By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
III -"The Third."
When spoken, the monarchical ordinals often elicit a tone of nobility and elitism.
That's because for centuries they have represented royalty, followed great men. Even the greatest.
That was certainly the case with Alexander III of Macedonia - better known as Alexander the Great - and has become the norm whenever Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Robert Griffin III is mentioned.
And while the Copperas Cove product is anything but elitist, the comparisons between the two run deeper than the numbers after their names.
From an early age, greatness was expected - even prophesied.
Tutored by some of the smartest minds of their respective times - ancient philosopher Aristotle for Alexander and quarterback savant Art Briles for Griffin - the two were thrust into key leadership roles in their teens only to grow into unyielding commanders on the field of battle. It was there that both made their mark, leading their soldiers to victories over traditional powers that seemed to elevate their legend to world-beating status.
And like Alexander the Great, the legend of RGIII has only been heightened by a combination of sensational stories and equally incredible truths.
"There was something about Robert that as he was running ... he had such a drive and determination in him, that when I saw him play I felt the spirit of the Lord come upon me and (to) just lay hands upon him and prophesize over him."
- Bishop Nathaniel Holcomb
Like most mothers, Jacqueline Griffin always believed her son was destined for great deeds.
The baby of the family, youngest to his two sisters Jihan and Dejon, Robert seemed ahead of the curve from the beginning. Walking at eight months and beginning to hone his athletic exploits by age 3, Robert was off and running on his journey to glory.
But it wasn't until the hand of God confirmed it that she was certain of Robert's grand destiny.
After watching a 10-year-old Robert during a youth basketball game, Bishop Nathaniel Holcomb, pastor of Christian House of Prayer Ministries in Copperas Cove and Killeen, called the skinny youth to the pulpit and placed his hand upon him, foretelling God's master plan.
"I just felt the hand of God was on him, and the spirit of the Lord stirred it up into me to speak the word over him. That's what prophetic words are, to encourage us to rise to the level of that word," Holcomb said. "It gives unto us a hope and anticipation."
A devoutly religious family already, the prophecy seemed to set things in motion. For Robert, hearing God's plan for him only served to reaffirm a desire for excellence already ingrained in him three years earlier.
"I always say that God has a plan, but it's our job to live that plan," Robert said. "So when (Holcomb) said I was destined for great things, greatness doesn't just come to you, you have to go get it, you have to work for it, and that's what I made sure to stay focused on."
From the moment he began dribbling at age 3, Robert dreamed basketball would be his avenue to success in life. By the time he was 7, he'd all but determined he'd one day see his name among the likes of Michael Jordan and other all-time NBA greats, informing his father of his plans.
"I came to (my dad) and said, 'I want to be the best basketball player ever,' and after that, he really put it on me and pushed me to be the best I could be, not only in sports but in everything from that day on," Robert said. "Really, it was what I wanted, so I was willing to do it. ... I wanted that and he pushed me and said, 'If this is what you want, this is what you're going to have to do.'"
"We used to pinkie promise, and I said, 'If you get tackled, then you're going to quit football.' And he said, 'No, Momma, they're never going to catch me.' So we would go to the games, and I'm sitting there waiting to see what happens, and they didn't catch him."
- Jacqueline Griffin
The son of two Army sergeants, Robert was always a child of action. Sitting in front of the TV playing video games was never much of an option.
So when the Griffins moved to Copperas Cove in 1997, his busy parents sought different ways to keep Robert active, especially if it would help in his quest to be the next NBA superstar.
He went out for Little League baseball, AAU track and field during the summer and even a little golf.
He usually found success, even earning his first No. 1 national ranking in the hurdles at 14.
But there was one sport his mother forbade him to participate in: football.
"As a mom, you don't want to see your son getting knocked around all the time," Jacqueline explained.
Encouraged by friends around the start of seventh-grade at S.C. Lee Middle School, a 12-year-old Robert made his pitch: "But, Mom, they'll never catch me, they will never, ever catch me, I promise you. And Mom, if they catch me, I'll quit. I won't play any more. ... They have to catch me to tackle me, so I'll never get tackled."
And while he broke that promise in his first game - a 60-6 S.C. Lee victory - Robert's passion and future gridiron prowess were already evident.
"Coach Briles calls me the 'Rubberband Man' because I give at the right time, whenever I'm getting hit to where it doesn't hurt as bad as it should," Robert said. "So whenever I was running at that age, because I was so fast, it was more that I got tackled, but I really didn't get the crap knocked out of me."
