How music built USC’s Olaijah Griffin into the football player he is today – Press Enterprise
It’s almost game time, and USC is readying to take the field. Players go through their final preparations, whether it’s reviewing scouting notes or talking game plan with teammates.
For Olaijah Griffin, the Trojan cornerback needs to listen to one last song. And for that song, he always returns to his roots: “This D.J.” by his father, Warren G.
It’s got a classic West Coast hip-hop vibe to it, with winding synthesizers and deliberate drumming that accentuates his father’s flowing verse and chorus that embody the day-in-the-life vibe of many ’90s rap songs.
“It reminds me of myself, because it was my dad who inspired other people and it’s his life story and I feel like it relates to me,” Griffin says. “It turns me up.”
It should come as no surprise that music plays a heavy role in Griffin’s preparation for game day. Even beyond his family history, the junior is known for his dancing at USC practices and on the sidelines at games. He also spends some of his free time making beats, though he says his only musical skill is dancing.
He feels like that connection to music has helped him develop as a football player.
“Me having rhythm helps me with breaking to the ball time, making sure my technique is correct, because everything is kinda a rhythm. So when I have a good rhythm and let’s say if I’m backpedaling, I would never step with the wrong foot going towards that way because it’s a rhythm,” he explains. “It built me, really.”
So Griffin has a routine about the music he listens to before kickoff. Sometimes, he starts with R&B on the bus ride to the stadium. Those songs have to strike him lyrically, to inspire him with their words.
But once he hits the field for pregame warmups, Griffin pivots back to hip-hop. He has a pregame playlist, 180 songs long, that he’s dubbed “OG”, his nickname around USC. The playlist cover is a collage of pictures from his playing career, some solo shots in his No. 2 jersey, others with groups of teammates.
He’s refreshed the playlist ahead of this season, opting for all songs from 2020 because he was so accustomed to older songs that they weren’t having the desired effect.
Which, he says, is to get him in the mood to dance and put him in a zone where he can focus on the task at hand. He typically starts with “I’M ON SOME” by Gunna, and many of the songs on the playlist have a similar, laid-back vibe, while others like “Demon Time” by Lil Yachty have an intense beat.
“It’s high energy, where I can dance and interact with teammates,” Griffin says.
Energy will be a fickle thing in 2020 for Pac-12 football teams. USC won’t play in front of any fans during its home games, even family members. That will make it vital for players to generate excitement for their teammates after big plays.
Griffin will likely be a primary source of that emotional boost for the Trojans. He’s developed a reputation for providing energy in practice, where he bounds onto the field to show his teammates how excited he is to be there.
And he’s got dance moves no matter what the music is on the practice field that day. He likes the pump-up music that strength coach Darren Mustin plays, or when director of player development Gavin Morris goes back to the old-school hip-hop roots, sometimes even mixing in Griffin’s father.
But even when there’s music outside of his usual repertoire, like when defensive coordinator Todd Orlando plays heavy metal, Griffin can use it.
“It makes me want to just run fast,” he laughs.
Head coach Clay Helton frequently likens Griffin to the Energizer Bunny, but also has a more USC-specific comparison.
“He reminds me of the personality we had with JuJu [Smith-Schuster] when he was here. He just lights up a room,” Helton says. “He’s gonna be one of those guys, whether it’s in football or post-football career, that guy’s gonna be successful in life just because of the attitude he has, how he approaches everything. He lights up a room when he comes in and that energy overflows to others.
“I don’t think the guy ever has a bad day,” Helton added, chuckling fondly.
Such a responsibility might have felt awkward as a sophomore, when Griffin started 10 games and defended nine passes. But he’s becoming accustomed to it as a junior.
“Now that I understand and I play that role, I feel like it’s just kinda natural,” Griffin says. “It’s starting to work naturally for me, to become like a leader and to just show others that you can do what I can do or even better.”
Now an upperclassman, Griffin is keeping lofty aspirations, setting his sights on a Thorpe Award and entertaining the idea of being the second defensive back to win the Heisman.
But his primary goal this season?
“Just become a better me and finally get to that prime OG,” he says, “because every year I’m getting a little better, but I feel like this is the year.”
And before he takes the field, he’ll listen to his father’s song, the music preparing him for what’s to come.