Note: I began writing this at 2:20 a.m. on Sunday morning (Dec. 11). What a night and what a weekend it is to be a Bear. This will probably need a bit more work in terms of revising but I had to write down my thoughts in some form before I fell asleep.
by Austin Staton
Last night, I watched the Heisman Trophy ceremony and what had once seemed like the impossible became a reality.
As Robert Griffin III accepted the Heisman Trophy, I was grinning ear to ear, nearly choked up, just reflecting how far the University had advanced in six years.
Times have changed in Central Texas.
“This moment right here, it’s unbelievably believable,” said Griffin. “It’s unbelievable because in the moment, we’re all amazed when great things happen. It’s believable because great things only happen with hard work. The great coach Art Briles always says great things only come with great effort, and we’ve certainly worked for this.
“To Baylor nation, I say this is a forever kind of moment, and may we be blessed to have many more like it in the future. God has a plan, and it’s our job to fulfill it, and in this moment we have.”
Robert Griffin III forever transcended the way that Baylor University will now be viewed across the country with those words.
For a program that was once the laughing stock of the Big 12, that has all changed.
As a freshman at Baylor during the fall of 2005, there was plenty of reason to be excited at the prospect of Baylor football. Just a year before, the Bears shocked the country with an upset-win over 16th-ranked Texas A&M – snapping a streak of 13-straight losses to the Aggies – and were off to a 4-1 start on the season.
However, the Bears dropped five of their final six games and fell just one win shy of becoming bowl eligible. During that stretch, Baylor was shutout twice and dropped a heartbreaker in double overtime on the road in Norman.
The next two years didn’t fare much better as football combined to win just seven games, forcing the hand of Athletics Director Ian McCaw to relieve Guy Morriss of his duties as head coach.
Despite the setbacks, I never missed a game.
During the final year of the Morriss era in 2007, I began working with Baylor Athletics as a student assistant in the Athletic Media Relations office. After finishing the season with eight-straight losses, we began to hear word that Art Briles would be named the successor to Morriss.
On Nov. 28 of that year, I was inside the Galloway Suite at Floyd Casey Stadium and was tasked with the responsibility to transcribe quotes from Briles’ introductory press conference to the Baylor Nation.
As both Briles and McCaw spoke to the crowd, we began to get the feeling that the hiring of Art Briles would be something special and that the reputation of Baylor football could be turned around.
It was a daunting task, but there was hope.
“Art Briles embodies all of the characteristics that I was seeking as we began our search 10 days ago for our new football coach,” said McCaw. “We have been very fortunate to recruit him for our football program. He shared a wonderful vision and brilliant plan on how he is going to build a championship football program here at Baylor.”
“That’s what drives you,” said Briles, when asked about taking a program like Baylor and becoming a winner. “As a competitor, you don’t feel like there is anything that can’t be done. I feel very strongly about the leadership here at Baylor University that I know I am going to get great support. All I’ve got to do is go motivate some student-athletes and get some folks in the stands excited.”
Hired just weeks before the recruiting dead period, Briles immediately hit the recruiting trail in attempts to secure the dual-threat quarterback that had previously committed to him at the University of Houston.
That quarterback was RG3 – a 17-yeard old phenom from Copperas Cove, Texas.
Graduating seventh in his high school class and enrolling at Baylor in what should have been the spring semester of his senior year, Griffin began spring camp battling incumbent signal caller Blake Szymanski and Miami transfer Kirby Freeman. Ultimately, Griffin would enter the 2008 season second on the depth chart behind Freeman, a fifth-year senior.
In their season opener against Wake Forest, Freeman and the Bears fell behind 17-0 after back-to-back 3-and-outs and drive that was squandered with an interception. Just 37 seconds into the second quarter, Griffin made his debut in the green and gold to a loud roar from the Baylor faithful.
Following a timeout with 3:23 remaining on the clock, Griffin rushed for 22 yards to his left, juked three defenders near the home sideline, and the Baylor faithful instantaneously knew that this wasn’t the same Baylor program.
Things were changing in Waco.
Although there were minor setbacks over the next two years, the program was no longer a cellar dweller in the Big 12 Conference. There was always a buzz about the football program on campus and we had faith in both Briles and Griffin and what they were doing to change the program.
This season I was fortunate enough to attend eight games and will be in attendance in what could be the final outing of Griffin in a green and gold uniform as the Bears are set to take on Washington in the Alamo Bowl.
When I graduated in 2010, I knew that coming back as an alumnus would be a rewarding experience.
Two years out of college, Baylor is the 12th-ranked team in the country and Robert Griffin III just won the Heisman Trophy.
“Everybody associated with Baylor University has reason to celebrate tonight,” Griffin furthered. “To my teammates, I’d like to say thank you. As we say, the hotter the heat, the harder the steel. No pressure, no dominance. We compete, we win. We are Baylor. Baylor we are, Baylor we’ll always be, but it’s up to us to define what that means, and this Heisman Trophy is only the beginning of that process.”
RG3, you’ve made this alum proud!