If you spent any time watching college football this fall, then chances are pretty good you’re familiar with some guy named Robert Griffin III.
You have heard of him, right? You know, the Superman-sock wearing, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, who leapt small defensive backs in a single bound, and vaulted the Baylor Bears football program to heights it has never before reached? That guy?
Well, if you listened to Baylor’s broadcasts closely, then chances are also good that you heard an interesting nugget which got thrown around every time Griffin’s name was mentioned: Growing up in Copperas Cove, TX, football might not have even been Griffin’s best sport.
That title likely came on the track, where Griffin was the 2007 Gatorade Track and Field athlete of the year in the state of Texas. As a junior that spring, he set state records in both the 110 and 300M hurdles. Again, as a high school junior.
So just how good was Griffin as a track and field athlete? Crystal Ball Run asked current Baylor Track and Field coach Todd Harbour exactly that on Thursday morning.
“The way I always say it is that there isn’t anything Robert couldn’t do if he put his mind to it,” Harbour said.
Apparently the coach knows.
That’s because long before his exploits on the field made him a household name to college football fans, Griffin was one of the stars, of one of the best track programs in the country. Over the years, Baylor has had over 100 All-Americans in the sport, and won eight individual NCAA titles according to the school’s website. Yet it was actually Griffin, who Harbour admits was the athlete that he recruited the hardest.
“The first time I saw him, he ran a race his sophomore year of high school, and even then you knew he was special,” Harbour said. “I’m a former football coach, and those intangibles you saw this year on the field- his work-ethic, his will- you saw them then too.”
When Griffin did arrive on campus, that work ethic paid quick dividends, as he won the 2008 Big XII 400M hurdles, and finished third nationally in the same event. As if that feat weren’t incredible enough in its own right, Griffin did it just a few weeks after spring football ended, and at a time when he should’ve still been in high school. Griffin graduated from Copperas Cove High School a semester early, and enrolled at Baylor a as a 17-year-old.
And even at 17, a competitive fire burned inside Griffin.
“His first race, he went up against a kid named Justin Boyd, and just barely lost,” Harbour said. “Afterward, Robert stormed off the track and was disconsolate. Not disrespectful in any way, but he just felt like ‘I’m Robert Griffin, I shouldn’t lose.’”
And according to Harbour, he never again did.
“I don’t think Justin ever beat Robert again,” Harbour said with a laugh. For those scoring at home, Boyd went on to be an All-American that spring.
Beyond that season though, Griffin never did top those track exploits the rest of his time at Baylor. Although really, it was through no fault of his own. A knee injury sidelined him for both his sophomore year of football and track, and as a junior he wasn’t allowed to hurdle as a precaution for that same injured knee. That still didn’t stop Griffin from knocking on Harbour’s door when football was done that spring though.
“He showed up and said, ‘Coach, I’m here to help you however I can,’” Harbour said. “That really is just the kind of character Robert has.”
And while Griffin never officially gave up track at Baylor, reflecting now, it’s obviously clear that football was the right decision. Along with winning the Heisman this past fall, he took the school to their first 10-win season on the gridiron since 1986. If he enters the NFL Draft this spring as expected, Griffin seems destined to be a Top 10 pick.
Still, the question remains, had Griffin focused on track and field, just how good could he have been? Having worked and run alongside Olympians like former Baylor superstar Michael Johnson and others, Harbour wasn’t hesitant to put Griffin in that class both mentally and athletically.
“It goes back to what I said earlier,” Harbour said. “Robert’s one of those people that is capable of doing anything he puts his mind to.”
He then added, “Could he have made the Olympics? I don’t know, it obviously wouldn’t have been easy. But I wouldn’t put it past him.”
Given what we saw this year, none of us would.
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