|ESPN.com: Feldman||[Print without images]|
During the winter I had a chance to spend some time with Baylor's Robert Griffin. (I've got a feature on Griffin and the rebuilding of the Bears' program under coach Art Briles that will be out in the coming weeks in ESPN The Magazine.) The Copperas Cove, Texas, native is a fascinating subject. In addition to being the fastest man ever to play quarterback in college, Griffin is also an excellent student -- he graduated No. 7 in his high school class. He almost made the U.S Olympics team as a hurdler last summer and then went on to have a spectacular freshman season and set an NCAA record for most passes without an interception to start a career. He had a lot of interesting things to say in our conversation, and I've included some of that in this Q&A.
Q: At some point, you'll have to choose track or football. How is that decision-making process shaping up now?
Griffin: The next Olympics are in 2012, the same year I might get drafted. I always told everybody if I'm still running at that time, I'll go [to the Olympics].
I just barely missed it in '08, and I'll definitely make it in 2012. I still don't know when the decision's gonna come. It might be in the next few months or it might be in the next few years. Coach Briles will let me run as long as I want as long it's not a problem, because football pays the bills, and who do you have to cater to? And even when I'm in track, I was still doing football stuff. I threw the ball. I lifted the weights, spent time with the guys. It's just gonna come down to myself, my parents and God.
Q: How do you think all of your efforts running track has helped you as a football player?
Griffin: Track helps you with your mind because you gotta be strong with your mind in track. You can run any race you want to as long as you believe you can run that race. If you go into 400-meter dash thinking you're not going to be able to make it to the end, you won't. But that confidence that you build in yourself, that carries over into football because you're the quarterback and everybody is looking at you. You have to lead them. If you don't believe in yourself, they won't believe in you.
Q: What was going through your mind as you watched Usain Bolt's performance at the Olympics?
Griffin: Insane. He's 6-feet-5. He gives big guys the confidence to go out and run. You can run and not look goofy because he sure didn't look goofy. He looked effortless. It shows you how every year athletes are getting bigger and faster.
Q: While in the midst of a race, are you counting steps between each hurdle?
Griffin: I don't count 'em. I can take [the hurdle] with either leg because when I was younger, I did that. Other guys, they're counting the steps when they're running. There are advantages to both ways. If you're on a step count, you're in your rhythm. For me, I'm just running and if I get to the fifth hurdle and my left leg comes up, Oh well. I'll just take it. People can say it might throw you off, but I've won more races than I've lost.
Q: Your football coaches want you to bulk up 15 pounds for this season. How challenging is it to get bigger while still trying to be at your best as a hurdler?
Griffin: When I came back for track after spring football last year, I weighed 207, and I got down to 197 for track, and at the trials I ran at 200 pounds. It's not a big difference. But you won't see me running hurdles at 240. That's not gonna happen, but at 210 or 215, I can do it. And there are some advantages of that. I have the advantage of the explosion out of the blocks and in the strength part of the race.
Q: One of my colleagues, [former Vikings RB] Robert Smith, had run track at Ohio State and was telling me about how the event you run, the 400 hurdles, can tell you a lot about an athlete. What do you think it is about that race?
Griffin: They call it the Man's Race because once you get to that last 100, you find out what you're made of. Early in the year, every 400 runner breaks down in that last 100, but as the year goes along, you either get stronger or you give up. It's like you take out sprinting and you gotta stay at that pace.
Q: Was being labeled as such a speed guy a detriment to you when it came to wanting to be seen by college recruiters as a quarterback, not "an athlete"?
Griffin: I think there are a lot of coaches who don't need their quarterback to be the fastest guy on the team. They'd rather have it as cornerback.
Q: Being raised in Texas, did you grow up as a Longhorn fan?
Griffin: I grew up as a Miami fan, and I wanted to go there, but then Coach Coker got fired and I got wiped out.
Q: Did Texas ever offer you a football scholarship?
Griffin: They did, but it's UT, and everybody knows if you're not poppin' by your sophomore year, you're not gonna go there. They came in. They didn't even talk to me. They went to my coach and put a scholarship on the table and said they'd take me as an athlete. But I'd already talked to my coach and said I wanted to be a quarterback, and so anybody who wanted me for something else, it didn't matter.
