For Baylor fans, it was The Click Heard Round the World. When sophomore sensation Robert Griffin tried to cut against the grain to get a first down against Northwestern State last year, his knee gave way, and so did the hopes for a turnaround season at Baylor. Griffin toughed it out and returned during the first half of the game, but he got the bad news that following Sunday: The Bears would be without their miracle worker at quarterback. In the nine games that followed after Griffin's injury, Baylor's offense topped 20 points just twice. But with the changing of the calendar comes renewed hope, and even after a revelatory freshman campaign in 2008, Griffin said he expects to be better than ever. Baylor's signal caller talked about the impact of his injury and his sky-high expectations with FoxSportsSouthwest.com.
How is rehab going? How far along are you?
Griffin: I'm almost finished with rehab, anywhere from 95 to 100-percent right now. I'm feeling good. The hard work has been put in, and the accounts out of rehab have been done. So now it's just about allowing my knee to heal.
When do the doctors say you'll be able to play again? Have they given you a timetable?
I'll be ready to go this season. That's never been in question. I'll be ready to go at the beginning of the season.
Will you be physically ready to go at the beginning of fall camp in August?
To me, that's a part of the season. You can't just ignore that stuff and expect to play well during the year. I'll be ready for fall camp, and I'll be ready to go full speed.
What's been the toughest part of rehab?
It's a mental battle. It's more of a physical battle in the beginning, but towards the end, it's just allowing your body to heal and realizing that it's a process that you have to go through.
What did you work on throughout last year and this spring?
My throwing mechanics and just continuing to be accurate. I'm still throwing with a lot of velocity. And then just bonding with my teammates, stuff like that. Watching film, reading coverages. All that stuff, you can always get better at.
How high was your confidence before the injury? In two and a half games, you threw for almost 500 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
We thought the sky was the limit. We came out and defeated Wake Forest like we expected to, had a setback against UConn, and then I got injured in the next game. Before that, we were really ready to go and end this drought that Baylor's had for so long. After the injury, I think a lot of people were shaken up, but I think the team did a good job of rebounding and finding out who they were without me. So this upcoming year with me back in the mix, I think it's going to make our team that much better.
What happened on the play when you injured your knee? Did you hear anything?
I think it was a third down play and we needed a few yards, so we ran a speed option and I was sprinting to the right. I tried to cut back to the left and I heard a click in my knee. Then I was laying there on the ground. It hurt really badly, but I didn't know anything was wrong. I got back up and got back in the game. My knee didn't feel stable, but I didn't know it was my ACL. So it was a big shock that Sunday when I had the MRI, but I didn't think it was that serious [at first].
How did your knee feel when you came back into the game against Northwestern State? Was it very painful?
Whether it was an MCL or an ACL, it was going to be painful. I just dealt with that. I ran a few times. I actually ran 12 yards with no ACL, but that's not something that I would want to do again.
What was your immediate reaction when you found out you were done for the year?
A lot of people would think that you'd feel bad for yourself because your season would be over, but I felt a lot of grief and I felt that I let down a lot of people: my coaches, my teammates, the community, the people here at Baylor and people around the world. I felt like I let down a lot of people by getting injured, but there was nothing I could do in that situation. It wasn't like it was something that I did that led to that injury. It was just something that God had in His will, and I had to move forward from there.
Did you view your injury and rehabilitation process as part of a bigger plan?
You have to. There are those days when you question, "Why me? Why did this happen to me? I wasn't doing anything wrong." But it's just all part of the master plan. I look at it that way, and I've grown from it.
What did you learn while watching the games from the sideline?
You can see the field a lot better. On the field, you're in the heat and under fire. You always have to be quicker on your feet, whereas in the booth or just watching from the sidelines, you can see things more clearly. And it helped me to just better understand the game of football. I've only been playing for a few years; I didn't start until seventh grade. So it helped me better understand the game, and I think that will go a long way.
How do you think the injury changed you as a person?
It just made me appreciate the game. I liked playing football and I was a competitive guy, but the injury made me love the game. I wasn't able to practice, I wasn't able to train with the team or go on road trips. I was constantly in rehab having to work. And when you're faced with something like that, where it's just something you like to do, you have to decide whether this is what you want or not. I decided that, and I pushed through. I'm glad I did, and it made me appreciate the game of football and come to love it.
Do you ever go through the "what if" game and think about what the team might have done if you stayed healthy?
That's something you have to try and avoid. There were numerous times where I'd be watching the game, and I'd see whichever quarterback was in there make a throw. It might be a good throw; it might be a bad throw. I'm saying to myself, "If that was me, I would've done that." But it wasn't me. That's the stuff you do when you're a little bit angry during the season, but now, it's a new season. We're ready to go forth and end this drought, and do it as a team.
How did the team as a whole look during spring practices?
They played really well. Our skill positions were flying around, our linemen are bigger than they've ever been, and there's just a new passion around here to finally get what we feel is ours.
Baylor has lost two great offensive linemen (Jason Smith and J.D. Walton) in consecutive years. How well did the line come together in the spring?
It was a huge question mark going into the spring, but coming out of the spring, it was a definite positive. We've got some really athletic offensive linemen, and we've got some really big offensive linemen. They're going to help add some meat to our running game and things of that sort. Everybody came in with questions about our offensive line, but I think they came together as a unit and played very well throughout the spring.
