Bryan Sheldon / Moapa Valley Progress
Friday, Nov. 21, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Kayden Griffiths' catch
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As soon as Kayden Griffiths caught the football, his teammates on the sideline and supporters in the hometown bleachers wildly cheered.
In a game full of great plays for the Moapa Valley High football team, this was the most memorable. Moapa Valley was comfortably leading visiting Elko last Saturday in the Division I-A state semifinals, when the senior wide receiver Griffiths and others on the second-string offense were inserted into the game.
On a third-down play late in the fourth quarter, quarterback Nate Cox heaved a perfect pass to Griffiths’ outside shoulder. Griffiths made a one-handed catch, securing the ball on his shoulder pad for a 42-yard gain. Almost immediately, everyone starting hooting and hollering in excitement.
Yes, a one-handed grab is always spectacular and out of the ordinary. But for Griffiths, who was born with just one hand, it was routine. It’s how he lives life — never being limited despite his left arm stopping at the elbow.
Griffiths was initially confused by the cheers because he’s never seen himself as disabled or less than a full participant in one of the state’s powerhouse programs.
His first career catch in four seasons didn’t validate being able to compete with one hand. As a regular on special teams, he long accomplished that. Rather, the catch validated that he was part of the team.
His name would be in the box score the next morning and permanently be included in season-long stats online. Moapa Valley is undefeated heading into Saturday’s state championship game against Desert Pines.
“I felt like I accomplished something,” he said. “That’s not because of my arm. It is because being on the second string you don’t play as much. When you play, and you make a catch like that, you know you have done something.”
In a school of about 250 boys, most play three sports. The 5-foot-9, 145-pound Griffiths also wrestles and runs track. He’s the type of kid who puts team goals ahead of individual, understands his role on the team and always brings a hard-working mentality to practice. And he’s always smiling, which helps explain why he’s widely popular.
The cheers were because everyone knows his story and appreciates his effort. They were thrilled to be part of his journey.
“You could see Kayden waving his arm (to signal he was open) and I just launched it,” Cox said. “He went and caught it. Everyone went nuts. It was really cool.”
Griffiths started in Moapa Valley’s middle school football program as a seventh-grader because his mother insisted her son be like the others in the town of about 8,000 residents. Most progressed together from that team to the high school varsity, becoming each others’ biggest supporters from numerous practices, games and road trips.
They’ve seen him catch passes every day in practice and score a rushing touchdown when he played on the junior varsity team. He doesn’t feels sorry for himself and doesn’t expect you to, either.
Before a wrestling match last season, Griffiths’ opponent sought him out with a question:
“He asked if there anything he needed to know about wrestling me or anything he shouldn’t do because I would get hurt,” Griffiths said. “I told him to wrestle me like everyone else he faced.”
It’s that kind of mentality that has led to his success. When his mother yells for Griffiths and his sisters to wash their hands before dinner, he jokingly yells back, ‘You mean hand, right?’
“It’s one of those moments where all his hard work came to fruition,” Moapa Valley coach Brent Lewis said. “He’s just a great kid. He works hard for us every day in practice and gives 100 percent. He’s been really instrumental in helping our team.”
And that’s not lip-service.
Griffiths has excelled in kickoff coverage because he has above average speed and is disciplined enough to hold his contain position. The contain man makes sure the kick returner doesn’t get to the outside.
While Griffiths’ catch is a moment he soon won’t forget, there’s more to accomplish. His last game, the last time he’ll strap on the pads with his childhood friends, is the one they’ve been practicing years to be part of. Saturday, they look to complete the undefeated season against Desert Pines and bring a state championship back to Overton for the first time since 2008.
“Desert Pines has a good team, but I feel we have a huge chance of winning,” he said. “I’m extremely happy that we are going to state. It is awesome.”