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Thunder running back is racing away with rushing title

For Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College running back James Victor Griffin, football runs in the family. His father James played seven years in the NFL as a defensive back for the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions, and now the younger Grif...

For Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College running back James Victor Griffin, football runs in the family.

His father James played seven years in the NFL as a defensive back for the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions, and now the younger Griffin ranks in the top five community college running backs in the nation in rushing yardage.

"I love it here," Griffin said. "It's really nice. It's different than what I expected it to be, but it's a cool, laid-back place."

Griffin, from McDonough, Georgia, is literally running away with the MCAC rushing title. Through seven games, he's rushed for 879 yards, leading the North Division by 400 yards and the entire league by 176 yards.

He's a decent bet to go over the 1,000-yard mark Thursday when the Thunder (4-3, 2-1 North Division) travel to play at Vermilion (1-6, 1-2 North Division) in a 7 p.m. game.

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"I think I've had a good year," he said. "I just try to run as fast as I can and if someone's in my way, I run them over. I try to be the overall back."

But behind the performance is a modest, introspective young man who is popular with teammates and a fine example of the kind of student-athlete the college would like to attract.

"If we don't have him, we don't run the ball like we want to," Thunder Coach Keith Turner said. "We are able to throw the ball because he can run it right now."

Griffin, who is enrolled in the law enforcement program at the college and is a B student, was a very pleasant surprise for recruiting coordinator Terry Fawcett.

Also the team's defensive coordinator, Fawcett likes what he sees in Griffin.

"Once we saw his tape, we knew he was one of the best running backs in the state of Georgia," Fawcett said. "I think he is the most talented offensive player I've been around in the last 20 years. I've told the defense to enjoy watching him because if he takes care of business academically, he's a [Division I] talent."

Turner agrees.

"I've had two running backs go [Division I] and he's right there," Turner said. "If we keep him healthy and he does what he needs to do in the classroom he will be Division I."

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Griffin also said he's learned a lot already from his Thunder experience.

"Coach Turner is cool because he understands the game from a running back's perspective," Griffin said. "He gives me tips and teaches me how to go down and not take so many hits."

Turner, who played at Grambling [University], knows he can't work his star back too hard.

"He's had a lot of carries (220, with seven touchdowns)," Turner said. "I'm trying to teach him patience, understanding that every run won't be an 80-yarder. He has to be more than a running back too. He has to block and catch the ball as a well-rounded athlete."

Griffin, who lists Vikings running back Adrian Peterson as his role model, has a definite goal in mind.

"My plan is to get a Division I scholarship," he said. "And I like Adrian because he has a similar style and he's the best in the game. To be the best, you have to learn from them."

But along the way, Griffin has brought an unselfish attitude to the huddle that rubs off on everyone.

"He carries the ball 30 times a game and never complains about being sore," Turner said. "We've got guys who play half a game and tell us how stiff and sore they are. He's a very humble player. He hears me preach all the time, and he's the ultimate team guy. You hear him even when we're down, still thinking we've got a chance to win. That gets everyone to keep working."

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"It's never about him," Fawcett added. "He has an enormously high ceiling and it's a pleasure coaching him."

Griffin's spirit carries through into this week's regular season finale and beyond.

"We'll go in to the playoff games, win them, win them all, and then come back and do it again next year," he laughed.

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