Baylor's bowl hopes rest with Griffin (cont.)
Freeman initially won the battle, earning the starting nod for the season opener against the Demon Deacons, but Griffin was under center by the game's fourth series. A week later he passed for three TDs and ran for another in his first career start against Northwestern State. In his second start, Griffin put together a banner day on the ground against the Cougars, the first of four games in which he ran for at least 100 yards on the ground, including 102 against Oklahoma and 101 against the Longhorns. Griffin finished the season with 2,091 passing yards and 15 touchdowns along with 846 rushing yards and 13 running scores. Along the way, he managed to shake the nickname teammates saddled him with when he arrived on campus: "Track Guy."
"I just didn't listen to that," Griffin said. "I didn't take it as an insult but I wasn't satisfied with it either and gradually, that name has gone away." Whether he shuns the label or not, Giffin agrees his exploits in those other spikes have helped him on the football field. He says the foot speed and the balance it takes to clear the three-foot hurdles has aided his ability to break tackles -- but believe it or not, Griffin has never hurdled a defender at any level of football.
"I haven't hurdled anybody ever, playing football, but I'm an NCAA All-America hurdler, so you don't have to be a hurdler to go out on the football field and hurdle somebody," he said.
But you do have to be an All-America hurdler to do what Griffin did at the end of his first spring with the Bears.
As practice neared its conclusion, Griffin began working with the Bears track team (a plan he also expects to follow once practice ends on April 2 this spring) and won the 400-meter hurdles in the Big 12 Championships with the third-fastest time in Baylor history (49.22) before going on to finish third in the NCAA Outdoor Championships (49.55). Griffin went on to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials, and when it came time to run at fabled Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., Briles was on hand to watch Griffin finish 11th (49.38). The coach has never tried to dissuade the player he calls "the key cog" in his turnaround efforts from running track because he's never doubted Griffin's ability to handle the workload of two sports and classes. "He's so disciplined and he has a plan," Briles said.
Briles can thank Griffin's parents for that.
Robert Griffin Jr. and his wife Jacqueline were career military people who stressed the importance of hard work and education to Robert III and his sisters, Jihan and DeJon. After they had retired from the Army, the Griffins went back to college, with Robert Jr. earning a degree in psychology from Tarleton State in '07 and Jacqueline graduating from Mary Hardin-Baylor with a general studies degree in '06. "They've just instilled a lot of wisdom and character traits in me and my sisters," Robert III said. "We've just carried them along and just that determination that you're going to do whatever you set your mind to."
Come 2012, Griffin knows he'll have to decide whether he's setting his mind on the Olympics or the NFL, but for now Griffin has made rejuvenating Baylor football his focus.
Track folks often call the 400-meter the man's race because it requires a combination of speed, efficiency and the ability to maintain a constant stride pattern between hurdles. It tests one's capabilities to evenly distribute speed throughout the one-lap run and still have enough left to gain separation down those last crucial 100 meters. "It's a gut check and it checks your heart," Griffin said. "There's no hiding anything in the 400. If you're hurting, when you come down that last stretch, everyone will see it ... if you can tackle the man's race, you've done something."
In Baylor football's version of the man's race, the hurdle is clear: seven wins to reach a bowl and further transform a recently downtrodden program. Luckily for the Bears and their fans, few clear hurdles better than Griffin.
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