Griff Whalen, vegan American Footballer
Stanford and Indianapolis
Griff is now established as a successful American football player in the NFL, now playing with Miami Dolphins. He has previously played for Indianapolis Colts and Stanford University.
As a wide receiver, Griff’s job is to catch long passes from the quarterback, then avoid or outrun defenders. A successful wide receiver is often tall, light and fast.
Griff started his career aged eighteen in 2008 when he made the Stanford University football team as a walk-on. A walk-on is a player who is not actively recruited, as players with sports scholarships are. By the following year started to play regularly in the team’s rotation.
By 2011 he was recording his best year statistically. He had received 56 passes, gained 749 yards and scored 4 touchdowns. He was one of five finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, which is awarded to an outstanding college football player who started as a walk-on.
Griff graduated from Stanford with a Bacholor of Science degree in Engineering – Product Design.
2012 saw him un-drafted but then signed by the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent. Within four months he was sidelined with a broken foot.
He joined the active roster for 2013 due to another player serving a four match ban, and he was cut as soon as the banned player returned, although he continued to impress staff and soon rejoined the roster. By the end of the year he was starting matches, having showed his ability. Successes included 45 receiving yards and a touchdown catch against Houston Texans and a successful match against Kansas City Chiefs in which he achieved the most receiving yards and receptions of his team.
The season ended with Indianpolis winning the AFC South division, qualifying for the playoffs and being the only team nationally to remain unbeaten against all other teams in their division.
After two more seasons with Indianpolis, Griff was not retained, and he signed for Miami Dolphins in March 2016, an NFL team who play in the AFC East division, and in December he moved to New England Patriots who play in the same division.
His rise to his current position has been one he has valued enormously.
“As a walk-ok in college, then undrafted in the NFL, just making it onto a team and onto the field has been a dream come true. Every team win I've been a part of has been a great achievement, it's extremely difficult to win games in the NFL.”
Griff is not entirely typical of players in his position. In a role where height with a low bodyweight is helpful, Griff is 180cm (5’ 11”) and 86kg (190lbs).
"Because I'm not particularly big or tall, I focused more on improving my speed and quickness. As long as I can be quick and create separation between myself and the defenders the Quarter Back can throw me the ball."
In the Spring of 2014, Griff went vegan.
“I had been researching nutrition for a couple years looking for ways to improve as an athlete, but never came across anything that pointed me towards a vegan diet until I stumbled across Forks Over Knives and Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue on Netflix. So I had been looking into being healthier, but following a vegan diet was a sudden discovery.”
He now adheres strictly to a vegan diet, eating unprocessed foods as much as possible. He eats oatmeal with nuts and fruits most mornings, in a meal he has developed and now includes on his website (see it here). Spinach and kale are also popular in salads and smoothies, and he eats high volumes of fruit. Sweet potatoes and avocados are also good sources of energy.
They help fuel his demanding routine. “Primarily my training consists of running routes, field drills, conditioning, and weight lifting. I've been lucky to have several really fantastic trainers who have taught me a wide variety of exercises."
“Some are very heavy and low rep, such as dead lift or bench press, to build muscle and a strong base. Some are lighter and more explosive, such as box or hurdle jumps, Olympic lifts (cleans, jerks, etc.), to focus more on the nervous system and quick twitch muscles. And then some are light and high rep focusing on joint stability and injury prevention, primarily knee and shoulder, and usually involve some sort of instability while doing the exercise.
“Other activities I do often include yoga, Pilates, trail running, soccer, sand volleyball, Padel tennis, and basketball. I've started to yoga quite a bit, it's helped so much with flexibility and core strength, but also with breathing and mindfulness.”
Variety doesn’t seem to be an issue. “I love doing all sorts of activities, as many as I can fit in my day!”
American football is a demanding sport requiring strength, athleticism and commitment at a number of different levels. That Griff has made it this far is evidence that veganism works, and he’s had little criticism from within the game.
“For the most part nobody has any issues with it. I've noticed that the more knowledgeable about nutrition someone is, the easier they understand and often times even agree with it. I think most of the coaches and other players also just give me the benefit of the doubt that I've done enough research to know what I'm doing.”
A bright future
At age 26 (when we interviewed him in 2016), Griff hopes to have more years in the game and achieve more.
“I want to help my team win our division, and win a Super Bowl. I want to have a 100 catch season, and a 1,000 yard season. And as always I want to stay as injury free as possible.”
“I think a whole food plant based diet is the absolute best thing an athlete can eat. It has helped me so much. I've heard from some people on social media saying their coaches or parents tell them they can't eat vegan if they want to be a serious athlete, and that kills me because what they're telling them is actually hindering the athlete's growth, not helping it.”