Midway through the first quarter of last week's Alabama-West Virginia game in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, redshirt sophomore kicker Adam Griffith accounted for the first points of the Crimson Tide's season with a 47-yard field goal.
It was Griffith's first field goal in the Georgia Dome since his 32-yarder catapulted Calhoun High School to a 27-24 overtime triumph over nemesis Buford for the 2011 Georgia Class AA state championship, and he insists the one three years ago was a breeze by comparison. Calhoun had not won a state crown since 1952, and Buford had rallied from a 24-10 deficit in the final 90 seconds of regulation, but he said he felt fine about that moment.
"I had started all four years in high school, so I was more comfortable then and didn't have the nerves," Griffith said this week by phone. "This is my first year starting [as a collegian], and I was nervous all last week leading up to the game. When I first lined up and took my steps back, my legs were shaking, and I just told myself to watch the ball. Once I kicked it, I didn't feel the nerves anymore. I knew I was going to make the next one, and if I had to kick another one, I knew I would make that, too.
"That first one is always the hardest, and I had no idea I could get that nervous before a game. Plus, this kick was a lot farther."
Griffith wound up making 47-, 41-, 27- and 45-yard field goals in his starting debut, propelling Alabama to a 33-23 victory. He was the only kicker nationally to make three field goals of longer than 40 yards last weekend, and he's the first to make three such kicks in a game for the Crimson Tide since Michael Proctor in 1993.
His 41-yarder was on the final play of the first half, giving Alabama a 20-17 lead and easing the sting of Mario Alford's 100-yard kickoff return for the Mountaineers moments earlier. The 45-yarder took place with 8:07 remaining and accounted for the final points of the closer-than-expected contest.
The Southeastern Conference named Griffith as its special teams player of the week, and he was among the three Lou Groza Award stars of the week.
"We've always had a lot of confidence in Griff," Alabama coach Nick Saban said after the game. "There were times last year where we thought about him being the kicker, but we've always had confidence in him. When we recruited him, he was a sophomore in our camp, and he was as good a kicker as we've ever had at our camp in terms of his accuracy and the combination of explosion and the ball getting off quick.
"It's good to see him have this kind of success, and we're excited about what he can do in the future."
Griffith, who was born in Poland, raised in an orphanage and came to the United States after being adopted at age 13, quickly found success at Calhoun and was Rivals.com's No. 2 kicker nationally in the 2012 signing class. Most of his family members went to Georgia, but Griffith was pursued much harder by Alabama than by the Bulldogs, who instead targeted Marshall Morgan out of Fort Lauderdale.
Morgan played right away in Athens following the graduation of Blair Walsh, but Griffith in 2012 had to wait behind Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster. Shelley was a senior in 2012, but Foster returned last year and won the job, going 11-for-12 on field-goal attempts before unraveling against Auburn.
"I had a feeling I would get redshirted, because Shelley and Foster were ahead of me," Griffith said. "I was fine being redshirted, but last year I thought I was going to kick a lot more than I did. Sitting for two years was tough, and I was out of the game for so long that I forgot what it felt like kicking in front of all those people."
The 5-foot-10, 188-pounder did get a little taste last season, making all five extra-point tries and going 1-of-3 field-goal attempts. The one he made was from 20 yards against Tennessee, and one of his misses led to one of the most memorable plays in college football history.
With one second remaining in last season's Iron Bowl, Griffith came up short on a 57-yard attempt, which was returned by Chris Davis for a 100-yard score that produced a 34-28 upset for the Tigers.
"Obviously I wasn't ready for that kick," Griffith said. "I didn't have the experience for it, but I was happy that Coach Saban had that kind of faith in me to let me try it. I got under the ball -- I was nervous -- but I don't even think about that kick anymore. It doesn't bother me that they replay it a lot on TV, and it's honestly something I just don't think about."
The past is indeed the past, and Griffith also is moving on from last week's sizzling start to 2014.
"I'm happy that this first game went well, but it was just the first game," he said. "I'm still going to get nervous again, because I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself. I want to be perfect this year. If I miss one, I miss it, but I'm going to keep working to get better and better."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.