Actions Speak Louder than Words
Nov. 4, 2003
By Kristin Beck
UCLA Sports Information Student Assistant
Leonard Griffin is not known as the most talkative player on the field, buthis actions speak far more than his words. A senior defender for thetop-ranked UCLA men's soccer team, he leads the team in minutes played,averaging about 80 minutes a game, and has started every game this yearwhile helping the Bruins post 12 shutouts and a miniscule goals-againstaverage of 0.38. In addition, he has played in every game since hisfreshman year, a total of 82 games - impressive especially for the reigningNCAA champions, which boast so much player depth.
But Griffin is not one who draws attention to himself. So it seems suitedthat a former Bruin who made a difference to Griffin is not a big-namestandout, not even a well-recognized name. Rather it is Brian Foote, aplayer who only played in three games in his Bruin career (1998-2000) andrecorded just one shot.
In his freshman season, Griffin did not receive as many minutes as he wasaccustomed to in high school. Griffin recalls what Foote said that had himso moved. 'Foote never played much, but then he had his one chance to goin. He had one opportunity, one game and all he did was make a hard sidetackle. But he got the whole team fired up, and we went on to win thegame.' Griffin paused for a moment. 'If that was his big time, big momentin his UCLA soccer career, how could I look down at myself for not playingmore?'
The minutes came for Griffin, and he has earned 67 starts and is on his wayto becoming a potential early-round pick in the Major League Soccer draft.While his favorite Major League Soccer (MLS) team is the Los Angeles Galaxy- close to home and to the coast - Griffin can't help but look towards theinternational field of soccer. 'My ultimate dream is to play overseas;that's where soccer is huge,' he commented. 'To play in Italy, Spain orEngland would be a dream come true.'
And what better way to get noticed by pro scouts than by playing on achampionship team then working towards the team's second championship thenext year? For all the seniors on the team, the chance to be in the UCLAhistory books as the only men's soccer team to win an NCAA title two yearsin a row is a legacy they don't want to pass up.
Griffin entered UCLA with nine other seniors, including fellow Palmdalenative Tony Lawson, whom he has known since the sixth grade. From thestart, they knew they had what it takes to win in Westwood. 'We knew myfreshman year that we would have an amazing team our junior and senioryear,' Griffin recalled.
He was correct. Griffin helped lead the Bruins to a 1-0 victory overStanford in the 2002 NCAA Championship match. Memories of the game stillgive Griffin the chills. 'I've watched the game a million times, a milliontimes. The way we won was unbelievable!' he described.
Griffin managed to make the ending of the game an unforgettable one,creating the opportunity of not just one, but two victory celebrations.'There were about 10 seconds left on the clock, and when I got the ballaround midfield, I just kicked it up into the crowd and startedcelebrating,' he recalled. 'The whole team rushed the field, with a fewseconds left on the clock. The referees had to call everyone off the fieldto finish the game. We had to stop celebrating, and then start all overagain.' And victory is always sweeter the second time around.
The Bruins hope to taste the sweets of victory once again. 'We have a goodchance, a really good chance [on winning the championship],' Griffin said.'If we win two years in a row, we could really set ourselves apart from therest.'
The Bruins are currently ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 15-1-0 record.Despite the team's current success and last year's dream season, Griffinfeels that the team has something to prove. 'My friends at other schoolstell me that we were lucky to win last year, that it was just a fluke,' hesaid. 'So we are just going to have to win it again to prove it to them.'
Ending his career with a second championship would just add to an alreadymemorable Bruin career for Griffin. For Griffin, these four years have beenall that he ever expected and more. 'It feels like it has been the greatestfour years ever, and just to leave everyone will be hard,' he admits.'Lifelong friendships were made here, and I know we'll keep in touch.'
'Just to go to UCLA, with its reputation and soccer program, it was a greatthing,' he continued. 'We know we will all leave here better players,wherever we may go.'
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