WORCESTER — No matter the setting, situation or significance, J.D. Griggs maintains an unwavering aura of optimism.
That’s the way it’s always been for the 28-year-old New Jersey native and veteran defensive end, who is in his second season with the Massachusetts Pirates.
Credit that to his parents. Dad is a former personal trainer of professional athletes — Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns — and current middle school teacher and coach. Mom is a pastor at a megachurch.
“My parents always tell me to keep a smile on my face regardless of what adversity you face,” Griggs said following a recent practice. “Make sure you’re always looking forward knowing that you don’t take any losses. There is no such thing as losses, only lessons.
“So every time something bad happens, learn from it and move on from it with a smile on your face knowing it’ll be better. That’s the thing with our team. I think we’re starting to realize now that even though we lost the last two games things will get better.”
Griggs had good reason to smile as the Pirates defeated the Orlando Predators, 45-12, on Saturday night at the DCU Center for their first win after starting 0-2.
“Each game is a chapter in this book, so hopefully each chapter gets better,” the Pirates’ defensive captain said of the tome being written during Year 2 for this indoor football franchise.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Griggs finished third in the league in sacks (8½) and fifth in tackles for a loss (9) and was named a first-team All-NAL selection last season. He re-signed with the Pirates in early October, about two weeks after free agency commence, citing his loyalty to owners Hassan and Jawad Yatim.
This is the latest stop in a coast-to-coast football journey that began a decade ago.
“I’ve been all over place,” Griggs said with a, yup, smile. “To be honest, I just love the sport; I’ve stayed loyal to the sport. And playing football has helped me in life. ... I’ve met, worked with and gotten to know a lot of people from all over the country.”
Griggs was an all-state player at Piscataway Township High before heading off to the University of Iowa in 2008. The then tight end redshirted as a freshman and played sparingly the following season before departing and enrolling at Nassau Community College, where he switched to defensive end.
Then it was off to the University of Akron, where Griggs shined for two seasons before being bypassed in the 2013 NFL Draft. Since then, Griggs has gone through training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars and played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL, indoors in Colorado, Washington and, now, Massachusetts.
Griggs’ time in the NFL and CFL was impactful.
“I learned how to practice like a pro instead of just trying to show off and do everything without really practicing,” Griggs said. “And also preparing. I learned that every day playing in the NFL or CFL, literally every day, even if you don’t have practice you have to do something with football to get better.”
Griggs spent the offseason in Los Angeles, training at USC for three months and overseeing operations for his two companies, one a clothing line and other that host events. He also made a lifestyle choice, switching to a vegan diet.
“As I’m getting older, the body aches and the energy start to slow down,” Griggs said. “But as I went to the vegan diet my energy has been up. I have to keep up with these young guys all day and, especially, because I literally play every (defensive) play. So I have to make sure that my body is in tune all the time.”
And, as always, Griggs did it with a smile and an unwavering aura of optimism.
Pirates earn first win
The offense got on track in a big way for Massachusetts on Saturday, as quarterback Sean Brackett completed 12 of 21 passes for 109 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for another pair as the Pirates (1-2) cruised to a 45-12 win over Orlando (1-2).
Brackett, last year’s NAL MVP, spread things around to his receiving corps. Thomas Owens caught five passes for 61 yards and a score, while Mardy Gilyard brought down three catches for 24 yards and a touchdown and Ismael Zamora caught a 6-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left in the first quarter. Massachusetts put this one away early, jumping to a 29-0 lead by the third quarter.
The Pirates were led on defense by Lawrence Austin, who had five tackles and two interceptions. Al Louis-Jean added four tackles and Griggs had 1½ sacks.