GASTON, Ore. — Bryce Petty is coming off one of the most spectacular debut seasons any first-time starter could ever have in major college football. The Baylor quarterback produced a sterling 32-3 TD-INT ratio while leading the Bears to their first Big 12 title and a BCS bowl in 2013.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior will enter the 2014 season as a legit Heisman Trophy contender, but even if he does win the stiff-arm statue this year, he still probably won’t have won a more significant honor than the one he received late Saturday night in the woods about an hour outside of Portland.
Petty, along with five other standout college QBs and 19 touted high school quarterbacks, were bussed up to Hagg Lake State Park for what would prove to be a grueling six-and-a-half hour training session as part of this year’s week-long Elite 11 event. The challenge coordinated by former NFL QB Trent Dilfer brought in Team Red White & Blue, a nonprofit organization of elite military personnel, whose primary mission is to connect veterans to their community.
Team RWB also sets up a series of mentally and physically taxing experiences to foster teamwork and leadership that ranged from "Mission: Bunker Builder" — where teams of five had to fill and then load up 100 50-pound sand bags, run them 75 yards up a hill and literally build a bunker — to having the same five-man teams maneuver in and out of the lake without oars in a race against the other teams.
It didn’t take long to see Petty shining, as the hulking Baylor QB hustled up the hill, back-and-forth, for more than 30 minutes straight toting hefty sand bags in each arm or slinging them over his shoulders, while all the other quarterbacks labored. Petty’s team easily won the event.
"We had a lot of heart," Jarrett Stidham, a Texas high school QB bound for Texas Tech, said of Petty. "Bryce was our ox. Having him really helped. He was such a big-time leader. He had such a positive attitude from the whole thing."
At the end of the night, Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Burnett, one of the most decorated men who has ever served in the U.S. military, approached Petty and said, "I don’t easily get impressed, but I’d go to war with you," before handing the quarterback his hat as a sign of his respect.
Burnett, a lifelong Ohio State fan, even admitted if Baylor ended up facing the Buckeyes in the college football playoff, he’d end up rooting for the Bears. "I have become a big Bryce Petty fan."
Said Petty, "I’ve gotten some compliments in my life, and not to say that sounding arrogant, but I have to say that was probably the best compliment I’ve ever gotten."
"You’re talking about a guy who has been an Army Ranger for 29 years and here he was saying with complete and utter conviction that he would go to war with you if you ever needed to. That is something I will always remember. It’s like they always say out here: There’s a lot of things you can’t control, but you can always control your effort. I pride myself on being able to get through things and push through things, so to hear something like that from a man like him is very special. The hat is such an honor in itself."
Petty says when he returns to Texas, he is going to put the hat up in his home because it holds such a special meaning to him.
"It was pretty physically taxing for all of us," he said. "You see that hat, and you remember, ‘OK, I’ve been through worse. Been through tougher times and got through it.’ And that’s what that thing is about. It’s a symbol, and it’s motivation, really."
Petty’s grit and resolve, coupled with his brute strength and athleticism, are a big reason why he’s high up on this year’s Freaks list. Of all the head-turning stats that factor into what makes the Baylor star so special — the 38-inch vertical, the 10-foot, 5.5-inch broad jump, the more than 10-1 TD-INT mark — there’s a different number Petty clings to.
That’s the number of days in between his last high school start and his first college start, and it underscores his determination.
"I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder," he said. "Always. Coming out here (to the Elite 11) I want to be the best. I think I can carry that through my workouts. I want to go through that and be great at it. There’s not a whole lot going through my mind other than, ‘We’ve got to get this done.’ That’s what I’d like to carry over to Baylor, so when it’s the fourth quarter and (my teammates) are looking at me, it’s, ‘Hey, I got you. I know you got me, and I’ve got you.’
Asked where the chip comes from, Petty said it has grown from a lot of places.
"I think it comes from not being recruited as highly as I wanted to. I think it comes from having to wait when I knew that I was just as good if not better. I think it comes from doubts, of hearing people saying, ‘I don’t think you can do this,’ or ‘I don’t think he can do that.’ It’s just built up. For me personally, when I wake up every morning, it’s right here (in his head). I have to prove I am the best every day."
Petty carried his team to a win Saturday night. It’s something Bears fans have gotten used to.