Those two words may seem like cliché descriptors of any championship athlete, but for Division I Stanford Wrestler and 2021 NCAA champion Shane Griffith, they represent the two traits that propelled him through a tremendous career for an outstanding wrestling title.
Shane Griffith was a wiry kid when he took the mat for the 132-pound final at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for the 2015 New Jersey state wrestling championships.
He wasn't nearly as mature physically as the two-time defending champion senior he faced. But Griffith won anyway, and that title has much to do with Griffith today.
The Westwood, New Jersey native takes his personality from his parents. His father, Jeffrey, was a police officer in the Bronx before joining the force in New Jersey. His mother, Alison, is a fourth grade teacher.
He was christened "Sugar" Shane by an early coach, after boxer "Sugar" Shane Mosley. The nickname stuck. His mother calls him Sugar, and the nickname followed him to Stanford.
"My parents were strict in a good way almost, where you're raised to do the right thing no matter what," Shane said. "My dad had the persistence and the determination of a cop always striving to be better, always giving 100 percent, always doing the right thing. I like that mentality. It evolved me to be who I am, striving to be hungry."
With a 40-1 record, the Stanford redshirt junior is one of the best in program history and has the second-longest winning streak ever by a Stanford wrestler.
For some perspective, there are 14 undefeated wrestlers in Intermat's top-20 Division I rankings. Six are seniors, three are juniors, four are sophomores, and only one is a freshman – Griffith. Teammate Real Woods (141 lbs.) and Griffith (165 lbs.), each at No. 3, are ranked higher than anyone else in the PAC-12.
"An NCAA title's my main goal, and hopefully I'll win four of them," Griffith said. "You've just got to dream big and go after it.”
And win it he did.
On July 8, 2020, eight months before the 2021 NCAA championships, Stanford announced plans to cut the wrestling program, along with 10 other sports programs at the school, at the end of the season. The school's statement said the decision came down primarily to finances, and the COVID-19 pandemic "exacerbated" the structural deficit. Given all of this, Griffith could have opted out of the season before it started — he said he considered saving his eligibility, avoiding these challenges, and preparing to transfer to another university at the end of the year. But instead, he stayed.
With this mindset, Griffith wrestled a storybook season. Dressed in an all-black singlets and headgear in solidarity with his teammates and in protest of the school’s decision to cut the sport, he rebounded from the first loss of his collegiate career in the Pac-12 tournament to take down No. 1 Alex Marinelli, No. 5 Zach Hartman and No. 3 Jake Wentzel in the 2021 NCAA tournament as the eight seed to become only the second Stanford wrestler to win an NCAA championship. His performance also earned him Outstanding Wrestler Honors — the first Cardinal individual to earn that distinction.
"Most of those people are oblivious to what it takes, oblivious to how hard it really is and how few people do that. It's more rare that you get this far into the season and you have a freshman who's 26-0, and lives the lifestyle, makes the choices, and is as locked in and committed every day to that pursuit as Shane is." — Jason Borrelli, former head Stanford Wrestling Coach.
“The biggest thing for me is keep going forward. All the hard work and time and sacrifice I've put into this sport is paying off. Ultimately, it shows that there's no goal that's too far out of reach. You actually can do anything you want to, when you really commit yourself and put the time forward to do it." — Shane Griffith