The Ultra-Back

[Premium article] There has been a lot of talk about the high school running backs that will be coming to the MSU campus in the fall. With the talk of these phenomenal athletes, I started thinking of the best high school running back these eyes have seen.

It only took one game for Justin Griffith to gain my respect, and become the subject of many of my football conversations for the next four years. I had never seen a high school player hit holes like he did. And I think his best run of that Class 3A state championship game was his last.

"I can remember that. I think I had thirty carries that game," said MSU's senior-to-be running back with a huge smile. "That was a great game, and one of my favorite memories. There is nothing like winning a state championship."

Times have changed for Griffith as a running back at MSU. While he has been here, he has switched from tailback to fullback, but he doesn't let that slow him down.

"I don't let that bother me, I just want to go out there and do whatever the coaches ask me to do," said Griffith. "I don't consider myself a fullback or a tailback anyway, I just consider myself a running back.

"Since I have been playing fullback, I have found that I had talents that I didn't even know I had. In high school I thought all I could do was carry the ball. Now, I think I can do it all."

Griffith had all the tools as a 6-foot high school running back, and during his stay at MSU he has perfected those tools. His work even garnered him a nickname from ESPN analyst Lee Corso. Corso called him the "Ultra-Back" after watching Griffith catch a pass out of the backfield.

"It always makes you feel good when someone says something like that about you," said Griffith. "That just makes you know that people are paying attention, and that all of the hard work is paying off."

And you can just ask one of Justin's best friends, MSU fullback Darnell Jones, where Griffith's hard work ends.

"You can go out and work seven days a week," said Jones when asked about competing with Griffith. "But he (Griffith) is going to find a way to work eight."

Every year he has been at MSU, Griffith has been an elite Iron Dawg, an honor that goes to only the hardest working Bulldogs. He expects this year to be no different.

"I want to be an elite Iron Dawg again, I want to go out as one of the best," said Griffith. "I have set my goals high for myself this year, so that I will continue to push myself. I feel that if you reach for the stars it always gives you something to work for."

His goals are amazing: 430 bench, 285 power clean, 515 squat, 4.55 40-yard dash, 40 dips, 35 pull-ups, and a 34-inch vertical. All this at 230 pounds.

While his goals are amazing, his inner strength might be the most impressive thing about him. After playing consistently for his first two seasons at MSU, Griffith was pulled from contact to remove a bone spur from his neck.

"This past whole year taught me so much. I learned not to take anything for granted and that anything can be taken away from you at any moment," said Griffith. "My family really helped me through all of that. They prayed with me and for me all the time. I think working through that injury, and seeing the support I have from my family really pushes me. That is why I am going to go 150 percent at every moment."

He has not just left those lessons he learned last year on the football field; Justin has used those to push him in the classroom, too.

"I don't try to make any trouble in class. I don't want people to think of that football player stereotype about me," said Griffith. "I know that I might not always be able to play football. But, I will always have my degree."

On the football field this year, Justin knows that he has a lot to play for. He could work his way into being one of the top running backs in next year's NFL draft as well as helping his team win again.

"I just want to get out there and play. I am going to play this year for [my brother] Julius, he won't be out there this year," said Griffith. "As a team, those goals come first. We want to win the SEC, and even the national championship. Personally, I want to be the best running back out there, and play in the NFL."

Grant Alford is a free-lance correspondent for Gene's Page. He is a student at Mississippi State University and works as a sports reporter for the student newspaper, The Reflector. You can contact him by email at

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