ORLANDO –Other than text messages back and forth, Everson Griffen and his high school coach, Kelly Epley, hadn't been able to catch up in quite some time.
All of that changed Saturday.
When Epley arrived in Orlando during Pro Bowl week to be recognized as part of the NFL's "Thank You, Coach" initiative, Griffen planned to spend time at the luncheon with his coach. As it turns out, Griffen timed his entrance perfectly.
Epley sat down with Vikings.com to talk about his time coaching Griffen, and during the interview, Griffen stepped in quietly – and unscripted – from behind. Before he knew it, Epley was surprised by his former student in an "embrace" that only Griffen could give.
As the two shared a hug and some laughs, each was noticeably affected by the reunion.
"I love it – I miss him. I miss him, man," Griffen said of Epley.
Epley coached Griffen at Agua Fria High School in Avondale, Arizona and said he sometimes had to deal with a "knucklehead" in the young athlete who played on both sides of the ball.
Griffen just shook his head with a smile.
"You never took it easy on me, never," Griffen told Epley. "And that's why I'm here today – because I learned."
According to Griffen, Epley was one of the most intense coaches he's ever had, but it was the kind of tough love he needed to continue on the right path that's now led to success in the NFL.
"I loved it, though," Griffen said. "You taught me some valuable lessons."
Epley and Griffen took time to reminisce from their time together more than 10 years ago, Griffen recalling details down to his coach's regular breakfast order from McDonalds. Griffen was all smiles as he shared stories about Epley and recalled the time he spent as a teacher's assistant grading papers for the head coach in his first-hour math class.
As Griffen spent the week preparing to appear in his second consecutive Pro Bowl, he knew it was only fitting to express gratitude to the man who helped shape him into the person he is today.
"He didn't care how talented I was – he was on me," Griffen said. "And that's why I'm here. It started with him."