long road to getting into a game.
“My goal is to get on the field. Whether that is on defense or special teams, I just want to get on the field and contribute to a win. I just want to get real game-time action and then whatever happens after that happens. That’s my goal right now and that’s how I’m proceeding every day,” he said.
“It’s been a blessing. You come in thinking it’s really hard and you have to work hard and maybe it’s not going to be as much fun as high school. But I’ve had fun here, I’ve competed, I’ve met many new people, gained many new friends and I love it here.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.