North Florida Christian School defensive coordinator Jonathan Mauk sat down with star middle linebacker Dallas Griffiths before the 2011 season to formulate a list of goals for the year. Atop the list was a particularly lofty mark that the 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior wanted to reach: 200 tackles.
"We knew it wouldn't be easy," Mauk said. "He averaged like 15 tackles a game. So that's great, but … he got hurt in one game and only played in eight regular-season games. He only played in 12 games and he had 190 tackles. I think if he played in this other game, he'd have had 200 tackles."
Griffiths missed his seemingly unreachable goal by just 10 tackles, but the fact that he was even in the ballpark seems remarkable on the surface. Mauk, however, was 100 percent confident that the Maryland commitment would, at the very least, come close to hitting his mark. Griffiths' emergence as a BCS-level recruit seemed to start during his junior season.
"The second-to-last game [in 2010], I think everything started to click for him," Mauk said. "New system, and he finally saw the light his junior year. It finally clicked and he made 12 tackles in a row. It wasn't those shoelace tackles. He was hitting the running back, getting him in the air. That's when it hit and really clicked for him. Senior year, he was already hitting in full stride. He finally understood what was going on."
What separates Griffiths from other high school linebackers, Mauk said, is his football IQ and ability to read and react almost immediately. North Florida Christian's 4-3 defense – which is frequently mistaken for a 5-2 when the SAM linebacker matches up with the tight end – features plenty of defensive line twists and is designed to funnel the ball carrier to the middle. Mauk values guys who can react quickly.
"What we did fit Dallas perfectly," Mauk said. "The way he reads guards and just his overall leadership [was impressive]. He understands if they get this formation what the plays are and what he needs to look for. He's great at recognizing the formations and he knows the plays in that formation. That just comes down from film study. He's going to watch as much film as he can to know what formation goes with what plays."
Griffiths demonstrated his football intelligence throughout his 190-tackle senior season. But during NFC's playoff run, the future Terp took his play to a different level. In a 40-14 quarterfinal win over Eagle's View, Griffiths recorded 21 tackles. Mauk said plenty of those stops were in space, chasing down running backs. NFC's 54-13 win over Warner Christian was another 20-tackle game for Griffiths, and the Eagles' 69-0 win over Admiral Farragut for the state championship was yet another standout performance.
Mauk has talked to Terps special teams and outside linebackers coach Lyndon Johnson about Griffiths' role in the Maryland defense, and the NFC defensive coordinator likes what he's heard. Mauk is sure that Griffiths is champing at the bit to get started in College Park.
"I don't know if he'll come in and play right away, but I think he's going to be a great special teams guy from the get-go," Mauk said. "On kickoffs, he'll run down there full speed and do what he has to do to make a play. I don't think he's going to start right away, but he's going to do what he has to do to work himself and get in that situation where he can play as a freshman, just because he's got that tenacity and that drive. I don't know a lot of kids that are seniors that can power clean 405 pounds. He'll probably put on 20 pounds of bulk and come to Maryland at 240 and won't drop a tenth of speed. He's going to do what it takes to get in the situation to play."