Griffin, making the most of his second chance, is giving back to New London

New London — A wise man once said this about hitting rock bottom:

“When I’m at the bottom looking up, the main question may not be ‘how do I get out of this hole?’ In reality, the main question might be, ‘how do I get rid of the shovel that I used to dig it?”

And this is the story of Dom Griffin, a former Whaler, class of 2008, who used rock bottom as a means not merely to rid himself of the figurative shovel, but to parlay his second chance into a happy life.

Griffin’s story — that rock bottom can be a blessing — gets shared frequently with the kids he’s teaching now at High Roads, the alternative middle/high school on Garvin Street in the city. Griffin is as real as they come, especially to kids, because he’s walked the metaphorical mile. And perhaps more importantly, he is a beacon for the power of the second chance.

“Everybody makes mistakes. It sounds kind of cliché, I know. Some are public. Some you never know about,” Griffin was saying recently from On The Waterfront, the popular city eatery on Pequot Avenue, the postgame haunt from high school where he and his teammates celebrated many victories.

“You can’t just write somebody off. People critique people,” Griffin said. “But some of the greatest leaders have hit rock bottom. They persevered.”

Dom Griffin’s story:

He remembers being called from class one day in high school to see a football coach from Hofstra. Ah, the ticket: Go to school and play football. Perfect. Right until the coach saw his transcript. The first dose of many realities hitting him over the next six years.

Maybe Pasadena City College, following high school teammate David Reed? Except he couldn’t afford the rent to live off campus. Finally, to Husson, a college in Bangor, Maine, where he lasted a semester.

“I was going to come home, go to Three Rivers, get a job, save some money and go to school somewhere else where I could play,” Griffin said. “Never works out that way. I was 18-19, not balling anymore. I didn’t even want to go anywhere because I didn’t want to see people who would ask me what I was doing. I had to keep answering that question.”

He applied for jobs at the mall and casinos. One call back. Meanwhile, on the streets …

“Seven months later, I got a call from Mohegan to be a janitor. At that point, I was on the streets indulging in negative stuff,” Griffin said. “I was going to go clean toilets? Not when I could be hustling, slinging and selling drugs. I knew I really wanted to be in school and play. But I wasn’t. I work with alternative kids now telling them, ‘if you are going down this road, it’s going to catch up to you.’”

Griffin escaped for two years to Saint Augustine University in Raleigh, N.C. No football. Just academics. That life … had a shelf life.

“I got homesick,” Griffin said. “Let me just go home. Worst decision I made. But it turned out to be the best.”

Griffin, through the help of high school coach Juan Roman, thought he had an opportunity to play at Western Connecticut. He even got an acceptance letter. Griffin was living in the city with some roommates.

Then the best/worst thing of his life happened. It was four and a half years ago now.

“Our house got raided. A mess,” Griffin said.

He was charged with possession of cocaine, possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, possession of narcotics within 1,500 feet of a school, operating a drug factory and possession of drug paraphernalia. During the search, police said they found loaded firearms, crack cocaine, marijuana, packaging materials and digital scales.

“Embarrassing, man,” Griffin said. “Humiliating. I disappointed the people who cared about me. I was in court every month for a year, seeing guys I grew up with getting sentenced. I’m like ‘this is no joke.’

“I knew that if I got out of this situation, I wasn’t looking back. I was scared of being a failure. My youth coaches, like James Singleton and Leo Clinton, taught us the culture when we were young. They tell you straight: you can go this way or that way. Some of the best athletes to ever come out of New London didn’t hit rock bottom, but for every one of them, there’s five who went to jail. You have to be from that cloth to know. It scares you. I didn’t want to be known as that guy who is a failure.”

Griffin paused for a few seconds and said, “Sometimes, embarrassment and humiliation are the best things that can happen to you.”

And so with the help of his mom, family friend Gloria Dover, Roman and family friend Debra Evans, Griffin found his way to Springfield College. Later, he worked briefly at Nathan Hale before finding High Roads.

“We all have a story,” said Frank Colmenares, Griffin’s longtime friend who helps coordinate the New London Youth Talent Show, among other endeavors. “There are things I’ve done in my life I didn’t get caught for. I didn’t have to suffer the consequences. But I’ve learned in other ways.

“It saddens me to know people are judging people. In a world where second chances mean so much, I look at my life. What if I got caught? What if my skeletons came out? If people would have judged me so harshly as not to be given a second chance, I wouldn’t be able to work with kids now. Dom needed people who believed in him. It’s the same thing we’re trying to give back.”

Dom Griffin has put away his shovel, relaying the experiences of its residual dirt to help kids now in New London.

It’s the answer to the spiritual equation of what happens when rock bottom delivers a second chance.

Bravo to him.

And the people who believed.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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