Q: You proved a lot of skeptics wrong last season. How did you view the reception to what you did on the field last year?
Griffin: People tell me I need to leave Baylor. But I'm not gonna leave here because these guys are the reason why I'm a Freshman All-American and Big 12 Freshman of the Year. I didn't get there all by myself.
They're saying I'm too good for Baylor and all of this other stuff. They don't realize how good of a team we have. We were in a lot of games, and that's gonna translate to a lot of wins next year.
Q: Who are the people who are saying you need to leave Baylor?
Griffin: People in Cove. People in Dallas, in Houston. When I go to games, people in the stands are saying it.
Q: Where do they say you should transfer to?
Griffin: To Tech and UT. But that hasn't even crossed my mind. This is my family and these are the people who made you who you are.
Q: Do any of the rival coaches say anything to you?
Griffin: After the games, win or lose coaches tell me, you're the next VY [Vince Young]. They can say that now, but six months ago, they weren't recruiting me.
Q: Was it frustrating when people would label you as "a track guy"?
Griffin: It's always gonna be there. Like I'm not tough or anything, but I think I got hit more than [any] quarterback out there. When I get hit on their sideline, they're like, "track guy, you don't want it."
Q: How much different is your style of running on the field vs. on the track?
Griffin: In track, I'm lighter on my feet, and I run with more speed in track than I do in football. In football, you have to have a little bit of power. When I plant my foot, I have to have some authority there. It can't be like I'm running through the garden. Some people say it doesn't help you because in track you're just running a straight line or turning on a curve and it's not going to teach you how to juke somebody, but it can help you for when you get out in the open field nobody will catch you. Track is about acceleration and getting that boost. A lot of guys get out there and they don't have that extra gear.
Q: Do you find that defenders have a hard time gauging your speed?
Griffin: With guys like me, Vince Young and Randall Cunningham, when we run, we're not fleet-footed guys. We have such long strides that people are not expecting us to be moving that fast. I think with me, people overexaggerate because they've been told "this is a track guy," so a lot of times I don't get to outrun them but I can get the cut-back lanes because they'll overpursue.
Q: Even though you were probably the freshman QB who generated the most buzz last season, the guy coming into college that everyone was talking about was Terrelle Pryor. What do you make of all of the hype around recruiting?
Griffin: It's politics. I'm not downing Pennsylvania football. I watched [Pryor's] highlights and I was like, yeah, this guy is good, but who are those guys across from him? You feel like you're done wrong because your stats aren't all the way up. But you just have to go out and prove it.
• The Miami-Notre Dame rivalry was the hottest series in college football in the '80s. In fact, ND officials felt it got too hot, and the series eventually was scrapped. Now there are rumblings the two schools might be lining up some games in the future, reports Barry Jackson:
After a nearly two-decade break, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the Fighting Irish is ''very interested'' in playing Miami again in football, and the interest is mutual. UM's Kirby Hocutt initiated talks with Swarbrick, who became Notre Dame's athletic director in July. No dates are set, but talks will resume in April, Swarbrick said by phone Monday.
NBC's Notre Dame contract includes seven Irish home games and one prime-time neutral site game annually through 2015. ''You could do that,'' Swarbrick said of the neutral site game, "plus do one home and home.''
Playing Miami is appealing, Swarbrick said, "because they are two great academic institutions. We're eager to play schools that share our values. There's a lot of great history around the games.''
My three cents: I would love to see this rivalry renewed. Of course, considering it puts arguably the two most disliked programs in the sport, it would a challenge for a lot of fans to have to find one side to root for.
• Word is, Bryce Brown's decision to pick Tennessee has already created quite a wave of action in recruiting circles. The Vols program, which has had a ton of focus in the last two months for Lane Kiffin's comments on a variety of things, is now trying to capitalize on the flurry of interest from many blue-chippers in the 2010 class in the wake of Brown's announcement.
What will really be intriguing is to see what happens with the Vols' QB situation. Kiffin opted not to sign one last month, and reports are that he's looking hard at Washington's Jake Heaps, but Kansas' Blake Bell might emerge as the guy to watch here. At 6-5, 215, Bell, who comes from the same area as Brown, appears to fit in with the prototype look that Kiffin has always liked in his quarterbacks.
