RG3, new BU head coach team up to raise money for veterans

(Photo courtesy of Sheena Geeslin)
(Photo courtesy of Sheena Geeslin)(KWTX)
Published: Apr. 24, 2017 at 12:03 PM CDT
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Baylor Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and Baylor’s new head football coach, Matt Rhule, joined forces Saturday night to raise money for local veterans in need and their families

The Robert Griffin III Foundation, a non-profit that Griffin started to help veterans and families in need, hosted the invitation-only fundraiser at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco. News 10 anchor Julie Hays served as emcee of the event.

"This dinner is really about bringing the community together and learning about what the foundation is doing," Griffin III said.

The foundation's executive director, Will Mallow, said he is thankful the community came together this weekend to help veterans in need and said because of the event's success, more veterans will get a helping hand.

"We will soon be able to celebrate many more veterans that we've been able to help thanks to the generosity of the crowd," Mallow said.

"It was a great success."

The work of the foundation includes helping several local veterans like Jack Soto, a Marine Corps veteran and Marlin resident, whose home was upgraded by Griffin's foundation to be more wheelchair accessible.

Soto was left paralyzed by a construction accident in 1989.

The foundation also paid for a new roof for Soto’s home after finding out that his had been leaking for years.

"I've always been a giver but I could not turn down my blessings," Soto said. "And this foundation has done unbelievable things for me."

Griffin surprised Soto with a new $50,000 motorized wheelchair, the "Cadillac of wheelchairs," it was called, to replace the standard wheelchair Soto has used for decades.

The wheelchair was given on behalf of the foundation, PVA, Parmobil and Operation Triage.

Soto was moved to tears.

"I don't know what to say," he told the crowd through tears. "Thank you."

Also in attendance was Vietnam veteran Bill Graham, a Central Texan whose home was renovated in a cooperative effort between Griffin's foundation and Waco's famous "Fixer Upper" couple Chip and Joanna Gaines.

Graham's wife, Sherry, was part of the episode's taping while the work was underway, but died after a battle with cancer before the show aired.

The crowd was again moved to tears, and that included Rhule, who spent a few minutes wiping away tears before appearing on stage.

“After hearing from Mr. Soto and Mr. Graham I was so emotional and I felt so strongly that Robert and his foundation are doing beautiful work for people who need it and I was humbled to be able to have any small part in it,” Rhule said.

“Rob is one of the great Baylor football players of all time, with his athletic ability only outpaced by his heart to help people."

It was the first time the newly hired coach and Baylor's only Heisman Trophy winner had ever met, although Rhule told the crowd his son was a huge RG3 long before Baylor was ever on Rhule’s radar.

Rhule also joked that he was a coach with the Giants in the NFL in 2012, when the Giants played, unsuccessfully, against the young rookie.

"Yeah we went 0-2 against him," Rhule said, laughing.

"Thanks for reminding me."

For Griffin, who was released in early May from the Cleveland Browns and is currently training in hopes of being picked up by another NFL team, the fundraiser was a chance to come back to the place he calls home.

"This is home," Griffin III told KWTX.

"Obviously, campus looks a lot different than when I went to school here. That shows growth. Just to see how much of an impact Baylor has nationwide now is really special to me."