In the spring of 2008, Art Briles was preparing for his first season as Baylor’s coach.
Alongside him was a young quarterback who had forgone the final semester of high school to enroll in Baylor and participate in spring drills in an effort to get on the field as early as possible.
That was Robert Griffin III, and to say it worked out for him is an understatement.
Griffin took over as Baylor’s signal-caller early in the opener of the 2008 season and never relinquished the spot, eventually leading the Bears to a 10-win season and winning the school’s first Heisman Trophy in 2011.
Not every football player who enrolls in college early can expect to experience Griffin’s success level, but it can give him a leg up on others in his recruiting class.
“It’s like starting a 100-yard race 10 yards ahead of everybody else,” Briles said. “It’s a head start without question — academically and athletically — just getting associated and familiar with how college lift works and how to manage your time. From a football standpoint, it’s a huge advantage because they get to come in here when everything is a little more relaxed in the spring. It’s more learning time as opposed to the fall where it’s one week to the next, new game plan, new mission, new goal.”
Three new Bears are getting that jump this season, as tight end Jordan Feuerbacher, wide receiver Davion Hall and running back Terence Williams all enrolled in Baylor for the spring semester.
All three of them are enjoying the transition college brings, and they’re learning just how tough the competition is in spring practice.
“I can tell already that I’ve matured as a person, just grown as a person, having to live by myself and not having my mom and dad (there),” Feuerbacher said. “Football wise, not everybody you go up against is good (in high school). Everyone here was the best on their high school team, and they’re some of the best college football players in the nation. That’s the biggest difference from a football standpoint.”
Feuerbacher, a 6-foot-3, 250-pounder from Kingwood Park High School, said he was convinced to graduate high school early the day he committed to Baylor, and finds himself with the best chance to get on the field early of the three in terms of the numbers. The Bears lost two tight ends to graduation and have three on the roster for this season.
Hall comes in as the highest touted of the three, a 6-2, 190-pound, four-star recruit from Liberty-Eylau High School in Texarkana, but he’s out for the spring with a separated AC joint in his shoulder. He thinks it will be fine by the time fall rolls around.
Baylor has produced some top-flight receivers in recent years such as current Bear Antwan Goodley, and NFL standouts Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon and Terrance Williams.
Along with Goodley, the Bears have a wealth of experienced depth with Clay Fuller, Jay Lee and Robbie Rhodes on the roster, so it won’t be easy for Hall to get on the field, and the injury won’t help. Still, he gets the opportunity to see how the program operates on a day-to-day basis.
“I made the decision because I thought it would be the best for me,” Hall said. “I actually get to be able to learn the offense before everyone that’s coming in with my class, and I get a head start on everything. I think it’s going pretty good.”
Not to be confused with former all-American wide receiver Terrance Williams, running back Terence Williams said he waited until early in his senior year at Ennis High School to head to Waco early, but he still had enough credits where he didn’t have any problems finishing school.
A 6-3, 220-pounder, Williams also faces an uphill climb to get carries because of who is in front of him. Shock Linwood and Devin Chapin both gained experience last year and figure to take on a bigger role in the offense this season.
Williams said he’s enjoying the freedom college life presents, while embracing the structure of it.
“We’ve got a lot of freedom, but we also have a lot of people on our backs about our grades, so I like that more than high school,” Williams said. “Back in high school, I didn’t really have anybody making me do my work. So I like this better.”
Briles said he talks to recruits about enrolling early, but he never forces the idea on any of them.
After all, what works for one might not work for another.
“A lot of kids are interested in it, some are not,” Briles said. “Some want to stay and play basketball and run track, and some want to get out early and get to college. If it fits them and they can make it academically where they can get everything accomplished with their high school diploma, then it’s definitely an advantage for them.”