WACO (AP) – Robert Griffin III lives alone in an apartment just down the road from the Baylor campus.
He already has a degree in political science earned in only three years after graduating high school early near the top of his class. A self-described “natural loner” who likes listening to any music other than heavy metal, Griffin still aspires to go to law school.
“I’m just a cool, calm, collected person. … People around here know me as the kid. I’m goofy, wear goofy socks,” he said. “Robert Griffin, not the football player, is just a normal person, just like everybody else.”
Get him on the field, and Griffin transforms into RG3, one of the nation’s most exciting quarterbacks. The former track standout could become a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender on a team that never even had a winning season as a Big 12 member before Griffin arrived.
Griffin throws, runs and even catches the ball for the 19th-ranked Bears.
He did it all in a season-opening 50-48 victory over defending Rose Bowl champion TCU, the nation’s top-ranked defense the past three seasons and a team that hadn’t lost a regular-season game since 2008.
“The play is never over with him,” said Phil Bennett, the new Baylor defensive coordinator in his 34th season of coaching who’s glad he only has to face Griffin on the practice field.
Griffin is a fourth-year junior because of a medical hardship after his season-ending knee injury in the third game two years ago. In his comeback last season, he helped lead the Bears to their first Top 25 ranking since 1993 and a bowl game.
He already holds 39 school records, including being the career passing leader. He has accounted for 69 touchdowns (46 passing, 23 rushing) in 29 games.
In that nationally televised Friday night opener this season, Griffin threw for 359 yards and five TDs. He made up for a late fumble that led to a go-ahead field goal for TCU, when on the ensuing possession he converted third-and-10 with a 15-yard catch while taking a crushing blow in the middle of the field as Baylor drove for its winning kick.
Then after only about two hours of sleep, Griffin was already about 100 miles away from campus to appear on the set of ESPN’s College GameDay, where he signed numerous autographs for LSU and Oregon fans at Cowboys Stadium for their teams’ top-five matchup.
“He knows how to handle it. He stays humble, and he understands that his great asset is being a great teammate,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “When people see that in him … his stock, it’s going to escalate.”
Or when they get to see the 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback play. Baylor plays its first game since the opener, Saturday night at home against Stephen F. Austin.
Griffin was 18, the nation’s youngest FBS quarterback and weighing only about 190 pounds, when he made his Baylor debut in the 2008 opener. He came off the bench to replace a struggling senior in his only game for the Bears that he didn’t start after following Briles to Waco.
By then, Griffin was already a Big 12 champion and NCAA All-American in the 400-meter hurdles and had finished in the top 10 at the U.S. Olympic Trials after graduating high school a semester early.
Briles was still coaching at Houston when Griffin attended a football camp there before his senior season at Copperas Cove High.
“I knew he could run, I knew he had moves, I knew he was fast, I knew he was intelligent,” Briles said. “But when I saw him throw, I remember telling the coaches, we better hide him.”
Griffin verbally committed to Houston, where Briles led a resurgence with quarterback Kevin Kolb. But when Briles took the Baylor job, Griffin stuck with the coach.
“You can go somewhere else and be a placeholder or you can go somewhere and build the foundation, leave your imprint and always be remembered,” Griffin said. “There’s players at those other schools that come and go, and unless you set national records, you’re forgotten, and you could have been a great player.”
Although there are obvious comparisons to players such as Michael Vick and Vince Young, Griffin considers himself “more old school” after his father exposed him early on to John Elway, Ken Stabler and Randall Cunningham.
“Their main objective was not to run,” Griffin said. “It’s let me run to get more time to throw the ball.”
Both of Griffin’s parents are retired military who raised him in a disciplined home with Christian faith. The youngest of three children and the only boy, his father worked with him from an early age. He was a standout track athlete before playing on his first football team in seventh grade.
Then on the young Griffin’s 11th birthday, his father had to leave for Iraq after the Army delayed his planned military retirement. His father told him to keep doing what he had been taught while taking care of his mother and sisters.
“That’s what made me really know he was even more self-driven and self-motivated,” his mother, Jacqueline said. “The whole time my husband was gone, he did everything he was supposed to do. He went out there, did extra work without me having to stay on him, he stayed focused and stayed driven to a point that was amazing to me.”
He still has that same drive and determination on the field and in the classroom. He’s working on a masters’ degree in communications after he had to be persuaded by his parents, his instructors and Briles not to try to start law school at Baylor while still playing football.
The NFL could come next, though Griffin insists he isn’t thinking about whether that could be after this season or another year at Baylor. He knows what his coach would like.
“You can’t worry about the big things. Just take care of the small things, take care of the season, every game, every practice,” he said. “Coach Briles tells me every week that he’s looking at the starting quarterback in 2012. Every week. In his mind, I’m coming back for five more years.”
Wherever he plays, Griffin will be content being a homebody no matter how many highlights he creates on the field. His mother said he’s always been that way, much like she is. He was so quiet as a child she would often go to his bedroom to check on him.
“When he’s around, everybody’s always watching, evaluating, seeing what he says and does,” Briles said. “So it’s healthy sometimes to have time alone. … He’s a great teammate, and he cares tremendously about our football team and this university.”
Baylor Coach Art Briles on 105.3 The Fan
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)