It’s because he’s one of them. Robert Griffin III grew up in the military, just like many of them are doing.
“I think if he walked on the campus right now, there would be a riot,” declared Rich Holzer, head football coach at Meade High School, which is tucked into the Army base at Fort Meade. “We’re closer to Baltimore, but you’d think this was Redskins country. Everyone is obsessed with RGIII.”
It’s a military thing.
“They can look at an example like RGIII and say, ‘Wow, he made it through his dad’s deployment and he is making everyone proud,’ ” said Joyce Wessel Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association in Alexandria.
And for a growing population of kids whose lives are dictated by a war that much of the rest of America forgot, it’s refreshing to have a hero to relate to.
As a kid, Griffin, who was born in Japan, learned about beignets in Louisiana, rain in Tacoma, Wash., and football in Texas.
Much of his childhood was spent on base or at the PX or at a relative’s home when his parents were deployed.
His 13th birthday was rung in by a phone call telling his dad to pack for Kuwait.
These are kids who go to five schools before the fifth grade, who get up, get themselves dressed, make themselves breakfast and get to their school in — where? Which state are they in now? Is mom in Afghanistan now? She just left Iraq.
“I don’t want to say it’s easy,” Raezer said. “A lot of these kids are going through a lot of stressors. Some of the research is saying that the longer that service member is gone, the tougher it is on that kid.”
These kids often grow up fast, too fast. When a parent is deployed, they take on parenting roles and responsibilities that give them the ramrod posture and the “yes, ma’ams” and precision you don’t find in other kids.
But military families aren’t whiners, and they’re not victims. They shoulder the burden of a childhood lived between deployments, a childhood of perpetual wartime, the product of duty. And they are often quiet about it.
“Military kid, both my parents were in the military” is what he said this spring, at the NFL scouting combine. “Mom did 12 years, Dad did 21, served in two wars. Discipline was something that was obviously huge. If you say you’re going to do something, you do it. If you start it, you finish it. ‘Yes, sir’; ‘no, ma’am.’ You’ve got to have that kind of structure in your life.”
And so these are the kids who become kung fu masters of a quality called resilience.
Coach Holzer sees it in his Mustangs, who won the 4A East region final last month.
“One of the great things about coaching military kids is you have discipline, a work ethic and, most of all, a sense of commitment to something larger than themselves,” he said.
Remember when Griffin batted away questions about being the “face” of the Redskins?
“That’s the thing that’s important. These kids see what real dedication is about and what real service is about,” said Holzer, who has got an amazing wide receiver on his team who has not seen his dad in two years.
Holzer has players who keep a stone face on the field, when he knows they are torn up inside over deployments or injuries or even death.
“These kids and RGIII, they know that there are more important things out there in the world besides football, outside of what happens on the field Friday nights,” Holzer said. “Football is an outlet and a release, but it isn’t the end-all, be-all. Ultimately, we are playing a game. And they know that.”
That’s the poise that everyone is seeing in RGIII, both with his confidence on the field and the ease with his fame.
Because he knows better than anyone, it’s just a game.
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.