The corridor outside the Florida State locker room after the ACC championship game was filled with celebration and celebrity. Quarterback Jameis Winston strode by with his usual grin. Head coach Jimbo Fisher looked unusually relaxed and pleased. Kirk Herbstreit came down from the ABC booth to congratulate the Seminoles on their ticket to the BCS Championship Game. Yet perhaps no one in that happy mob had as many fans surrounding him as a bearded, bespectacled 21-year-old named Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat.
He is known around campus as "Red Lightning." He is the most famous ballboy in college football today – perhaps in history.
A few weeks ago, a video hit YouTube featuring an assortment of Florida State touchdown plays. It looked like just another highlight reel, set to "The Distance" by the alternative rock band Cake, until a scruffy redhead kept appearing on the sidelines in scene after scene, carrying a football and appearing to be in a major hurry.
There he was sprinting after a touchdown run. There he was joining in a 'Noles group hug after a touchdown. There he was shoving a Florida Gators player out of the way in an effort to help up an FSU comrade.
"My Twitter feed wouldn't stop," Grizzle-Malgrat told Yahoo Sports. "My Facebook wouldn't stop. My Instagram wouldn't stop. Still hasn't."
It's hard not to be charmed by the video: the guy they've nicknamed Red Lightning is intensely devoted to chugging down the field and assisting either the referee or a Seminole or both. He seems like the most earnest equipment manager on the planet – as if he's delivering launch codes for the CIA rather than just another football.
"I have to be there in case the ref needs the ball," he said Thursday. "I need to be there. Most of the time I beat the refs. If the ref's slow, then that's on him."
The ball boy with the steelworker's intensity was born and raised in one of the most easygoing areas in the U.S.: Key West, Fla.
"It was something special," he recalls of his childhood. "Not many people can say they were born and raised in Key West. It was a beautiful time."
Grizzle-Malgrat's mother owns a Cuban sandwich shop (Kim's Kuban) and his dad runs a barbershop (Konch Kuts). So the work ethic comes from there. In fact, Grizzle-Malgrat admits his dad isn't thrilled with the shagginess of his beard. But he won't trim it.
"I can't break the juju," he said. "I can't stop what I'm doing now."
He always wanted to go to Florida State, and he transferred to the university after two years at Tallahassee Community College. He quickly signed up as a manager and his boss assigned him to be a ball boy. The cameras found him on Saturdays, but there's plenty of unseen drudgery that includes getting to the stadium as early as 6 a.m. on game days and staying as late as 8 p.m. on weekdays. There's plenty of cleanup duty as well. He's happy to get some love from students who constantly stop him on campus for a photo, but he wants to share the limelight with his fellow quarterback manager Tyler O'Brien, who does the same job without the huge following.
"It's not just me," Grizzle-Malgrat said. "It might be focused on me. But now people see how hard equipment managers really work."
Red Lightning is majoring in criminology but he might switch to sports management. He wants to keep doing this job as long as he can, whether it's at Florida State or for a pro team should he get the chance.
For now, he's dining weekly with the FSU linemen and planning a bartending gig to raise money for Kidz1stFund, Jimbo Fisher's charity to fight a blood disease called Fanconi anemia. He will be in Pasadena for the title game against Auburn and a nation of viewers will surely see him on TV. Red Lightning will likely be this year's version of Katherine Webb, except for, well, you know.
Grizzle-Malgrat has stayed humble through all this, saying the best aspect to this whole celebrity experience is "being a part of the program."
Yet when asked if chicks dig the ball boy, he doesn't hesitate.
"I would say that, yes."
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