Most people consider Baylor’s epic rally from a 21-point deficit to pull off a 61-58 win over TCU in 2014 as the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in school history.
The Bears are in the final stages of the off-the-field equivalent of that comeback by nailing down 20 verbal commitments (and counting) in the 2017 class since Dec. 28.
When Baylor hired Matt Rhule from Temple in early December, the football program had just one recruit: Stafford defensive back Jalen Pitre. While many other top-rated recruits bailed, he’s the only Baylor recruit who held to his commitment after Art Briles was fired last May.
But beginning with Houston Lamar safety Trevon Lewis’ commitment on Dec. 28, the Bears have arguably made the greatest one-month haul in school history heading into Wednesday’s Feb. 1 national signing day.
Now with 21 commitments, the Bears have gone from a nearly non-existent class to No. 33 nationally in the latest Rivals.com recruiting rankings.
After getting hit by one negative story after another amid the sexual assault scandal that led to Briles’ firing, Rhule and his staff have proven that Baylor is still an attractive school for recruits.
The hits kept coming on Friday when a new lawsuit claimed 31 Baylor football players were involved in rapes during Briles’ tenure. But 2017 Baylor recruit Gavin Holmes, a receiver for Justin Northwest, said it’s a new day for Rhule and his program.
“The old staff was fired for a reason and the new staff was brought in for a reason,” Holmes said on his Twitter account. “Those players and coaches who were involved are long gone, not one player or coach who was involved are still affiliated with Baylor football, and the new coaches and current players are working to give Baylor football a whole new name and face.
“I still believe in this coaching staff and the university itself, and I know the 2017 class believes as well, or else we wouldn’t have chosen to partake and be a part of this program. Change is coming.”
During his introductory press conference, Rhule didn’t seem concerned that he could put together a solid recruiting class less than two months from signing day, and now he’s proven it.
Alief Taylor offensive lineman Eleasah Anderson summed up a lot of the new recruits’ feelings when he committed on Jan. 15 along with three other players after a big on-campus recruiting weekend.
“Coach Rhule is a very serious guy who wants to win,” Anderson said. “He’s a man of his word. I like the academics, the environment and the football program. It was awesome having my future teammates there and hanging out with them and having a great time.”
While many of the top rated high school recruits were already committed to other schools, Baylor has managed to put together a solid class by nailing down players who were uncommitted and convincing some other players to flip their commitments.
Baylor’s class appears to be well balanced with one quarterback, one running back, two receivers, four offensive linemen, five defensive linemen, three linebackers, four defensive backs and one listed as an athlete.
According to Rivals.com, Baylor has commitments from two four-star recruits, 17 three-star recruits and two two-star recruits.
Many Baylor fans were getting nervous when Rhule didn’t get a commitment during the three-week period after he became coach. But he was already scoping out recruits, making contacts and putting together a coaching staff that includes three former Texas high school coaches in Shawn Bell, Joey McGuire and David Wetzel.
Lewis announced his commitment a day after the Bears beat Boise State, 31-12, in the Cactus Bowl.
“I just felt like Baylor is my best option,” Lewis said. “I like Coach Rhule’s attitude and that they’re ready to jump on board.”
Three days later, the Bears picked up two more commitments from Austin Lake Travis quarterback Charlie Brewer and College Station defensive back Timarcus Davis. Landing Brewer was big since he flipped his commitment from SMU and is a well-known recruit from one of the state’s top programs.
The Bears kept building as they got a commitment from Round Rock defensive end James Lynch on Jan. 4 and Abilene running back Abram Smith on Jan. 5. During his high school career, Smith rushed for 4,373 yards and 60 touchdowns and caught 29 passes for 341 yards and three scores.
Jan. 7 was another notable day as the Bears nailed down commitments from four-star cornerback Harrison Hand from Cherry Hill, N.J., and three-star receiver R.J. Sneed from Cypress Ranch. Rhule and defensive backs coach Francis Brown had recruited Hand at Temple University, and convinced him to come to Baylor.
“I know I’ll fit in over there and Coach Rhule and Coach Fran (Brown), they’re just family to me,” Hand told the Courier-Post of South Jersey. “They’ve got my back and are going to do all they can to make me a better player. We connect. Fran and Coach Rhule, they’re great people.”
But Rhule and his staff were still well behind the 8-ball as they entered the second week of January with just eight commitments. But after two big on-campus recruiting weekends, the Bears made up ground by hauling in 12 players during an eight-day span.
On Jan. 15, Baylor got four commitments, including Henderson wide receiver Trestan Ebner and three offensive linemen: DeSoto’s Xavier Newman, Alief Taylor’s Eleasah Anderson and Frisco Independence’s Jason Moore.
Three days later, the Bears picked up commitments from Temple High School linebacker Ashton Logan and La Porte linebacker Terrel Bernard. Logan had previously been committed to Arizona State and Bernard to Houston.
Last Sunday, the Bears made a monumental six-player haul by getting commitments from Holmes, Pennsville (N.J.) Memorial defensive end Rob Saulin, Mansfield Lake Ridge linebacker Bryson Jackson, Allen defensive lineman Cole Maxwell, Alpine (Ala.) Winterboro lineman Khalil Keith, and Southlake Carroll offensive lineman Henry Klinge.
Holmes had offers from such schools as Notre Dame, Arizona State and UCLA. Jackson flipped his commitment from Minnesota while Saulin has previously been committed to Temple.
Finally, Baylor landed its 21st commitment of the 2017 class when Langham Creek defensive end Chidi Ogbonnaya announced his decision on Twitter on Thursday.
Now closing in on Wednesday’s signing day, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Rhule adds a few more players at the last minute. A class that was almost barren a month ago has undergone a remarkable transformation and should go a long way toward building Rhule’s program for the future.