The Guard

As a freshman at Walker High School, Griff Redmill was a reedy, 145-pound kid. But an indomitable spirit and tireless work ethic carried him to the brink of the NFL. Now Redmill is excelling in his post-football life, using those same principles he learned on the field

 

Griff Redmill is twitching in his seat as Coach Neil Calloway thumbs the play button on the remote control.

It is customary for the Alabama football team to gather after ballgames to watch game film, and today the entire offense has sunk into their seats in the film room. Even after a win, the room is always tense and eerily quiet, as coaches point out the flaws of the game, the botched assignments, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

But today Redmill has reason to be nervous. The Saturday previous in Death Valley, the sophomore guard blew a blocking assignment against LSU’s Booger McFarland, who stacked up Shontua Ray for a multi-yard loss.

“I knew it was coming. I’m sitting there in my seat and Coach Calloway went by the play and didn’t say anything,” Redmill reflects. “And then he rewound the tape again and let it play and didn’t say anything. I thought I was in the clear. We go on to the next play and it’s 3rd and 27. Coach Calloway looks at me and says, ‘Griff Redmill, what’s a good play to run on 3rd and 27?”

Redmill, beneath a bead of sweat, surrendered his best answer: 51 Swing 749 East.

Calloway paused, cut a glance at him, and delivered his wrath.

“There’s no good play to run on 3rd and 27!” Calloway thundered.

“I thought he was going to have an aneurysm,” laughs Redmill, now 37 and safe from the ire of Calloway.

As a member of the Big Uglies, perhaps the most underappreciated unit on the field, Redmill’s duties included protecting quarterbacks and punching holes in the defense so Shaun Alexander and the ilk could run unabated through the brutes of the SEC. It was a workmanlike job. From a fan’s perspective, a thankless job. But that’s the way Redmill has always gone about his business. Quiet. Unassuming. Workmanlike.

Redmill played from 1996-2000, a tumultuous and triumphant era on the Alabama football ledger. During Redmill’s five years (he redshirted his freshman year), the Tide won the SEC, defeated Auburn for the first time in Jordan-Hare Stadium, and beat Florida twice in one season. But deficits included losses to Central Florida, Louisiana Tech (twice), Kentucky, and Southern Miss. His playing days were bookended with a 4-7 and a 3-8 season, and his first two years the team puttered through a probation-wracked roster. He has both an SEC Championship ring and a winless record against Tennessee. He played with greats Chris Samuels, Shaun Alexander, and Cornelius Griffin. He turned in his uniform on a frigid day at Bryant-Denny Stadium after a 9-0 loss to Auburn and walked away from the game he loved.

Redmill points to Calloway—the stoic, practical guru—as the coach who made the biggest impact on him at Alabama. Yet it seems that every step along the way, from high school to Alabama to his working life, Redmill has received sound teaching from men who have been willing to invest in him.

The first of those influences was his father. Redmill and his younger brother learned the value of hard work by watching their dad rise at 4 a.m. to work in the Walker County coal mines. Typical workdays were ten hours, but it was not uncommon for him to remain beneath the earth for fourteen hours a day.

“He never complained,” Redmill says. “He was a great example and taught us a work ethic.”

Redmill participated in sports throughout his childhood, but in his ninth grade year, it was clear that football had emerged as his best sport. Redmill was a gangly 6’4”, 145 pounds when he weighed in for frosh football under the Walker Vikings’ Coach Chris Yeager.

“Coach Yeager was really good at engaging players individually,” Redmill says. “He taught us to set goals. And when I told him I wanted to play college ball, I expected a snuff. But he didn’t. He always supported me and said I could achieve my goals if I did what they told me to do.”

Redmill platooned at tight end and defensive end as he methodically grew in size throughout his high school career. By the tenth grade, he weighed 175. By eleventh, 205. And by his senior year, he was 245.

“I thought I was huge at 245,” Redmill admits.

Letters and offers from several SEC and Ivy League schools began to pour in, and at one point Redmill verbally committed to Tommy Tuberville at Ole Miss. But Gene Stallings had other plans.

