If the occasion fits, Baylor will stroll out with platinum gold helmets and blinding shoes that sprinter Usain Bolt would be proud to wear.
The Bears have dressed Darth Vader-style covered in black to heighten the intimidation factor. Want a classic look? Those 1950 throwback uniforms fit the bill when the Bears closed down Floyd Casey Stadium.
The Bears come dressed to kill and armed to win.
With the nation’s most explosive offense, the Bears have dynamited scoreboards wherever they’ve gone. Want 70 points? The Bears did that four times this year, and could have hung a hundred a couple of times.
Baylor’s once-maligned defense has become a force, ranking in the top 20 nationally and sometimes taking a cue from Bryce Petty and company by scoring touchdowns on its own.
It’s all added up to Baylor’s first Big 12 championship, a school-best 11-1 record, and the team’s first BCS bowl appearance with a New Year’s Day date against Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Once the Big 12 doormat, Art Briles’ Bears have become a nationally prominent program that’s geared for future success. Recruits don’t need a Google map to find Baylor any more.
“We’re the hip team right now,” Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey said. “It’s a cool place to be. Coach Briles has a little different style than everybody else — he has a swagger aspect. He brings that to the team and we feed off it and he’s a great leader. We’re seen in the public eye now and everybody knows who Baylor is, and it shows how much the program has grown.”
When the Bears hit University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., it will be their fourth straight bowl appearance following dates in the 2010 Texas Bowl, the 2011 Alamo Bowl and the 2012 Holiday Bowl. Baylor’s 36-15 record over the past four seasons is the best in Texas among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
“It’s very great, and it’s something we’ve gotten used to around here,” Baylor senior safety Ahmad Dixon said. “The bar is so high. Coach Briles did a great job getting guys here.”
While reaching a BCS bowl and earning the No. 6 ranking in the country have been a major breakthrough, the Bears want to remain on this lofty perch. As college football enters next year’s playoff system, they want to be a perennial contender in the national championship picture.
“We want Baylor to be talked about like Alabama,” Petty said. “It’s a vision that we wanted to be respected. It starts from the head guy. I don’t think Coach Briles has ever been relaxed in his life. He’s always got a chip on his shoulder and that trickles down to his players.”
No one heard Baylor players talking about BCS bowls and Big 12 championships when Briles arrived six years ago following a successful five-year stint at the University of Houston.
After 12 straight losing Big 12 seasons — most of them in the cellar — Briles just wanted to convince recruits that they could win at Baylor someday if they believed in his plan.
It wasn’t an easy sell, but by his third season he produced Baylor’s first bowl team in 15 years. Then he produced Baylor’s first Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2011. Now, he’s produced the Bears’ first Big 12 championship team.
“We looked for people who wanted to go down a path that they’ve never been down,” Briles said. “You could sense that in their personalities, and we’ve got a bunch of those on this team. (Now) we’re a commodity people want to be a part of. Baylor is a good thing. It’s an easy sell right now.”
Briles and his coaching staff scoured highways and backroads across Texas and other states and countries to find players who fit their system. The Bears won some recruiting battles over major rivals like Texas and Oklahoma. But many players who were overlooked out of high school developed into all-Big 12 caliber players under Briles.
“We came here when not a lot of people would come to Baylor,” fifth-year senior running back Glasco Martin said. “Honestly, it took me a while to buy into the program. But once I saw how determined the coaching staff was, I bought into it. We’ve sacrifice a lot of time, blood and sweat, and to see it come to fruition is really a blessing.”
Here are the journeys of six Baylor all-Big 12 players, and how they became key figures on this year’s conference championship team:
As a kid growing up in Arkansas, Bryce Petty loved SEC football.
Petty wasn’t highly recruited after transferring to Midlothian, so when Tennessee offered him a scholarship in June 2008, he jumped at the chance. But after Volunteers coach Philip Fulmer resigned in November of that year, Petty’s future was up in the air.
Tennessee officials said they would honor Petty’s scholarship offer, but new Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin didn’t show much interest in him. Petty decided to re-open his recruitment.
“When I committed to Coach Fulmer, he signed an extension, so I was sitting pretty,” Petty said. “Then they fired him. They said I could still have my scholarship, but you never want to go into a situation where you feel it’s obligated or a pity thing.”
Petty had never paid much attention to Baylor, which had just completed its 13th straight losing season. But when Briles and offensive assistant Philip Montgomery gave him a call, he listened. Beginning his second year as Baylor’s coach, Briles already had a great young quarterback named Robert Griffin III, but he wanted to stock up for the future.
