“He’s extremely gifted athletically, with tons of natural ability,” Briles said, “but the great thing about Robert is, he’s not satisfied living on his ability. He wants to be a great technician, great from a schematic standpoint, and when you put those two together, he can be the best there is.”
RGIII went off to Baylor “with a plan,” his father said. He kept it largely to himself, telling only his mother: In addition to being the best quarterback in college football, he intended to surprise his sister by beating her to graduation, though she is 18 months older. He embarked on an accelerated course load in political science. True to his word, he would finish in three years, making the dean’s list twice.
The football part of his plan developed a little more slowly, because three games into his sophomore year he blew an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. He dealt with the injury in typical Griffin fashion. He was a workout fanatic whom Briles would find in the weight roomon Friday and Saturday nights. He and his father studied all of Briles’s passing plays and receiver routes. During his rehab, he sat in a chair in a field and threw passes to his father, who stood in the spots where the receivers were supposed to be. The result was that he returned more accurate.
“People said he came back better,” Robert Jr. said. “But he never stopped.”
The exploits that won him the Heisman Trophy this season are well-known, but fun to repeat: He posted a stunning 72 percent completion rate for 3,998 yards and 36 touchdowns to lead the nation in efficiency and Baylor to a 10-3 season. And he did it for a downtrodden program that hadn’t won nine games in a quarter-century. At the start of his Baylor career, the team had been a joke.
“It’s not the experience everybody wants to go through,” he observed, “When you walk into class and teachers are making fun of you.”
Griffin’s determination to put an entire program on his shoulders and carry it back to prominence is just one more facet that makes him so attractive to the Redskins, who are seeking a similar turnaround after a decade of mediocrity.
“The rebuilding of a foundation and expectations of excellence at Baylor University has never been an easy job, and I say job but it was really our duty as a team to do that,” Griffin said after the season.
The job of headlining a team seeking a return to prominence is one he’s familiar with. What won’t be familiar is the pressure that comes with being the subject of one of the most expensive trades in draft history. The Redskins gave up their first- and second-round picks in this year’s draft, plus their first-round selections in 2013 and 2014 to the St. Louis Rams in hopes of procuring his talents. But those who know Griffin predict he will carry the weight easily.
“What he sets his mind to, he’s going to get done,” Harbour said.
It’s the nature of the league, of course, that rookie quarterbacks, no matter how gifted, struggle to live up to their pre-draft hype. If the Redskins indeed get RGIII, what should they realistically expect?
“A very determined young man who has worked really hard in his craft,” said his father. If Griffin continues to marry determination and craft with talent and pure speed, there is the possibility of a transcendently great player. Perhaps the best epigram for Griffin came from his Baylor coach, Briles, when informed him he was leaving school for the draft.
“Don’t go chase that dream,” Briles told him approvingly. “Go catch it.”
For Sally Jenkins’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/jenkins.