Redmill remembers a statement by Stallings during his recruitment process: “Don’t make this choice because you like me.” Stallings was commenting on the carousel-like drama of the college coaching profession, but perhaps Stallings’ words were a bit of foreshadowing, too.

“Stallings had a matter-of-fact, commanding presence,” Redmill says. “He was just a good ol’ boy from Texas. He had a gift of making moms and dads confident that he was going to take care of their son.”

On the day Stallings phoned the Walker High School football office to offer a scholarship, Redmill was nowhere to be found. The coach called the Redmill home, and the recipient’s mother–a teacher at Walker at the time–happily accepted Stallings’ offer.

“She committed me to Alabama over the phone,” Redmill says. “That is a hilarious story.”

Redmill began his career at Alabama on the defensive side of the ball, and it was not until Mike Dubose became head coach in 1997 that he was switched to offense. “Before the ink was dry on Dubose’s contract, he approached me about moving to offense,” Redmill says.

Redmill was installed behind All-American tackle Chris Samuels, but was eventually moved to guard before the Arkansas game. That Wednesday, Calloway phoned Redmill at his dorm room to break the news that not only was he moving to guard, he was going to start in the Saturday soiree against the Razorbacks.

“That’s when sheer panic set in,” Redmill says.

The nascent guard had three practices to learn the intricacies of the position, but he also understood that his window of opportunity was open, and that if he didn’t take advantage of it, the window might close—forever.

In that dismal 1997 campaign, Redmill played both offense and defense, plugging up probation-created gaps in the team roster where needed. “We weren’t thinking about probation,” Redmill says. “We were just trying to play ball. But probation did what it was supposed to do. We just didn’t have the numbers.”

The 1998 season was an improvement, and produced perhaps the most memorable game of Redmill’s career, not only in terms of drama, but also because that night, he was introduced to Mr. Anthony “Booger” McFarland. In the improbable come-from-behind victory against LSU in Baton Rouge, the game was all but over (Redmill had unbuckled his shoulder pads on the sideline) when Quarterback Andrew Zow threw two double-pumped, tipped balls for touchdowns. Alabama won, 22-16, but Redmill would forever be haunted by the memory of the great LSU Defensive Tackle.

“To this day, his name haunts me,” Redmill says. “I think I singlehandedly helped him to win SEC Defensive Player of the Year.”

But Redmill didn’t let that poor performance define him. He did what he had always done: he went back to work.

In the offseason, Redmill hit the weights harder, spent time in the film room, and learned technique. A banner year followed in 1999, with Alabama claiming its first SEC Championship since 1992. The season hinged on a September meeting with Florida in The Swamp, where Redmill and the Big Uglies helped Shaun Alexander gallop to a 40-39 victory for the Tide.

After a breakout year, Alabama and Redmill had high hopes going into the 2000 season and were ranked third in preseason polls. Nothing in the spring and summer signaled that Alabama was in for a rude awakening.

In the opener against UCLA in Pasadena, return man Freddie Milons fielded a punt and took it to the house for an early 7-0 lead. Fans expressed elation as the game went to a commercial break, but what followed was not pretty. DeShaun Foster, the mouthy UCLA back, ran all over the Tide defense to secure a 35-24 victory for the Bruins.

“Foster ran his mouth before the game,” Redmill says. “For coaches, that’s good bulletin board material or cannon fodder. But that day, he backed it up.”

After the UCLA disaster, team morale went into the tank. “It was an immediate downer,” Redmill says. “There was a lot of finger-pointing and team infighting.”

The next week, Bama defeated Vandy 28-10 at Legion Field, but shrunk in its next two efforts: a 21-0 blanking by Southern Miss and a 28-21 loss at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. A flash of light occurred on October 14 as Alabama defeated Ole Miss 45-7, but the Tide spiraled through late October and November, losing its last five games. Dubose tendered his resignation effective November 1 (after the Central Florida debacle), but continued to coach through the balance of the season.

Reflecting on that year, Redmill says: “We didn’t know how to deal with accolades. We were overconfident. In Tuscaloosa, we were the toast of the town. Being on the football team was cool again.”

