Favorite athlete: Paul Pierce
Favorite team: Boston Celtics
Favorite memory competing in sports: Competing in the Junior Olympics.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: A couple of friends and I decided to mix Gatorade powder with ice tea and drink it before soccer practice our freshman year.
Music on iPod: Rap
Future plans: Run track in college and major in business
Words to live by: “Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.” –Robert Schuller
One goal before turning 30: Be an Entrepreneur
One thing people don’t know about me: I trained with three track Olympians and have met a total of eight.
By Mary Jane Souder
Lightning in a bottle.
It’s a phrase coach Stefan Szygiel uses to describe Noah Griffin, and making that description especially interesting is the fact that the Central Bucks West senior – who excels in track and field – is a reserve for Szygiel’s soccer team.
Griffin, however, falls into a very special category of players who come off the bench.
“He’s an absolutely exceptional athlete,” the Bucks’ coach said. “His athleticism and his attitude and buy-in – he’s just the perfect guy you look for that understands that role of the super sub that you want, and that’s what is special about him.
“We always use soccer as a microcosm of who a person really is as an individual. He’s just a kid who gets it. He’s exceptional in track and field, and he brings his athleticism to the soccer field, but his buy-in, his attitude and his work ethic are just commendable. Everyone wants to start and play every minute, and Noah is happy to play.”
This past summer Griffin qualified to compete in track and field at the prestigious Junior Olympics in Sacramento, Calif., and he is getting serious looks from numerous schools, including three Division One schools. It would have been easy to pass on soccer his senior year to focus on his number one sport, especially since he had seen limited varsity minutes as a junior swing player.
“It was hard for me to find varsity minutes for him last year because we had such a strong front line,” Szygiel said. “The season takes its toll, injuries occur and roles change.
“We actually called him up at the end of the season, and he played in the last few games and in our playoff game. You’re talking about a guy that had minimal varsity minutes and we threw him in against Marple Newtown in the first round of playoffs.”
And here’s where the ‘lightning in a bottle’ description is explained.
“It’s his energy, desire and coachability, which are three prime things a coach looks for in a player, and he brings all three of them,” Szygiel said. “Marple Newtown last year was excellent.
“We ended up winning that game 1-0 and moving on, but Marple was the more talented in terms of soccer players. Noah played maybe 10 minutes total, but we’re talking about a playoff game where you’re not going to go deep on your bench.
“You have kids who play 80 minutes and take it for granted. Noah played 10 minutes, and those are the most important 10 minutes to any player ever.
“This year he already has earned himself more playing time as a senior.”
Walking away from soccer was never a consideration for Griffin, even though he remains in a reserve role.
“I really don’t mind,” he said. “Jack Galt played on jayvee with me last year. He wasn’t the best player, and this year he’s really stepped up and showed his part.
“I accepted the fact that he was going to be the starting guy, which I was completely fine with. When he was tired, I would go in, and hopefully, the other team’s back line is tired, and I just sprint my butt off and try to get a goal.
Griffin’s understanding of the significance of his role off the bench is rare indeed.
“There’s an unbelievable level of respect that he brings as well as accountability,” Szygiel said. “It seems to be missing more and more in our players – you make a mistake, you own up to it.
“Noah’s always willing to do that. He will never deflect blame to anyone except himself if it’s on him. Those are bigger things than how man minutes you play on a high school team.
“We all know that a team is a living, breathing, evolving thing. Noah was a freshman when I was a first-year coach. He’s gone all the way through the system, and every year he’s bought into his role – small or somewhere in the middle.”
Soccer was the first team sport Griffin ever played, but it wasn’t the only.
“When I was little, my dad threw all sports around me,” he said. “He never forced me to do one sport. I was well rounded.”
Griffin continued playing in-house soccer until last year. He also played football and basketball for several years but gave up those sports in favor of track and field, a sport he tried for the first time in seventh grade at the suggestion of a friend.
He was a natural, which should come as no surprise since a relative on his father’s side of the family, Leon Hill, Sr., founded the Ambler Olympic Club.
“My family on my dad’s side is all track,” he said.
Although Griffin’s father, Vindon, preferred baseball and football, Noah found a home on the track.
“In seventh grade, when we reached the Meet of Champions, I never lost one race, I never lost one jump,” he said.
Last year as a junior, Griffin qualified for districts in the triple jump and missed the finals by one place. This summer’s trip to the Junior Olympics – which required advancing through two regionals – as well as a new coach suggest that Griffin will improve considerably on last year’s finish.
“When I was in California, I got to talk to coaches from Miami, UNC and Cal State, and they gave me tips,” he said. “I improved so much from Junior Olympics.”
For now, Griffin’s put track on hold until soccer season ends.
“I’ll think about track, but realistically, I’m more focused on soccer,” he said. “As soon as soccer ends, I’m right on track, and I’ll be there for three hours each day.”
West track coach Greg Wetzel is looking for good things, expecting Griffin to be among the best in a very tough league in the triple and long jumps and the 110m hurdles as well as a key member of the 4x100m relay. Indoors, Wetzel pointed to the triple and long jumps, the 60m high hurdles and the 4x200m relay as areas where Griffin will excel.
“Noah is an outstanding competitor, and we are fortunate to have such a versatile athlete back for his senior year,” Wetzel said. “We know he has something special up his sleeve for this year.
“The track and field coaches have witnessed Noah display a tremendous amount of personal growth this past winter and spring. He really began to embrace the tough love that our jumps coach is famous for and took all of his feedback to heart. This, coupled with Noah’s steady focus, yielded impressive results as evidence of his coachability in some very technical events.”
Although soccer and track fill Griffin’s spare time, he also places a high priority on spending time with family. His father, who had spinal chord surgery five years ago, is disabled.
“I try to help him as much as I can,” Noah said.
The youngest of seven siblings, he also enjoys spending time with his nieces and nephews.
“We watch my sister’s kids three days a week, so I try to help out with that,” he said.
Griffin still finds time to hold down a job one day a week during soccer season, and he is looking towards a business major in college, an interest that was piqued in his Business Today class as a sophomore. He has joined West’s Future Business Leaders of America club this year.
“Track is my ticket into college,” he said. “I have a split between academic schools and my track schools.
“I like materials processing and I really want to focus on business but on the sports aspect. I just love business – somehow I just get it.”
Just as he ‘gets’ the importance of his role as a super sub for West’s soccer squad.
“I don’t think that boy takes anything for granted, which – again – is something that’s missing in more and more teenagers,” Szygiel said. “Noah is not spectacular, he’s not a starter. He’s just the guy in between the trenches who no one talks about.”
That’s high praise for an athlete with star qualities on the track who is projected to be part of West’s potential state medalist 4x1 and 4x2 relays.