signing pic

Offensive tackle Ylijaah Hall (left) signs his letter of intent to play at Baylor with his family Wednesday afternoon in Bryan.

The Eagle — Dave McDermand/

As the losses mounted in Matt Rhule’s 1-11 debut season, Baylor’s 2018 verbal commitments could have easily been tempted to bolt to more successful football programs.

Most of them were recruited by multiple Power 5 conference schools, so the door was open. But they stuck with Baylor, and on Wednesday their perseverance paid off as Rhule signed a consensus top 25 class on the first day of the new NCAA early signing period.

Baylor signed 20 of its 23 commitments with the traditional Feb. 7 NCAA signing date still ahead. Baylor’s class is ranked No. 15 nationally by ESPN, No. 22 by 247Sports and No. 23 by Rivals.com.

“I’m not shocked but I’m excited that we had the record we had and no one decommitted from us,” Rhule said. “They stood firm. And that’s not without people battering against them, hey, come here, come there. But in the end, these guys are going to do something special. They’re going to be part of this remarkable turnaround, just like all the other guys on our team.”

Topping off the class was four-star dual-threat quarterback Gerry Bohanon’s big commitment on Tuesday afternoon. Bohanon enjoyed a remarkable career at Earle (Ark.) High School, amassing 11,362 yards passing and 142 touchdowns while rushing for 5,925 yards and 70 scores.

The two-time all-state quarterback was rated the No. 1 overall recruit in Arkansas by 247Sports, and was recruited heavily by SEC schools before he narrowed his choices to Baylor, Arkansas, Louisville, Memphis and Indiana.

Baylor badly needed a quarterback since freshman Charlie Brewer is the only scholarship quarterback on the roster after sophomore Zach Smith announced that he is transferring. Bohanon is graduating from high school early and will enroll at Baylor in January to begin competing for the starting quarterback job.

“I think he was sort of a unifying force,” Rhule said. “It’s just kind of who Gerry is. It’s his personality. When you go to Earle, Arkansas, and you walk through the school, you can tell he is a person who lives his life trying to be there for other people, so the whole community is behind him. I think he’ll have that same effect on this recruiting class and hopefully on this team.”

Rhule said he isn’t certain if Baylor will sign another scholarship quarterback before next season, but said he has confidence in walk-on sophomore quarterback Preston Heard.

“I probably don’t have the greatest of plans in terms of moving forward yet,” Rhule said. “But it’s kind of we’ll see what happens, to be honest. But I love the fact that when Gerry came on his visit, Charlie was there to help in any way that he could. And that Gerry knows Charlie played last year. Because what I want is unbelievably competitive quarterbacks.”

Bohanon is among six 2018 signees who will enroll in January, joining Arlington Oakridge School tight end Christoph Henle, Porter safety Christian Morgan, Franklin offensive lineman Casey Phillips, Miami (Fla.) Washington receiver Tyquan Thornton and Cibolo Steele safety J.T. Woods.

Four versatile and speedy wide receivers signed with the Bears, including Thornton, Mansfield’s Jackson Gleeson, Silsbee’s Kalon Barnes and Cedar Hill’s Josh Fleeks.

Barnes set a Class 4A record with a time of 10.22 seconds in the 100 meters this year while Thornton has a personal best of 10.5 in the 100 meters. Both will also run track for the Bears.

“When you find guys who are elite speed-wise you hope they can play receiver, and if they don’t have the body control and the hands, then they usually turn themselves into NFL defensive backs,” Rhule said. “We just want to have as fast a team as possible, and these guys are all really fast.”

Thornton had decommitted from Baylor and switched to Florida, but announced Saturday that he would sign with Baylor. The Baylor coaches continued to stay in touch with him even after he decommitted.

“When Tyquan decommitted from us, I still talked to him about life and things that mattered,” Rhule said. “I still talked to him about his family, just not with that same frequency. I think (Baylor defensive backs coach) Francis Brown just did an amazing job there, I think (director for player personnel) Evan Cooper did a tremendous job there, and they just kept that connection going. As situations shook up at other schools, we were sort of already there and we had a relationship.”

Cuero’s Bralen Taylor is one of the top tight end prospects in Texas, and San Antonio Clark’s Ben Sims and Henle are tight ends with solid potential. Henle is a native of Austria, and he sent his signing papers back to Rhule from there on Wednesday morning.

Baylor signed five offensive linemen, including Phillips, Katy’s Connor Galvin, Bryan’s Ylijaah Hall, Southlake Carroll’s Jackson Kimble, and Princeton Pines from Baton Rouge Tara (La.) High School.

“It will allow us to sort of replenish that offensive line group that was decimated upon our arrival,” Rhule said. “To have the guys that were here and last year’s class and this year’s class were really important.”

Baylor didn’t sign any running backs, but Crosby’s Craig Williams is planning to sign Thursday. Two other Baylor commitments, Pasadena Rayburn running back Stanley Hackett and Alief Taylor linebacker Joseph Ogunbanjo, have not signed. Rhule said he could still sign a handful of players for the February signing date.

Baylor loaded up in the secondary with four signees, including cornerbacks Byron Hanspard Jr. and Friendswood Clear Brook’s Mark Milton and safeties Woods and Thornton. Hanspard, the son of former Texas All-America running back Byron Hanspard, was one of Baylor’s final commitments in the last two weeks.

“As I had a chance to sit down with B.J. (Hanspard) and with his father and with his mother and with his two brothers, what a special mature young man,” Rhule said. “It became clear pretty quickly that he was a tremendous fit for what we’re doing. I think one of the things about Coach (Phil) Snow’s defense is you have to really be intelligent and you have to really be mature and you have to really love football and want to study football. And clearly, that’s where B.J. is and that’s who he is.”

Baylor signed some potential impact players on the defensive line in Houston Lamar four-star defensive end Josh Landry and Marshall end Marje Smith. Punter Issac Power from Ponderosa High School in Parker, Colo., is the lone specialist to sign with Baylor.

Baylor failed to reach a bowl game for the first time in eight years, but Rhule and his staff used the time to focus heavily on recruiting. He believes their diligence will pay off in bowl appearances down the road.

“I always prefer being in a bowl game, but I think we were able to focus our resources on this,” Rhule said. “Our whole staff was amazing. We had a lot of relationships with the players already built, and with their families already built. So maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, but hopefully we’ll never have to deal with it again.”

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