Yet with all the whirlwind events, Redmill still held out hope that he would be drafted by the end of his senior season. Hoping to get drafted, Redmill hired Russ Campbell out of Birmingham’s Balch & Bingham law firm to be his agent.

“I thought I was going to have a superstar life,” Redmill remembers. “But that didn’t happen.”

Redmill watched as round after round of the NFL Draft went by without his name called.

“The sun set that day and it didn’t happen,” Redmill says.

He continued to work through the summer, thinking he might sign as an undrafted Free Agent. Discussions with San Diego materialized but petered out quickly. The window of opportunity that once stood open for him was now closed, and Redmill never got a chance at an NFL career.

Redmill admits that he could have continued to try, shown up for Pro Day the next year or perhaps work for a shot at the Big League through the CFL, but using his better judgment he decided against it. “I didn’t want to be that guy who showed up in a beat-up Datsun with one hubcap,” Redmill says. “Part of me was ready to move on.”

Now back at home, Redmill faced the prospects of “real life.” His father offered the college graduate a slight nudge to find gainful employment.

“He basically gave me about two weeks,” Redmill chuckles.

Through his girlfriend, Redmill learned of a job in Huntsville with a company that manufactured and sold boxes. “When I first heard that, I thought it sounded pretty lame,” Redmill says. “But they were looking for a salesman, and when they started talking numbers, it caught my attention.”

His potential boss, Bernie Fielder, was a big Alabama fan, and even went so far as to pull out an old football program from Redmill’s freshman year to vet his recruit. In the photo, Redmill’s head was sheared–part of the customary hazing pleasantries for new freshman.

“I looked like an axe murderer,” Redmill says.

Regardless of appearances, Bernie saw something in Redmill beyond the shaved head and decided to hire him.

Redmill worked for that company for eight years until Bernie decided to branch off and start a company of his own, Container Solutions based out of Athens, Alabama. In the meantime, Redmill married his longtime girlfriend Gia, had children, and employed the same work ethic that he utilized on the gridiron as a high school and college athlete.

Redmill says that Container Solutions, a 15-person team, is like family, and that his sales territory is “Planet Earth.” Like Redmill’s father and Coach Calloway, Bernie took Redmill under his wing and taught him the ropes. Indeed, the relationship current ran beyond boss/employee into the deeper waters of friendship.

But that family environment was shaken three years ago when Bernie was killed in a tragic accident at a sales meeting in Mississippi. “It was a tough time,” Redmill says. “It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened in my life.”

Although his professional mentor and friend was gone, Redmill responded to adversity the way he always has: he went back to work.

So if the life of Griff Redmill teaches us one thing, it is the value of hard work and perseverance. In many ways, Redmill’s is a quiet success story. He’s the guy that you don’t notice as he inches toward the mountaintop. Even at 315 pounds, he is still unassuming.

In addition to a hard work ethic, Redmill says one of the keys to his success is to be coachable. “People want to know that a guy is going to do whatever they need him to do and not ask questions,” Redmill says.

Greg Tinker, his middle school basketball coach, issued the following statement about Redmill: “He never stood out from the crowd. He just worked hard and went about his business. He was very coachable.”

Redmill says that as the years go by, his identity as a football player is diminishing, and his chief concerns are his children’s dance recitals and ballgames. “I’m a freshly-adorned soccer coach,” he says. “Now its all about my kids. If I go to a dance recital, I’m worried about how my daughter’s plie looks.”

But every now and again when he shows up for events, he gets a refreshing reminder of the glory days when old number 75 plugged his fingers in the grass and blocked zealous defensemen. “For the fans, it’s like a day hasn’t passed. They are just happy to get an opportunity to shake your hand,” Redmill says.

And regardless of where his life takes him from here, Redmill can say that he had the opportunity to do something to which most Alabama boys can only dream. He can say that he did something that only a select few have the privilege to do.

He can say he played at Alabama. 78

This article was originally published in 78 Magazine in August 2015. 

 

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