Iowa St. Baylor Football

Baylor linebacker Taylor Young walks the sidelines against Iowa State after being injured.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson

The last place Taylor Young wanted to finish out Senior Day was standing on the sideline, slumped over a pair of crutches.

No doubt Mo Porter wished his final game at McLane Stadium would have lasted longer. K.J. Smith, Baylor’s lone preseason All-Big 12 honoree, is a rather competitive fellow. He certainly hoped to play a lot more than one game this season.

And those are just the seniors.

Those of you traditionalists who cringe whenever Baylor wears those dreary-sky gray jerseys or black-on-black uniforms or shiny chrome lids should know that, this year, the school’s official colors are not actually green and gold.

They’re black and blue. This season should have been sponsored by Extra Strength Tylenol, because the Bears have required lots of pain relief.

Can you ever remember a football season where a team suffered as many injuries as Baylor? It’s absolutely incomprehensible.

A week ago, Baylor coach Matt Rhule labeled it as “two to three years” worth of injuries. And he wasn’t being hyperbolic. Entering Saturday’s home finale against Iowa State, 30 Baylor players had combined to miss 111 games worth of action over the course of the season.

And after Saturday, the training room will become even more crowded, thanks to the latest casualties like Porter and Young.

“Some of the lessons that we’re learning as a football program, I think the way so many of those guys have held this team together through injuries and adversity, we’ll get good fast, and we’ll improve quickly,” Rhule said.

That comment struck me as interesting, because I was already wondering about what lessons could be taken from the physical pounding Baylor has taken. So, I asked Rhule – what do you get out of the injuries? Nobody likes them, obviously, but are there any positive developments as the team inches closer to the offseason?

“Injuries, number one, they’re never good, but you do build depth,” said Rhule, ever the pragmatist. “Like Lenoy (Jones) was the third-team mike (middle linebacker) four games ago. He was running down a kickoff and then he was the starting mike today.

“As we move into next season, Lenoy has played, and he’s made good plays and made bad plays. He’ll continue to move forward. We also recognize that we’re just not a big and strong enough team yet, so there’s a lot of growth and development that has to happen.”

You know that TV commercial that says that everything sounds better when the R&B group Boyz II Men sings it? Even indigestion and gassiness?

Well, it doesn’t work the same way on the football field. Boys and Men don’t harmonize that well, not when you’re playing Boys and the other teams are fielding Men.

In fact, it really just leads to more injuries. There’s a reason why college football coaches like to redshirt most of their freshmen. It’s because they need a year to beef up. The Freshman Fifteen isn’t a sin over in the football offices, it’s a goal.

“I’m not saying all the injuries are a result of being young and not being strong enough, but some of them are,” Rhule said.

The Bears will get bigger and stronger. That just takes time. More time in the weight room, more time cashing in on the grub at the BANC (the Beauchamp Athletic Nutrition Center) will guarantee that.

You just wonder if they’ll be able to overcome the mental anguish of the aches and pains, the bumps and bruises. When a football player’s confidence is broken, it requires a longer healing period than any other ailment.

“Coach (Joe) Paterno used to always say better a play too late than a play too early,” Rhule said. “His whole point was that if you played a kid too early, it could ruin him. It could beat him up.”

The most popular game show among sports fans is called What If. It transcends every sport, every game. What if Tony Conigliaro doesn’t take a fastball to the face? What if Bo Jackson dodges that tackler against the Bengals and his hip stays intact? What if Penny Hardaway had two good knees?

Baylor fans could play the What If game from now until the Second Coming, and they’d never run out of topics for the 2017 season. What if Chris Platt stays on the field? How does his presence help stretch the field and create opportunities for Denzel Mims and others? What if Anu Solomon doesn’t suffer concussion problems, or if Zach Smith has a fully functional shoulder? Does that mean Charlie Brewer gets to redshirt and learn by watching rather than learn his lessons the hard way?

But there are no easy answers when you play What If. Alex Trebek isn’t walking through that door, friends. One question simply builds on another.

Rhule promises that Baylor will be good again. He believes it in his core. Every Baylor player I’ve talked to this season, even as the losses have mounted, say they still believe it, too.

For now, if you’re a Bear, it just hurts.