“I went to Coach Briles’ office, and he told me, ‘I’m not looking for a quarterback until 2012,’ ” Petty said. “He had such a vision of where he saw the program, and he was honest. I had a good feel for Coach Briles because he was down to earth and a players’ coach.”
Learning behind Griffin and Nick Florence, Petty had to wait four years before he got his shot. But it has paid off. With Petty passing for 3,840 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushing for 11 more scores, he earned Big 12 offensive player of the year while leading the Bears to their first Big 12 championship.
“God has a very funny way of planning our story better than we could,” Petty said. “If it had been my way, I would have been playing as a freshman. For us to have the team we have, I couldn’t have written it better myself. We’ve had a lot of memories and high points this season, and the best part is that it isn’t over.”
When Ahmad Dixon signed with Baylor in February 2010, a beaming Art Briles phrased it, “From Waco with love.”
Briles knew just how important it was to sign Dixon, a SuperPrep All-American safety from Midway. Not only did Baylor show it could compete for recruits against major schools like Texas, Dixon was Briles’ first major Waco-area signee.
Dixon had grown up a big Longhorns’ fan and originally committed to them over many suitors.
“I was just like any other kid, I was a UT fan,” Dixon said. “I always liked Cedric Benson and Vince Young and I followed (former Waco High star) Derrick Johnson. When I was first offered at UT, I went for it.”
But the Baylor coaches persisted and eventually Dixon changed his mind. Though Dixon had never been a Baylor fan as a kid, he believed in Briles’ vision for the program.
“I talked to Robert (Griffin) and he informed me of the type of guy Coach Briles was, and what he wanted to do for Baylor,” Dixon said. “Being from Waco, I knew it would mean a lot to the community for me to stay here and to help Baylor get off to a good start. Why leave when you’re already loved here? Why not stay at home and play?”
Dixon began contributing as a true freshman in 2010 and made several All-America teams this season. While Texas hasn’t reached its past glory in the last four seasons, Dixon is part of the first class in Baylor history to play in four straight bowls.
When Chris McAllister signed with Baylor in 2009, most of his teammates from powerful Converse Judson scratched their heads and asked why.
The highly recruited linebacker had offers from Big 12 schools Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Missouri, but he came away with a good feeling after talking to Briles.
“It wasn’t popular to come to Baylor,” McAllister said. “They weren’t winning. But I chose Baylor because it gave me a different level of comfort than other schools. I trusted in Coach Briles. It shows what you can do if you have a vision, and you have that vision together.”
After playing middle linebacker for two seasons at Baylor, McAllister switched to defensive end after Phil Bennett took over as defensive coordinator in January 2011. It didn’t take McAllister long to find out who was the boss.
“We were told we have a new defensive coordinator who was going to meet everybody individually,” McAllister said. “I walked into his office and sat down, and he told me he was moving me to defensive end — before he introduced himself.”
The move has benefited both McAllister and Baylor as he has started the last two seasons and made first-team all-Big 12 this year. He was named defensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl last season and has led the Bears with six sacks each of the last two seasons.
It’s hard to overlook an offensive lineman as big as 6-5, 340-pound Cyril Richardson, but most major colleges did.
Richardson grew up in New Orleans but was forced to move when Hurricane Katrina destroyed his family’s home. They ended up in the Metroplex but Richardson was way behind in his development as a football player as a junior at North Crowley High School in 2007.
“When he came to us, he was a lot bigger than most kids he played against,” said former North Crowley coach Mike Papas. “But skill-wise, he was behind the learning curve. He hadn’t had a chance to develop his skills because of all the moving around his family had done. But he was a quick learner and was so physically dominant that there was no doubt that he was going to be a terrific football player who had the potential to be a college player.”
Starting at right tackle, Richardson developed into an all-district player but didn’t get much attention from colleges. The Baylor coaches were impressed enough by Richardson’s massive size and potential that they offered him a scholarship.
“He was displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and that probably set his development back a little bit,” offensive line coach Randy Clements said. “But a kid with his ability is going to show up on film sooner or later. It was a terrible event that happened, but in some ways it turned out to be a positive for him because it got him to Texas into a good program and got him where he could move on to the next level.”
Richardson has become one of the best offensive linemen in Baylor history, making All-America the last two seasons as a left guard. The Outland Trophy finalist is projected to be a first-round pick in April’s NFL draft.
Lache Seastrunk had visions of playing in the nation’s highest scoring offense when he signed out of Temple in 2010.
That goal has come to fruition. Only it’s at Baylor, not Oregon.
