Griffin never considered leaving. "That'd be really cowardly," he says. And besides: At first it was Baylor that hadn't wanted him.
They showed up his junior year of high school, salivating at Griffin's size and speed and saying they wanted to make the quarterback an All-America ... defensive back or receiver. The lot of them—coaches representing a dozen BCS powers, including LSU, Nebraska, Texas and Texas A&M—flew off Griffin's list. Pedigree, high or low, didn't impress him. In the fall of 2006 he visited Baylor at the prompting of Bears track coach Todd Harbour, who'd already tried (and failed) to get Griffin to commit exclusively to running track. When Griffin met then football coach Guy Morriss, he learned that he could play quarterback ... if he wanted to walk on. Another college was immediately crossed off.
Instead Griffin fell for Art Briles, then at Houston, whose football camp he attended in June 2007. "I was looking for a guy who could run," Briles recalls, "but the first time I saw Robert throw, I said, Man, this guy's special." Griffin committed to the Cougars that October. The very next month, however, Baylor canned Morriss and picked Briles as his successor, and Griffin—particularly excited by the prospect of Big 12 play—chose to follow Briles to Waco. Bears athletic director Ian McCaw quickly dialed up Harbour. "He's coming," McCaw told the stunned coach. "We finally got your hurdler."
Griffin, who missed most of the 2009 season after tearing his right ACL in his third game, has competed in only one track meet since that eye-opening spring. His bond with Briles, on the other hand, has been historically productive. As a freshman in '08 Griffin set the NCAA record for completions without an interception to start a career (209) while also running for 13 touchdowns and 846 yards. Last year he accounted for 4,136 yards from scrimmage and 30 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. This year Griffin has as many scores as incompletions.
"He's as good as anybody out there that I've seen," Texas coach Mack Brown has marveled. "He has changed their program completely."
Back at the Student Union, Griffin is still attempting to pull skeletons out of his closet. All that comes out, though, are action figures—a collection of about 1,000 (Dragon Ball Z, X-Men, pro wrestling). He keeps about 200 in a bag in his off-campus apartment but hasn't actually played with any of them since enrolling in college. "After a while," Griffin laments, "you just lose your imagination."
Elsewhere in Waco, imagination remains as plentiful as the dust. The only speculation more popular than that involving the Bears' future conference concerns Griffin. Harbour and Hart gush about him competing in the Olympics. Starr wants to talk to him about law school. Basketball coach Scott Drew muses about Griffin suiting up with Jones. Whenever NFL talk starts up—If he wins the Heisman, should he declare for the draft?—Briles grabs Griffin and, as if attempting a Jedi mind trick, tells him, "I'm looking at my starting quarterback for 2012." And then there's the growing success of this young season.
"You know," Griffin finally says at the lunch table, "I can't play ... polo. Or water polo, either. Or ... archery." There.
He's as unconvincing as ever. The Most Exciting Player in College Football at least needs to try those sports first.