“I had coach after coach come in here and say, ‘Coach, I think he’d be a great free safety. What do you think?’ ” Welch recalled. “I said, ‘If he wanted to be.’ ‘Coach, I think he’d be a great receiver. What do you think?’ ‘If he wanted to be. But guys, Robert’s going to play quarterback.’”
Houston Coach Art Briles saw a multitool quarterback, though, and when Briles accepted the head coaching job at Baylor in 2008, Griffin followed. He graduated high school early — seventh in his class — and enrolled at Baylor the spring before other freshmen arrived. Griffin didn’t yet have a driver’s license, so he spent most of that first semester in his room listening to music. Other athletes lived in the same Waco, Tex., apartment complex.
“He didn’t really hang out with anybody, and still doesn’t too much now,” said Lanear Sampson, a wide receiver on the football team. “But he kind of did his own thing, and off the field he didn’t have too much contact with people.”
The quiet kid with the funny socks and competitive streak managed to draw attention in the weight room and on the practice field, but many had trouble deciphering Griffin’s earnest ambition and self-confidence.
“When he was younger that rubbed teammates the wrong way,” Kazadi said.
“Some people saw it as him being cocky,” running back Jarred Salubi said. “But it really wasn’t. He was just a real confident person.”
That spring with the track team, Griffin won the Big 12 title in the 400-meter hurdles and qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials. The following fall with the football team, he set a college record by beginning his career with 209 completions without an interception. But just three games into his second year — and not long after Griffin quit track to focus on football — he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
“It could have easily been a sob story — ‘Robert Griffin stops running track, dedicates all his time to football, gets hurt in football, never plays again,’ ” Griffin said. “I didn’t want it to be that.”
He attacked the recovery. He added muscle mass, studied the offense from the sideline, increased his arm strength by throwing the football seated in a chair. The result was Big 12 comeback player of the year and offensive player of the year honors in 2010.
Coaches, though, describe a player who tried almost too hard at times, who wanted to be too perfect. No detail was too small. If he was facing a hard-hitting defense, he’d plan to play at exactly 222 pounds. If he wanted more quickness the next Saturday, he’d decide early in the week he’d weigh 216 pounds instead.