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Nick Griffin excited about leading football program in New Augusta
By STAN CALDWELL
There is a new man in charge of Perry Central football, and he’s a name that is very familiar to Bulldog fans, and longtime football fans around the Pine Belt.
Nick Griffin is back at PCHS, getting his first head coaching opportunity after eight seasons as an assistant coach at Madison Central, where he was on the staff that won the Class 6A state championship in 2021.
“I’m excited,” said Griffin, while conducting summer weightlifting workouts last week. “I’m really excited to be back to my roots, to be back with these people.
“Everybody is family, because this is where I grew up, and they’re all still here. It’s just big to be walking these halls again, to be back in this field house and this weight room.”
Griffin, 31, replaces Craig Cluff, who resigned after two seasons as head coach to take a position on staff at Columbia High.
Griffin is remembered for a legendary career as a Bulldog from 2006-09, mostly in football, but he was also an accomplished sprinter in track and a starter in basketball.
He started his Bulldog football career at safety as a freshman, posting 59 tackles and three sacks, but it was as a running back that Griffin made his biggest mark.
In three seasons as the featured back for Perry Central, Griffin totaled 4,171 yards on 555 carries (7.52 yards per carry) and 51 rushing touchdowns.
In 2009, Griffin and the Bulldogs had a dream season, winning 12 straight games, including a thrilling one-point victory over Collins, on the way to the Region 8-3A championship, before losing a 21-14 heartbreaker to Morton in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.
Griffin wasn’t the only star on that team, but he was the main man. He was a preseason Dandy Dozen selection by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and more than lived up to that billing.
He rushed for 2,080 yards on 234 carries (8.89 yards per carry) and 31 touchdowns. He also had five more receiving scores, along with 82 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions on defense, plus he averaged 30 yards a punt.
Following high school, Griffin signed with Mississippi State, and after sitting out a redshirt season in 2010, he played four seasons for the Bulldogs. He appeared in 44 games, starting four, and finished with 592 yards rushing on 111 carries and four TDs.
More importantly, Griffin excelled in the classroom, finishing with an overall 3.0 grade-point average and making the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
He graduated in December 2014 with a BS in kinesiology. He earned a master’s degree from Mississippi College in education leadership in 2019 and expects to finish a specialists degree in education from William Carey University this fall.
After graduation, Griffin was hired at Madison Central, coaching under Anthony Hart, Brad Peterson and Toby Cullums.
“I think I got a different perspective on how to do things, how things need to be done, how to optimize your time, your players and your resources,” said Griffin of his time in Madison.
“That’s the biggest thing I bring from Madison Central. It’s a little different. It’s a big school, so there’s a little more delegation. It’s a lot more work, but I’m enjoying it. I think I’m in the right spot.”
So far, the Perry Central community has embraced Griffin as the new man in charge. He’s made the rounds at local events and has been particularly busy on social media, drumming up corporate sponsorship support for the program.
“I think the response has been a real positive,” said Griffin. “I’ve been getting good vibes from everybody. I think they are as excited as I am.”
Griffin inherits the bulk of a team that finished 4-6 overall last season, 2-2 in 8-3A, good for third place and a berth in the playoffs, dropping a hard-fought 40-21 loss to Tylertown in the first round.
“It was great for them to make the playoffs here, and I think we can build off that,” said Griffin. “The majority of those kids are back; we didn’t graduate that many. They were young last year and they were able to get some experience under their belt.”
Much will be expected of junior Austin Jones, who emerged as a big-play threat last season. Jones had a breakout game against West Marion, a 42-24 victory in which Jones ran for five touchdowns and had another on a kickoff return.
“My goal is to come in work hard, and give it everything I’ve got,” said Jones. “Coach Nick is really fun to be around. He brings a lot of energy. He’s a great coach.”
Jones will operate the Bulldog offense from the quarterback position, and it will offer fans a different look from 2022.
“It’s way different from last year,” said Jones. “We’ve got a lot of plays to learn; we’re going to be busy.
“It’s going to be more like a spread, a lot of bubble screens and short passes, and we’ll air it out some too. It’ll be mostly pass plays. Last year, we mostly ran out of that formation. So we’re switching it up this year.”
Griffin is high on his athletic quarterback and is excited to see what he can do in a game situation.
“Austin is going to be a big part of what we do here,” Griffin said. “He’s dynamic and he’s got a great arm. And we’ve got some skilled guys coming back, including DeJohn Johnson, who has some speed, and we’ve got a couple of good receivers we like.
“Our line is looking good. We’ve got some big guys up front, some nasty guys. There are some talented kids here.”
The Bulldogs will return 10 of 11 starters on defense, so Griffin expects that side of the ball to be improved.
“It’s been a hard road,” said senior nose guard Isaiah Booth. “We’ve got a lot of young guys that we’re trying to get worked up ready to play. We just have to keep working hard every day.”
Booth said he likes what Griffin brings to the Perry Central program, beyond his past as a Bulldog legend.
“The new guys are young and they bring a lot of energy to the gym,” said Booth. “They’ll be able to use our energy. (Griffin) has the experience and he knows how to get to the next level. It helps us, being able to talk on his level and communicate so we know what we’re doing.”
Griffin retained two holdovers from last season’s staff, Brett Nelson and Aaron Ragsdale. He has added two new assistant coaches, Derrick Jenkins and Preston Upshaw and he will have Braden Pierce and Brandon Sumrall as student assistants.
This year’s reclassification to the new seven-class system hasn’t affected Perry Central much, with the Bulldogs staying in Region 8-3A.
Changes from last season have Tylertown replacing Jefferson Davis County and St. Patrick is back playing a region schedule after going independent last year, replacing Seminary. St. Stanislaus and West Marion return as the other two teams in the region.
“It didn’t change much for us,” said Griffin. “Class 3A is big-time ball in this state. Perry Central has played 3A mostly the past few years, back when I was here.
“There are some really competitive teams here, so hopefully we can come in to compete, do our part and keep up with everyone else.”
Perry Central opens the season August 25 at home against Heidelberg. Other non-region opponents are Amite County, Wesson, North Forrest and Greene County.
Griffin has been married for six years to his wife Shanice and they have two children, Khrii and Amarii.