Senior Nick Griffin played on the lacrosse team and graduated in the top five of his class. (Jacob DeNobel / BSMG)
During a fall practice, Liberty High School football coach Larry Luthe overheard a complicated conversation. Senior linebacker Nick Griffin and his teammates were discussing a calculus problem.
Even when it was time for sports, Griffin was thinking about the classroom. So it's little wonder that Griffin, a Liberty lacrosse and football standout, graduated Friday with a 4.46 weighted grade point average.
He will attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he will play lacrosse. Griffin was a three-time All-County defender.
When describing Griffin, coaches gush about his work ethic, his upbeat personality and his leadership characteristics.
"He's legitimately just a great kid and he always wants to do the right thing," Liberty boys lacrosse coach Mike Flemming said. "And he naturally does."
Griffin's unweighted GPA is 4.0. He is ranked fifth in his class.
Still unsure about his major, Griffin is considering engineering and chemistry. He took seven Advanced Placement courses, and he said he genuinely enjoyed Stacy Nolan's AP chemistry class and Kevin Giffhorn's AP calculus course.
Which explains the calculus discussion on a football field where words like blitz, shotgun and zone read are more commonly heard.
It also explains why Flemming was willing to let players miss lacrosse practices in the spring. Griffin, along with many of his teammates, would occasionally need to hit the books for late afternoon study sessions before AP exams.
"It's a consistent message we tell our players every year," Flemming said. "Family comes first. Academics comes second. Then sports comes third."
Liberty had a terrific season anyway. With Griffin as a captain and the defensive anchor, Liberty (19-1) won its second consecutive region championship and the county championship, and advanced to the state championship game.
Griffin was the defense's vocal leader. His teammates relied on his constant communication.
"His lacrosse IQ exceptional," Flemming said. "It's like having another coach on the field."
Griffin has been able to pick up a thing or two about coaching. His father, David, is Liberty's junior varsity boys lacrosse coach and teaches biology at Hammond High School in Howard County.
"I would say my dad being an educator helped," the younger Griffin said. "He pushed me to be my best in everything. It helped me in developing a good work ethic."
Luthe, the football coach, has a theory about that.
"He's just so humble about everything," Luthe said. "He's so talented, but he's not obnoxious about it at all."
Plus, he is a magnet for positions that are low-profile. Despite wearing No. 18 in tribute to Peyton Manning, one of the most successful NFL players of all time, Griffin is just fine playing defense and letting others take the glory.
"Defense isn't necessarily the most glamorous position," he said. "We don't get the articles in the newspaper or anything like that. But defense is always the backbone of the team, and I like it because it's just a team effort."
Griffin is clearly more comfortable talking about the accomplishments of his graduating class and his football and lacrosse teams than his individual pursuits.
"Our students genuinely care," Griffin said of attending Liberty. "You see great turnouts for every single thing that is going on. Plays, band concerts, games, everything is a great turnout. That's what makes Liberty special."
Griffin played a role in all that.
While his lacrosse attack teammates gave media interviews after Liberty's 20-5 win over Boonsboro in the Class 2A-1A West region championship game May 18, Griffin clutched the team's trophy and accepted congratulations from friends and family.
For at least one evening, calculus talk could stop and the focus could remain on an athletic triumph.
"It's remarkable how much he has accomplished in so many different areas," Flemming said. "And he will keep doing that."
Liberty High School Class of 2016:
Number of graduating seniors: 265
•89 percent plan to attend college
•Of those going to colleges: 53 percent will stay in Maryland and 47 percent will travel out of state.
•Of those going to college: 28 percent are going to two-year schools and 72 percent are going to four-year schools.