College Football Insider

'Red Lightning' is Florida State's key figure behind the scenes

Red Lightning was fired up during FSU's win in the ACC Championship. (USATSI)
Red Lightning was fired up during FSU's win in the ACC Championship. (USATSI)

Before the country's most recognizable ball boy raced down Seminole sidelines and inspired YouTube videos, Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat would wake up at 6 a.m. to help run a Cuban sandwich spot near the clear Key West waters off 5th.

"Kim's Kuban" is his mother's restaurant, next door to father Mickey's "Konch Kuts" barber shop. Grizzle-Malgrat cooked, swept, cleaned the grill and made a delicious egg sandwich for the morning crowd. The family business started in 1962, and Grizzle-Malgrat took pride in upholding that tradition.

"He always puts his all into whatever he's doing," Kim Grizzle-Malgrat said. "People are seeing that now. His heart and everything, he's so into it."

For every Jameis Winston, there are dozens of colorful members of a team that run practices, organize game days and rarely get noticed.

But during FSU's convincing march to the national title game, an equipment manager/ball boy is one of the Seminoles' top celebs because of his zealous celebrations after FSU touchdowns, his red beard and the power of social media.

When the Seminoles score, "Red Lightning" can be found zooming to the end zone to beat the official to the pylon. When there's a scrum of FSU players, Red Lightning is there to tap Seminoles helmets or lightly shove opposing players after late hits. He's got two -- two! -- highlight videos, one with more than a million views on YouTube, and the latter promoting Red Lightning T-shirts to benefit Jimbo Fisher's Kidz 1st Fund.

Whether slicing a sandwich or stuffing a football in his game-day vest, tasks must be done with the eagerness of a 16-year-old getting his first car keys.

"I won school most spirit in senior superlatives," Grizzle-Malgrat said. "That's where my spirit comes from."

As far as the family knows, the recognition took off when the team-dedicated site Warchant.com started a thread for the ball boy who kept appearing on TV on every long FSU touchdown run (there have been many this year).

Soon enough, someone with the handle JakeBlank122 made a Red Lightning tribute video to the song The Distance by the alternative band Cake. The video concludes with a still photo of Grizzle-Malgrat and the caption "Red Lightning: He's Got Balls."

Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat played center/guard in high school. (Provided)
Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat played center/guard in high school. (Provided)

Now, he signs autographs on campus. Posing with Brent Musburger was one of hundreds of snapshots with admirers.

Kim gets daily inquiries about her son from the locals in her restaurant. This is rewarding for a family born and raised in the Keys.

"Everybody who comes in wants to know what's going on," Kim said. "I am so happy and proud of him."

On campus, he hears students say, "Oh my gosh, it's Red Lightning," They ask about his real name. He tells them he's Frankie.

What they don't know is he's a former Key West High center/guard who, at 5-foot-9, was too small to play college ball but immersed himself in the game anyway.

After finishing two years of junior college and enrolling at FSU, Grizzle-Malgrat wasted little time contacting the head of FSU football equipment through a mutual friend. He was looking for work. He would wash uniforms, collect footballs, whatever.

He now works in tandem with Tyler O'Brien as equipment managers (he's a ball boy only on game days). During the week, he helps wash uniforms and organize the locker room.

He also has a special assignment: Jameis Winston.

"I've been put in charge of taking care of Jameis," Grizzle-Malgrat said. "I make sure Jameis has what he needs, nothing to worry about, helmets are OK, shoulder pads, him especially."

Grizzle-Malgrat is an equal opportunity protector. He nearly tackled FSU linebacker Christian Jones to prevent a skirmish on the sideline against Boston College. He also shoved a Florida Gators player after a late hit on running back Devonta Freeman.

"I protect our team," Grizzle-Malgrat said. "I let them know it's not OK to push our guys around."

Grizzle-Malgrat started growing his beard in August and won't shave it until the Seminoles lose, though the gesture isn't just for wins. The beard is symbolic of his dedication to the job.

He wants to get into the football business, and this is his start.

His bolt of lightning.

"Some might think it's a little out there, but I think it's awesome," Grizzle-Malgrat said of his enthusiasm. "People who know me know what I'm about."


Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
 
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