Football turns teammates into family. Near tragedy made the bond between Indiana Hoosiers Isaac Griffith, Nick Stoner and Ty Smith unbreakable.
"These guys are my brothers," said Griffith, fighting back tears at a news conference in Bloomington Saturday with Stoner and Smith at his side. "I love them to death."
Griffith, a 19-year-old redshirt freshman wide receiver, spoke publicly Saturday for the first time since he nearly drowned in a Gulf of Mexico riptide last month.
Griffith and Stoner, a senior wide receiver (Center Grove), drove down from Orlando to Sarasota, Florida, on March 17 to spend the day at the beach with Smith, a redshirt freshman safety (Bloomington North) and another friend, Mitch McCune, an IU student studying to be an athletic trainer. The weather was not great that day, but they really wanted to get in the water. There were no warning flags on the beach.
Around 5:00 p.m., Griffith and McCune got separated in the ocean from Stoner and Smith. The waves began to pick up. Griffith began to sense he was in trouble.
"I kind of panicked," said Griffith. "In my mind I realized it was time to go back in. When I tried to go back in, I got swept out further."
McCune pulled an unconscious Griffith to shore. McCune and Smith performed CPR while Stoner, a track sprinter, ran to get help. The Sarasota Sheriff's Department reported that the players had been drinking. But the players insist that alcohol was not a factor in the incident.
"It's hard to hear what these kids went through," said Shannon Griffith, Isaac's father and the head football coach at Manchester College. "The belief we have in a higher power is what we've gone by."
Isaac Griffith spent two days in a medically induced coma. But he made a remarkable recovery, and left Sarasota Memorial Hospital in less than a week.
"I don't ever take anything for granted," said Griffith. "I go every day and I'm by my team. I wake up every day and thank God for waking me up and what he's done with my life."
Griffith is not running pass routes just yet, but he has begun jogging and lifting weights. His hope is to be back on the football field with his teammates when practice starts in the fall.
"When people come out here and practice is bad, they always say, ‘This sucks!'" said Griffith. "Well, it doesn't suck, because I almost had something taken away from me that I love. I don't want to be put in that situation ever again."
"I am so thankful and anxious to see him play," said Kim Griffith, Isaac's mother. "He's been playing since he was three. He's got a gift and he knows how to use it. I'm going to be there just waiting for him to walk back on that field."
Griffith broke most of the receiving records for career receptions, yardage and touchdowns at Fort Wayne's Homestead High School. He wants to get back in the game, and in the water.