Who on defense is stepping up to fill the leadership role left by Joe Pawelek?
It starts in the middle, and there are numerous guys who have the chance to take over. Joe Paw was such an instrumental leader. Him and [former safety] Jordan Lake; one in the middle and one in the back. We've got Tim Atchison playing safety where Jordan once was, and he is definitely stepping up and being a vocal leader. Then on our D-Line, you've got Tracy Robertson. He might play defensive tackle and end. He is definitely stepping up and being a leader. You've got Phil Taylor in there as well. He's done a really good job of getting in shape this offseason. In the middle, we've got so many of them and they're so talented: Chris Francis, Antonio Johnson, Earl Patin and Chris McAllister. All those guys are extremely talented. You can't forget about Elliot Coffey either. So we're deep at linebacker and collectively, those guys are the unit that will definitely take on the leadership role that Joe Paw held by himself.
The entire team went through practice knowing that nobody has a set spot for sure. Did that make the practices more intense?
That's the way it should always be, whether you're a senior or a freshman, or anywhere in between. Every year you should come in not having to prove yourself, but reassuring everybody that you're the man, and that should be your spot. You shouldn't come into anything thinking that it's just going to be given to you, because that's when you don't work hard. Here at Baylor, we understand that nobody's going to give us anything. Going against the Big 12, nobody's going to give us anything. We're going to work for everything we're going to get. I think that showed during the spring.
You had a great year as a freshman in 2008. What was the toughest part of adjusting to the college game?
Just the amount of losses that we had. I didn't really lose much in high school. I lost more games my freshman year here at Baylor than I did in high school. A lot of people say the speed of the game is different or the size of the guys is different, but I didn't think it was that big of a difference because even if the D-Linemen are bigger, your offensive linemen are also bigger. If everything becomes better on defense, the same should be true for offense. You've got better skill positions, better running backs, better offensive linemen and tight ends. So if you've got guys around you that can play, it'll ease the pressure of transitioning from high school to college.
You played the first eight games of your career without throwing an interception. How are you able to avoid mistakes that so many other QBs make?
I think I'm a confident guy. I don't push the limits. A lot of quarterbacks believe so much in their ability that they to fit in balls where they shouldn't. I'm blessed with the ability to move a little bit. I can move around and wait for a guy to come open, rather than having to stick it in there and hope for the best. If you win the turnover battle, a lot of times you win the game. I just look at that way. I don't play cautious. I play aggressive, but I'm not going to throw a needle through traffic.
This will be your third year in Coach Briles' offense. Do you feel like you have a good handle on it yet? Is it difficult to pick up right off the bat?
I think I've got the general knowledge of it. I understand his offense. You can always get better and learn more and more every year that you're here. I don't think I've got it conquered, but I know it well enough that this team can be successful.
You ran the ball almost 200 times in 2008. Do you think run plays called for you might be limited to keep you from reinjuring yourself?
I think it'll be whatever the defense is going to give us. If they're going to try to take away the run game with me or with our running backs – Jay Finley, Isaac Williams or Terrance Ganaway – then we'll throw the ball. If they're going to put six defensive backs out there and stop everybody, then we'll run the ball. But I don't think there will be any precautions because of my injury. We trust the surgery, and we trust the preparation that we'll have by then. There's nothing holding me back.
Are you still going to run track as well? And hurdles?
I definitely am looking forward to have an opportunity to do that. Right now, I'd say I would run, but it all just depends on how I feel at the end of the season and how everything goes. I'd love to run hurdles again, and right now I'd say I would.
Have the doctors told you that you'll be able to be as fast as you were, and do everything the same? Do they foresee any limitations?
There are no limitations. When they did the surgery they fixed everything. It's just a matter of time and like I said, it's a process. Your knee is only going to heal so fast, and if you try to push the limit, that's when you put yourself back in the back room asleep and getting surgery again.
Baylor has won four games in back-to-back seasons. How will this year be different?
My freshman year, everybody praised us a lot and we only won four games. Then last year, I felt even though I did get hurt, the team did grow. They grew together because the guy that everybody looked toward to handle all the problems – and the guy that everybody thought would lead them to the Promised Land – went down. They had to do some soul searching and dig deep. I think they did that and toward the middle of the year, after a few games they started finding themselves and actually had some competitive games there. So I don't compare the four-win season of my freshman year to the four-win season of last year. A lot of factors played into that, and we're looking to build upon those four wins and get much more than that.
A lot of times, losing teams need a change of culture or attitude to turn things around. Are you seeing that happen now?
Definitely. I think last year there was a change of culture. That's what we talked about before the season: changing the culture at Baylor. We wanted to be great; we wanted to be winners. We had to learn how to win, and we were starting to do that. Once again the injury a little bit of that back, but I don't think the guys are discouraged. If anything, they're even hungrier now because of what happened last year. [They] not only want to do it for themselves, but to do it for Baylor as a whole and the Waco community, and even for me. Some guys are saying they want to do it for me because I didn't get to do it out there last year. So I think there's definitely a change of culture, and I think we're focused on being a team with unconditional love, willing to do anything for each other.
Read more at FoxSportsSouthwest.com
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