After rising through the ranks and making the most of his opportunity, Khalan Griffin is our 2020 Rice Football Offensive Newcomer of the Year.
A year removed from his first carry as a Rice Owl, Khalan Griffin was on crutches. A leg injury suffered in the first game of his senior season shortened his high school career, but not before he would amass 208 rushing yards, hobbled, in his second game before being shut down.
Touching twice the century mark on one leg was impressive. But it wouldn’t be the last time Griffin fought the odds and compiled an absurd state line. Healed up and back to 100 percent, Griffin hit the ground running at Rice as soon as he could.
He was attentive in preseason Zoom sessions, working to learn an offensive far more complex than any he’d run before. It was tough sledding. When he arrived on campus, he was buried on the depth chart, just like most of his fellow freshmen classmates. But Griffin didn’t stay there.
By way of effort and opportunity, Griffin and fellow freshman running back Kobie Campbell were the only two healthy running backs during the Owls’ first scrimmage of fall camp. That would mean a heavy workload for Griffin, the first big test of his collegiate career.
He carried the ball 32 times that Saturday morning, racking up 247 yards on the ground, 165 of which came after contact. One of the stingiest run defenses in Conference USA was gashed by a true freshman who, admittedly, was still learning the ropes.
Rice had the No. 3 rushing defense in the conference this fall. One player surpassed 100 yards on the ground against the Owls all season. Preseason all-conference rusher Brenden Knox averaged a meager 3.8 yards per carry on 20 attempts, tallying 76 yards against the stout Rice front seven. Griffin had more than double that after initial contact in his first padded scrimmage. The bar had been set.
Immediately following the big day, head coach Mike Bloomgren opened up his post-practice press conference with comments on Griffin. “Khalan Griffin was dominant again today. It didn’t matter what defense he was going against. It didn’t matter what offensive line was blocking for him. He just found a way to make every run violent,” Bloomgren said. It was high praise for a young player.
Then the games arrived. The backup to starter Juma Otoviano out of the gate, Griffin provided fresh legs in the Owls’ fourth-quarter rally against Middle Tennessee in their season opener. His first carry of the fourth quarter went for 10-yards. Then he exploded for a 20-yard scamper up the gut. Rice would go on to pull within one score following a touchdown pass on that possession.
Two games, and almost a month later, Griffin started his first career game. On the road against North Texas, Griffin ran for 72 yards and caught two passes for 45 yards, surpassing 100 all-purpose yards for the first time in his career. Rice wouldn’t win the game, but the moment wasn’t lost on the grateful freshman.
“I want to start off by saying thank you to my coaches and the whole running back room because without them, I don’t think I’d be standing in front of you today,” Griffin said when asked about his first start. “I also want to give a hats off to Juma [Otoviano], Ari [Broussard], Kobie [Cambpell] and Jawan [King].”
Griffin would lead Rice football in rushing in the abridged 2020 season. He finished second on the team to only Austin Trammell in all-purpose yards. His first collegiate touchdown managed to elude him, despite a first down run against Marshall that was stopped at the one-yard line.
Beyond that, the rest of his freshman campaign went extremely well. Griffin had three starts in five games. He ran for 249 yards and carved out a key role in the offense. His future is bright.
When asked what the pecking order would be in the backfield before the season, Bloomgren was noncommittal. He went as far as to say Griffin “took advantage of an opportunity.” What would transpire in the weeks and months to come was far from decided. Griffin made those decisions easier with his commitment and effort, both on and off the field.