By Cody Soto
Senior quarterback Bryce Petty watched on the sidelines and saw teammate and Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III go down in the team’s shootout against Texas Tech on Nov. 26, 2011. Griffin had suffered a concussion and would not return to the game.
Petty could have had a chance to finally step on the field, but it was former quarterback Nick Florence who got the nod from head coach Art Briles. So Petty had to wait another year before playing.
“There were 1,786 days between my final high school start and my first start at Baylor. Those days were filled with fear and doubt about if I was ever going to get to play,” Petty said.
Petty would not put his head down, though. Little did he know that two years down the road, he would be a back-to-back Big 12 conference champion for his leadership on and off the field.
In his first season as Baylor’s starting quarterback, Petty had an impressive year with 250 completions for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns during an 11-2 record in 2013.
“If Bryce has a sock on crooked, he corrects it. Everything is perfect and he wants to be great at everything he does. That’s what you’ve got to have there,” Briles said. “You have to have a QB that’s special if you’re going to have a chance to have a really good football team. We’ve got a stud at quarterback.”
The Midlothian native helped Baylor achieve its first Big 12 title, something that had never been accomplished. The 30-10 win over No. 25 Texas on Dec. 7, 2013, cemented Petty’s name into Baylor history.
“I have come a long way since 2010,” Petty said. “I always have something to get better at, and I can take that to heart and to the practice field each and every day. I love it. That is why I like to play.”
Finishing in seventh place in the Heisman trophy race, Petty could have made the decision to enter the 2014 NFL Draft.
Instead, he returned to Waco for his final season of eligibility.
“It is only the second time in seven years that we have had a returning quarterback, so it is a huge deal,” Briles said. “A lot of times they are back because of necessity, but this guy is back because he is good, and it is the best thing for him and for us.”
Petty garnered numerous honors following last season’s historical achievements, and he was prepared to do it again.
However, he hit a roadblock after suffering cracked transverse processes in his back during the Bears’ 2014 season opener against SMU. Petty was forced to sit out the next game against Northwestern State.
“It’s certainly tested our depth without question,” Briles said. “Even though we are a little depleted, we have a few more avenues we can go down to make sure everything stays the way we need it to be.”
After that, things looked a bit shaky for Petty. He was 7-for-22 for 111 yards against Texas on Oct. 4, a career low for Petty. In that game, Baylor had to rely on its rushing game in order to leave Austin with a 28-7 win over the Longhorns. As the leader of the team, he took responsibility for the low scoring game.
“A lot of it is on me because I am the one holding the ball. You can say all you want about anything else, but when it boils down to it, it is on me,” Petty said.
However, he used the rest of the season to redeem himself. Following that game, Petty threw 510 yards for six touchdowns against No. 9 TCU on Oct. 11. His effort helped Baylor come back from a 21-point deficit to top the Horned Frogs 61-58.
“Confidence is not a factor at all with Bryce,” Briles said. “When you get into a situation where things aren’t going as smoothly as they were previously, you find a way to win. Bryce did a great job of engineering touchdown drives when we needed them.”
Saturday’s game against No. 11 Kansas State was another notable moment for Petty. In his final game in Waco, he was 34-for-41 for 412 yards for one touchdown and a rushing score of his own. It was a great way to end his run in Waco, senior receiver Levi Norwood said.
“Winning back-to-back titles has only been done once in the history of the Big 12. He’s easily one of the best Big 12 quarterbacks who’s ever played,” Norwood said.
Even other players can see the leadership in Petty’s action, voice and poise. Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller saw that Saturday night.
“The way he motivates his guys and offensive line and moves the offense can be heard in his voice,” Mueller said. “They followed his lead and are certainly motivated by his actions and demands. He does a fine job of getting the absolute best out of his guys.”
With Petty’s final game in a Baylor uniform on the horizon, he doesn’t want to leave any doubt of how he plays. The selflessness and faithful motivation drives him.
“When people look back on my career here, I want them to say that I was all in,” Petty said. “I want people to say that I was a passionate guy who loved people and played the game of football for God’s glory.”
Petty has now joined an elite group of quarterbacks that have come before him. He may have seen his highest and lowest points over the past two years, and that has led him to be a two-time Big 12 champion.
“Bryce Petty is a great leader and example. Having someone like that who is your leader to represent your program the right way is extraordinary,” director of athletics Ian McCaw said. “We have been blessed with Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence and now Bryce. No one compares to the type of role model and leader that he is to the football program and the entire university.”
Without Petty, winning back-to-back Big 12 titles could not have happened. The timing of his final two years on campus benefited the program, and it allowed him to make the most of his two years.
“When I think about it, if [Briles] doesn’t put Nick Florence in, Nick redshirts and I don’t play last year,” Petty said.
“God has a plan in everything. There’s a reason that I didn’t play that game. I knew all along I just had to sit and wait my turn, and it worked out for the best.”