Florence continues run of Baylor’s football success after departure of Heisman winner Griffin

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Last year was a bizarre one in Waco, Texas. For one school year, the college football world fixed its eyes on Baylor.Long a laughingstock in the Big 12, 2011 was a renaissance year for the Bears. Baylor followed up its first bowl appearance in more than a decade with its first 10-win season in 30 years and, to top it off, Robert Griffin III won the program’s first Heisman Trophy.“It was a game changer,” BU athletic director Ian McCaw said. “Robert had a tremendous year on the field, but he’s also such a great ambassador. He’s very articulate and represented the university so well.”But Griffin graduated after the season and became the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft. All the leaps that Baylor had taken could be undone with one of the most electric college football players in recent memory gone.Nick Florence, a senior who had thrown 24 passes over the prior two seasons, was asked to fill the void left by the departure of the greatest player in program history.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“There’s that pressure,” Florence said. “Everyone was talking about it; everyone was saying we weren’t going to be a good team this year knowing that I was replacing Robert. But ultimately I just tried to change and reframe the situation, and now I’m getting a chance to play college football, and that’s what everyone wants.”The BU offense didn’t miss a beat. In fact, Florence’s Bears outscored Griffin’s over the first four games of the season 217-190 and each boasted identical 3-1 records. Through five weeks, Florence leads the nation with 434.5 total yards per game. Over the same five-week stretch, Griffin had totaled just 374 yards per game.Of course Florence did have the benefit of learning behind the Heisman Trophy winner.During his freshman year, Florence was forced into action after both Griffin and then-backup quarterback Blake Szymanski injured their knees. That year, Florence completed 62 percent of his passes (165-for-266) and threw for nearly 1,800 yards in seven starts.But the next two years, Florence learned behind one of the best in the business.“You learn a lot,” Florence said. “He was a great player on and off the field, honestly. He had great leadership skills that made everyone around him better. He strived for himself to be the best that he could, which ultimately made everyone around him better. … I don’t want to try to be him, but I definitely want to learn from what he did.”Griffin’s arrival at Baylor nearly cost Florence his opportunity with the Bears.Florence was initially a lightly-recruited dual-threat quarterback without a scholarship offer into his junior year. Florence asked Mickey Moss, his head coach at South Garland (Texas) High School, to send his game film to the coaching staff at Baylor.Within 24 hours, the Bears had offered Florence a scholarship.But when Guy Morriss was fired as BU head coach, Florence’s status became uncertain.Art Briles arrived at Baylor after compiling a 34-28 record in five seasons at Houston. With him he brought Griffin, a four-star quarterback originally committed to play for the Cougars. After initial uncertainty, Briles decided to hang on to Florence, but give the quarterback job to Griffin.Florence didn’t arrive at Baylor until January 2009 after doing missionary work in China after the Olympics. He was set to have two seasons as the Bears starting quarterback after Griffin’s departure. Florence would redshirt his junior season as Griffin finished out his career.But in the penultimate game of the 2011 regular season against Texas Tech, Griffin scrambled for a first down in the second quarter. As the quarterback slid to the ground, Red Raiders defensive back Cornelius Douglas’ elbow knocked Griffin’s head hard into the turf.With fewer than three games remaining in the season, Florence gave up his redshirt to close out the game for BU.“He unselfishly said, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes,’” said Moss, now the head coach at Rockwall-Heath (Texas) High School. “As a person and a human being, I don’t think you can find anyone better than Nick Florence.”Florence’s success in that game — he was 9-of-12 with 151 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a little more than a half of action — was an indicator that the Bears weren’t going to just go away.After years of athletic struggles, Baylor has recently become one of the most successful athletic departments in the country.The basketball team went 20 years without an NCAA Tournament appearance until 2008. The football team went without a bowl appearance for the first 15 years of its Big 12 tenure.Now, the basketball team has been to the Elite Eight twice in the past three seasons. The football team has been to back-to-back bowl games. Even the women’s basketball team posted the first 40-0 season in NCAA history.If Griffin was the face of that change, then Florence is the face of the hopeful future consistency.“Nick’s picked up right where Robert left off,” McCaw said. “Nick is a tremendous student — he’s already graduated. He’s very intelligent, has tremendous character, is a really strong leader and he’s doing a great job on the field as well.“We called last year the ‘Year of the Bear,’ and we’re trying to continue the ‘Year of the Bear’ this year.”The bowl game two years ago made BU relevant. The 10-win season last year made it elite. Another successful season with a new quarterback would prove the Griffin era wasn’t an aberration.After another strong start, Florence says that Baylor is “absolutely” here to stay. Over the last eight games of the regular season, Florence can prove that.“We’re going to ride that momentum, we’re going to ride that wave and keep things going,” Florence said. “We want to set new standards each year and I think we’re starting to do that as an athletic department, and we’re starting to build some tradition here.”Game of the WeekNo. 23 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 22 Texas A&MWithout a doubt the biggest surprise in this week’s AP Top 25 is the addition of Louisiana Tech. After a 5-0 start, the Bulldogs cracked the Top 25 for the first time since 1999 and just the second time in program history. But their stay in the Top 25 could be a short one as La. Tech gets an immediate test against Texas A&M.Though Louisiana Tech’s third-ranked offense has rolled over all five of its opponents this season, the defense has allowed nearly 36 points per game and more than 161 yards per game on the ground. That could spell trouble for the Bulldogs, as the Aggies’ rushing attack, anchored by a pair of 300-pound tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, ranks 20th in the nation. Comments Published on October 11, 2012 at 1:43 am Contact David: [email protected] | @DBWilson2last_img

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