"And (Robert) said, 'Yes, sir.' He was determined he wasn't going to let his dad down. And his dad's last words to him were, 'Take care of business while I'm gone' and he took care of business."
- Jacqueline Griffin
Birthdays are supposed to be days for celebration, of cake and ice cream. And for any young boy, the 13th becomes that first foray into adulthood.
Only for Robert, it was more like a crash course. Startled awake early in the morning, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, the teenager didn't quite understand what was happening.
His mother had retired from the Army four years earlier, in 1999, and his father was nearing the end of his enlistment term only to be stop-lossed. After moving from Okinawa, Japan - where Robert was born - to Fort Lewis, Wash., to Fort Hood, it seemed they were finally going to settle down and be a family, without the constant fear of having to pick up and move again. Yet here stood his father, dressed in his uniform ready for another deployment. Only this time, the news was worse - he was on his way to Iraq.
"It was the worst birthday I've ever had," said the now 21-year-old Robert. "Because even at that age, I knew there was a possibility that he wasn't coming back. And that was tough."
It was February 2003 and the U.S. military was planning what would be nearly a decade-long campaign. His father, his hero, his superior officer, laid down a command: "You take care of your mom and your sisters while I'm gone; you are the man of this house while I'm away. You make sure that when I come back, everything is squared away."
Following orders like a soldier, Robert carried on with the extensive training regime his father laid out for him, getting up early to drag tires up and down a hill on their property before many of his teammates were crawling out of bed.
"We map out things with Robert every year. Even though he's in high school or at college, we sit down and do personal assessments," his father, Robert Jr., said.
"We looked at what every coach gave Robert, and then it was all about mastery. My job was to teach Robert and work with him on intangibles."
The road back
"He's not a slacker. When people used to be asleep, he'd be running down a hill with tires."
- Jacqueline Griffin
It was the pop heard - and felt - all around Baylor Nation. But for Robert, it was the diagnosis the next day that caused the most pain. While trying to keep the opening drive alive on a fourth-and-2 scramble against Northwestern State, Robert planted awkwardly and suffered an isolated tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the third game of his second year at Baylor.
Breaking down at the news of his first-ever serious injury, Robert initially felt his world crashing was down
"I started boo-hooing when they told me I'd torn it because immediately it wasn't 'Oh my season's over,' it was 'I just let everybody down,'" Robert said.
With his right leg immobilized, Robert worked on his throwing arm. He sat on a stool in the parking lot of Baylor's Ferrell Center and threw passes to anybody willing to go long as his father watched, critiquing when warranted.
"My husband felt that we were not going to abandon all this training we've been doing just because you can't walk or run," Jacqueline said.
After Baylor football games, Robert walks out of Floyd Casey Stadium to his parents' vehicle's tailgate, where he hugs his mom, gets a few pats on the back for a well-played game from the assembled crowd and then gets down to business: "Dad, what'd you see? What was I doing wrong?"
"He told us, 'I'll never get second place in the hurdles again,' and he never did after that."
- Jacqueline Griffin
Second-best was never good enough for Robert.
Attending his first national event competing in the hurdles, an 11-year-old Robert finished second in the 80-meter hurdles at the 2001 AAU Junior Olympics.
"That year, I noticed that no matter what you put in front of him, he's going to put his best foot forward and he's going to be the best at it, or he's going to die trying," Jacqueline said.
That unyielding work ethic permeates every part of Robert's life, as he strives as close to perfection as humanly possible.
In between a blitzkrieg of national interviews Dec. 5, Griffin managed to finish a 20-page paper on critical race theory for one of two graduate-level communication classes he's taking this semester. The next day he held a national teleconference with more than a dozen media outlets while being measured for the suit he would wear to the Heisman Trophy ceremony on Saturday.
"You have to stay focused on what's in front of you. ... Obviously, this is an exciting week for everybody, and you have to do what you have to do, but I had to take care of my classes; that paper I was writing was 50 percent of my grade," Robert said. "Everybody's going to want a piece of you; you've just got to make sure you don't change who you are in the process."
Earning an undergraduate degree in political science in three years, the redshirt junior had to be talked out of starting law school before this semester as coaches and family urged him to focus on football.
Leading a revival on the gridiron, Griffin and the Bears (9-3) experienced one of its best seasons on record, notching the program's first nine-win season in 25 years en route to history-making victories over Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas to end the season on a five-game win streak.
"The one thing I know is that when you're a kid, you do have those dreams," Robert said. "But once you hit the age that I'm at, it's your job to turn those dreams into a reality, and that's what I'm trying to do."
Contact Alex Byington at email@example.com or (254) 501-7566.