As a blue chip high school All-American, Seastrunk had dreams of starring for Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense. But after redshirting as a freshman, he found himself buried on the depth chart in 2011. He was also dogged by the NCAA’s investigation of talent scout Willie Lyles allegedly steering players to Oregon.
Seastrunk decided to transfer to Baylor for a fresh start in the summer of 2011 and to be closer to his grandparents. Mary Seastrunk was suffering from liver cancer while grandfather John Harris had emphysema.
“God wanted me to have time with my family,” Seastrunk said. “I called my mom and she said we can’t lose you twice.”
After playing sparingly the first half of last season, Seastrunk came on strong and finished with 1,012 yards. With 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, Seastrunk made all-Big 12 and became the first player in school history with two 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Major colleges weren’t banging down linebacker Eddie Lackey’s door as a senior at Vista Murrieta.
So he ended up at Northwood University, a Division II school in Midland, Mich. But after one season, Lackey transferred to Riverside Community College near his hometown in Southern California in hopes of getting a look from Division I schools.
Needing immediate help at outside linebacker last season, Bennett and his staff began looking at some junior college prospects.
“We had six kids and we knew we had to get fast at that position,” Bennett said. “I made everybody write down who they wanted. Everybody picked Eddie because of his ability to run, cover and blitz.”
When Lackey heard Baylor was interested in him, he needed to do some quick cramming.
“I didn’t know where Baylor was to be honest,” Lackey said. “I had to look it up on my phone. I saw it was in Waco, Texas, and I saw what the city and the school looked like. But I came out here and fell in love with all the facilities, the coaches, the people. They totally sold me on it and I committed right away.”
Bennett’s hunch paid off as Lackey has made all-Big 12 in both of his seasons for the Bears. He’s proven to have a knack for the big play with three interception returns for touchdowns in the last two seasons.
One thing all the veteran players on the Baylor roster have in common is that they took a chance on a program that hadn’t produced much success before Briles arrived. But their belief has paid off and now they’re part of a Big 12 championship team that will play in a BCS bowl for the first time in school history.
BUILDING THE BEARS
A breakdown of Baylor’s starting Big 12 championship team: Where they came from and the impact they’ve made.
|Class of 2009|
|Pos||Player||High school||Rivals rating||Notable|
|QB||Bryce Petty||Midlothian||***||Big 12 offensive player of the year|
|WR||Tevin Reese||Temple||**||Third in BU history with 182 catches|
|LT||Kelvin Palmer||Dallas Adamson||***||Moved into starting lineup|
|LG||Cyril Richardson||North Crowley||***||Consensus All-American, Outland finalist|
|C||Stefan Huber||Nederland||***||Starting center this season|
|RB||Glasco Martin||R.R. Stony Point||****||5th in BU history with 24 rushing TDs|
|DE||Terrance Lloyd||Hou. Stratford||***||3-year starting defensive end|
|DE||Chris McAllister||S.A. Judson||***||All-Big 12 defensive end|
|K||Aaron Jones||Crowley||N/A||Ex-walk-on all-time BU leading scorer|
|Class of 2010|
|WR||Antwan Goodley||Midland||***||67 catches,1,319 yards|
|IR||Levi Norwood||Midway||***||Dynamic receiver, kick returner|
|RT||Troy Baker||Connally||***||Came back from ACL injury|
|TE||Jordan Najvar||Klein Oak||***||Ex-Cardinal versatile blocker, receiver|
|LB||Bryce Hager||Austin Westlake||**||Two-time All-Big 12 linebacker|
|NB||Sam Holl||Katy||***||Three-year starter in secondary|
|S||Ahmad Dixon||Midway||****||All-American safety|
|Class of 2011|
|RG||Desmine Hilliard||Dallas Lincoln||**||Moved into starting lineup this year|
|LT||Spencer Drango||Cedar Park||****||All-Big 12 tackle despite back injury|
|RB||Lache Seastrunk||Temple||*****||BU’s first two-time 1,000-yard rusher|
|DT||Beau Blackshear||Midway||***||Third-year sophomore makes impact|
|DT||Suleiman Masumbuko||Euless Trinity||***||Powerful force in middle|
|CB||K.J. Morton||War. Rob. N’side||**||Juco transfer 3-year starter|
|CB||Demetri Goodson||Spring Collins||N/A||Former Gonzaga basketball player|
|P||Spencer Roth||Knoxville Cath.||**||Leading Big 12 in punting|
|Class of 2012|
|LB||Eddie Lackey||Vista Murrieta||***||Juco transfer two-time all-Big 12 LB|
|S||Terrell Burt||Wylie||***||Youngest starter in secondary|