By the way, Bell's recruiting process is being handled by his high school coach and his father, Mark Bell, a 1979 fourth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, who spent five seasons in the NFL as a defensive end.To go around the college football landscape with Bruce Feldman, become an ESPN Insider.
• Has Stephen Garcia settled down? The State has a story on the former blue-chip QB who some teammates say has really matured:
"He's more serious, more dedicated -- a lot more," offensive tackle Jarriel King said. "I know he likes to take charge. I saw that since last season. He doesn't joke around. He jokes at the right times now. He comes in and watches extra film. He does his homework."
Steve Spurrier better hope Garcia is ready to handle this. If he's not, South Carolina will have little shot of going to a bowl game in 2009.
• Lots of recruits at the Chicago Nike combine love Ron Zook, writes JC Shurburtt:
One of the examples of that is Class of 2011 running back Calvin Phillips (Momence, Ill.). The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder was probably the top overall prospect at the combine in any classification, and it's pretty clear who the early favorite is to land him -- the Fighting Illini. Phillips, who rushed for 1,426 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore, showed up to the event wearing a University of Illinois sweatshirt before changing into his Nike gear to compete. If his attire did not hint at where he is leaning early, his comments after the combine certainly did.
• Ole Miss has found its 12th opponent: Northern Arizona, slated for Nov. 7. That gives the Rebels two FCS opponents on their schedule in 2009, as the NAU game goes with a matchup with Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 19. A little subplot here will be the return to Oxford of former Rebels QB Michael Herrick. A record-setting passer from California, Herrick was deemed a project, but he opted to transfer not long after Jevan Snead settled in at Ole Miss. Last season Herrick completed 65 percent of his passes but only had a 3-6 TD-INT ratio for NAU.
• Blue-chip LB recruit Dexter Moody had his scholarship offer pulled by the University of Georgia:
"I had a little bit of trouble happen on Tuesday," he told totaluga.com. "I got into an argument with my chemistry teacher and he told me to leave the class and go calm down somewhere. I did that, but one of my assistant coaches brought it up to the principal and told the principal told me I was intimidating the other students. So he suspended me."
Moody added that he questioned signing with Georgia in February, "I told [teammate and fellow UGA signee] Washaun [Ealey] that I was having second thoughts and that I didn't want to sign with Georgia, But he talked me into it and so I did it anyway."Georgia assistant coach John Fabris gave Moody the option of attending Georgia Military College and then returning to Athens at a later date, but the ECI product wasn't interested. "I told him I'm not going there because I'm not going to go to Georgia no matter what."
• Indiana made a late move to bolster its O-line with the signing of offensive lineman Jordan Marquette for the Class of 2009. The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Marquette is from Huntington Beach, Calif., and Fullerton CC. He earned all-conference honors and was named Fullerton's lineman of the year for 2008.
• Boise State had its Pro Day, and a couple of the Broncos' receivers ran quite well, Gil Brandt reports:
The other player who merits a closer look at Boise State is WR Vinny Perretta. The diminutive receiver (5-9 1/4, 186 pounds) had an exceptional workout and showed that he deserves a chance, despite his lack of size. He ran a 4.48 and 4.43 in the 40, had a 36-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot, 6-inch broad jump, a 4.09 short shuttle, a 6.63 three-cone drill and put up 14 bench press reps.
Another prospect on hand with draft credentials was WR Jeremy Childs (6-0, 196 pounds). He ran a 4.49 and 4.47 in the 40, had a 4.11 short shuttle and kept the rest of his numbers from the combine. He did position drills.
• At Michigan's Pro Day, Wolverines DT Will Johnson put on an amazing display of strength, doing 47 reps on the bench with 225 pounds.
For perspective, former UTEP (by way of Norway) defensive tackle Leif Larsen did 45 reps at the 2000 combine. Ohio State DE Mike Kudla did 45 reps three years ago at the combine. Supposedly a D-lineman from Eastern Kentucky named Justin Ernest did 51 reps in 1999.
• The worst movies I've ever sat through were "Natural Born Killers," followed closely by "Fear and Loathing." Add a third to the mix: "The Comebacks," which has now surpassed "Caddyshack 2" as the worst sports movie I've ever seen.