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Marquez Valdes-Scantling ready to square off against longtime friend

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GREEN BAY – Whenever Marquez Valdes-Scantling splits out wide right Thursday night at CenturyLink Field, there’s a good chance the Packers’ rookie receiver will see a familiar face standing across from him.

A native of St. Petersburg, Fla., Valdes-Scantling grew up with Seattle’s top cornerback Shaquill Griffin and his twin brother, Shaquem, a rookie linebacker who was the Seahawks’ fifth-round pick this past spring.

Having known the two nearly all his life, Green Bay’s rookie fifth-round pick considers the Griffins family. The three grew up five minutes apart, attended the same schools, played football and Little League together, and even ran on the same relay team in track and field at Lakewood High School.

On Thursday night, however, Valdes-Scantling and the Griffins will be on opposite sidelines in a critical game for both the Packers and Seahawks. With Valdes-Scantling now firmly cemented in Green Bay’s starting lineup, the table is set for the lifelong friends to square off.

“Shaquill Griffin is one of my closest friends,” said Valdes-Scantling this week. “I’ve been with them since we were like four years old. Going against him is going to be fun. Just like old times.”

The trio went their separate ways during college with Valdes-Scantling committing to play at NC State, and the Griffins famously making a pact to stick together and play in-state at the University of Central Florida.

Coincidentally, the future Packers receiver wound up playing the brothers three times in four seasons between the Wolfpack and the University of South Florida, where Valdes-Scantling transferred as a junior.

Positioned on opposite sides of the UCF-USF rivalry, Valdes-Scantling and the Bulls got the better of the Griffins and the Golden Knights on Nov. 26, 2016, in a 48-31 victory. Both Shaquill and Shaquem had five tackles apiece, while Valdes-Scantling caught one pass for 13 yards.

While Shaquill graduated and became Seattle’s third-round pick in 2017, Shaquem and Valdes-Scantling met once more as redshirt seniors last fall in a classic that saw No. 12 UCF prevail over No. 19 USF. Shaquem, who lost his left hand at the age of four due to a rare birth defect, had nine tackles, a ½ sack and one pass breakup in the 49-42 victory.

All three players flashed their track speed in clocking sub-4.4 times in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, clearing the way to being drafted into the NFL. While Shaquill began to flourish in Seattle’s secondary last year, Valdes-Scantling has become the de facto No. 2 receiver in Green Bay over the past month with Geronimo Allison (groin) on injured reserve and Randall Cobb battling a lingering hamstring injury.

The 6-foot-4, 206-pound receiver has shown there’s more to his game than pure speed with a series of breakthrough performances. In six starts, Valdes-Scantling has caught 22 passes for 399 yards and two touchdowns (18.1 yards per reception).

Against New England two weeks ago, Valdes-Scantling garnered attention from the Patriots’ top cornerback Stephon Gilmore after racking up 103 receiving yards on three third-quarter catches.

“He’s got size, he’s a matchup problem for corners, and you saw the other night, they put (Gilmore) on him in the second half of that game because he’s becoming a threat,” offensive pass-game coordinator Jim Hostler said. “And that’s what you like to see, and that’ll help the other guys that play with him and it’ll help the offense.”

At 6-foot, 198 pounds, Shaquill Griffin quickly emerged as one of Seattle’s top young players last year when he started 11 of 15 games, finishing the year with 59 tackles, 15 passes defensed and an interception.

The 23-year-old cornerback has continued to build on that performance in Year 2 with 32 tackles, five passes defensed and two interceptions in nine starts. With Shaquem now making his impact felt on special teams, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has seen the twins bringing the best out of each other.

“These guys have such an extraordinary relationship,” said Carroll on his conference call with Green Bay media Tuesday. “It’s unique to have them together and have them here to see what brotherly love is all about. They’re an amazing pair.

“They’re great competitors and they’ve been so open to coaching, and the new program and all that. It’s really been a joy to watch. Both guys are playing really hard and really well.”

Asked whether he needs to read the scouting report on Shaquill, Valdes-Scantling laughs before adding: “Nah, I know him.” In the meeting room this week, he’s even lent his own perspective on what makes the second-year cornerback special.

Valdes-Scantling looks forward to the possibility of potentially going one-on-one against his friend Thursday night. Since the beginning, the two have enjoyed competing against each other. If one beats the other, it only serves as motivation to play that much harder on the next snap.

Regardless of the outcome Thursday, Valdes-Scantling says he and Shaquill will revert back to their friendship once the game is over. The two already spoke earlier this week and have plans to meet after the game.

“I’ve lined up against him for the last 20 years of my life, so it’s just like old times,” Valdes-Scantling said. “Going back and having someone like that, who’s just as good as me on the other side of the ball, was always fun.

“He knows me. I know him. We can always go back and say, ‘Well, I beat you on this play, but I got you on that play.’ It’s always friendly competition. He’s my brother for life.”

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