My first alma mater was Blinn College, where I earned an associate degree in the 1980s. Then came a degree in English from University of Houston, and a near-completed master’s degree in digital media from Sam Houston State University. So I’ve followed several great football teams — the Pirates, the Cougars, and the Bearkats — for many years.
Background as a College Football Editor
My work as a contributing editor for the suite of Lifestyles & Homes magazines exposed me to high school and college teams, as well as notable athletes. By the way, I became a college football editor by writing about sports in general, but with a great focus on football. This merged seamlessly with my work as a sports book editor (print and ebooks).
When it just so happened that I got an assignment to cover Robert Griffin III (a.k.a. “RG3”) and Brittney Griner, as well as other Bears and Lady Bears, it was “game on!” In a trip down memory lane, and out of the archives of my portfolio as a college football editor, here’s the article in it’s entirety.
It’s been a whirlwind of wins for Baylor teams in a nail-biting six months!
By Melanie Saxton
Baylor University, under the leadership of President Ken Starr, is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution that has produced four Texas Governors (Bill White, Pat Neff, Price Daniel and Ann Richards) as well as Fortune 500 executives including Mike Segoviano of the Phoenix Suns, ranked No. 52 on Forbes 121 Sports Franchise Value. But it is Baylor’s recent sports victories that has fans talking, especially with the jaw-dropping feats of football great Robert Griffin III and Houston area basketball talent Brittney Griner. These Baylor athletes have brought intense focus to a relatively small university — the Bear Nation — whose heart beats loud and proud.
David vs. Goliath
Baylor’s successes resemble a “David vs Goliath” story when examined through the lens of the Big 12 conference and nationally. The Big 12 is in its 16th year as the only major conference in the nation to determine its champions in all sports directly on the field. Big 12 campuses currently include Baylor, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech. In short, Baylor is competing against very large schools while having just over 13,000 undergraduate students.
Student athletes are expected to excel both academically and athletically and a large percentage graduate. In fact, 1,192 student-athletes have earned their bachelor’s degree since 1996 when Baylor joined the Big 12 Conference.
“These student-athletes are a part of the most successful era in the history of Baylor Athletics,” says Baylor Director of Athletics Ian McCaw. In fact, famed quarterback Robert Griffin III (popularly known as “RG3”) began at Baylor in the spring 2008 semester at 17 and graduated in three years with a degree in political science and a 3.67 GPA. He appeared on the Dean’s List twice and went on to pursue a master’s degree in Communication while still playing football for Baylor.
Baylor’s football team had its best season in years, pulling out an Alamo Bowl victory in December that will be remembered as the highest-scoring regulation bowl game in history, beating the Washington Huskies 67-56. Quarterback Griffin played as a Heisman Trophy winner, having won the distinction in December 2011 and being the first player from Baylor to do so.
Griffin was born in Japan, where his parents, Robert Jr. and Jacqueline, were both stationed as U.S. Army Sergeants. Their son has set a slew of records and also won the 2011 Manning Award.
Griffin Racks Up Honors
Of Griffin, Baylor says, “This once-in-a-generation transcendent student athlete lifted Baylor to decades-high heights.” The University is proud that in addition to the Heisman and the Manning awards, Griffin also earned the 2011 Associated Press College Football Player of the Year award. Griffin was also named to the 2011 College Football All-America Team.
But the accolades don’t stop there. Griffin also won the 2011 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, presented annually to the collegiate American football player adjudged by the Foundation to be the best of all National Collegiate Athletic Association quarterbacks. He was also named 2011 Consensus All-American, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and consensus first-team All-Big 12. Griffin’s last season with the Bears has him projected to be one of the top picks in this year’s NFL draft.
For the second time in three seasons, the Baylor men’s basketball season ended with a trip to the Elite 8 mens division 1 NCAA, this time with a loss to the eventual national champion, Kentucky. Ranked every week during the 2011-12 season, Baylor established program records for overall wins (30), conference wins (12) and tied its mark for NCAA wins in a single postseason (three). The Bears finished No. 9 in the final AP Top 25 and No. 8 in the final USA TODAY/ESPN Top 25 – the highest season-ending ranking in program history. Baylor heralds departing seniors Quincy Acy, Fred Ellis and Anthony Jones as the winningest class in program history. Pierre Jackson and Perry Jones III were honorable mention All-Americans by The Associated Press, while Jackson, Jones III, Acy and Quincy Miller took home All-Big 12 honors.
Perfect. This one word adequately describes the basketball prowess of Lady Bears, whose phenomenal performance has resulted in their 2nd National Championship, the first in 2005, and this time with a record of 40-0. The consistency of their game plan and their maturity as a team earned them the title in April as they finished the season at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Houston’s own 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner scored 26 points, had 13 rebounds and 5 blocked shots, which clinched the 80-61 win over the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Griner hails from Cy-Fair.
She won the 2012 State Farm® Wade Trophy. Regarded as “The Heisman of Women’s Basketball,” the Wade trophy was presented to Griner as the NCAA Division I Player of the Year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport.
Griner’s Houston area fans joined the nation in celebrating her Naismith Trophy Award (named in honor of Dr. James Naismith, the creator of basketball). The Naismith voting academy chose her as the women’s college basketball player of the year. Interestingly, the first trophy was awarded to UCLA’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1969.
Griner was also named an AP All-American and Final Four Most Outstanding Player. As a post player, many regard her as the best. Technically, Griner would be eligible to leave for the WNBA when she turns 22 this year, but that’s not in her plans. Instead, she is focusing on the next season. With all five starters returning, including Odyssey Sims, the Lady Bears are positioned for another stunning season.
A Winning Coach
Baylor women’s head basketball coach (and Griner’s mentor) Kim Mulkey is a bit of a legend herself. Mulkey is the 2012 Russell Athletic/Women’s Basketball Coaches Association NCAA Division I National Coach of the Year. Her “slam dunk” 2005 and 2012 wins with the Lady Bears basketball team are the crowning jewels in her 12th season as a head coach. Mulkey has 300 career victories and ranks No. 4 among the winningest active Division I head coaches.
She’s a Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer and joined Baylor in 2000, which transformed the Lady Bear basketball program from a squad that was just 7-20 the season prior to her arrival. In winning the 2005 title, Mulkey became the first person — male or female — to win a basketball national championship as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
Behind three golfers in the Top 5, the 17th-ranked Baylor women’s golf team tied in April for the overall lead at the BancorpSouth Rebel Intercollegiate. Baylor also has news on the baseball front and just announced the introduction of the Baylor Baseball Academy as an extension of the Baylor Baseball Camp that will provide professional instruction year round at Baylor Ballpark. Just before Easter, the No. 22 Baylor women’s softball team (26-12, 3-6) stretched its winning streak to four games with a doubleheader sweep of Kansas. Baylor also has an No. 2 seed equestrian team. Men’s golf, soccer, volleyball and tennis also draw fans as student athletes give their best each season.
Baylor currently plays at Floyd Casey Stadium, located south and across Interstate 35 from the school’s Waco, Texas campus. Yet a dream is in the works. Baylor is planning on building a new football stadium — Baylor Stadium — on I-35. Former Astros owner Drayton McClain got naming rights to the stadium due his recent donation to the university. Once built, the facilities will seat 45,000 fans and could expand to 55,000. With its position near the highway, it will be visible to 42 million drivers annually. A giving campaign is underway to make Baylor Stadium a reality.
Interested in more college football editor stories?
Check out Sideline & Pearls: A 50-Year Perspective on the Lives of Coaches’ Wives with firsthand accounts of high school, college and NFL adventures.