Baylor coach Matt Rhule shocked a lot of people when he signed a 27-player recruiting class in February after all the fallout from the sexual assault scandal.
Many observers questioned if he could pull together a solid class since the Bears had just one commitment – Stafford defensive back Jalen Pitre – when Rhule became Baylor’s coach in December.
Rhule and his staff not only found much needed recruits at positions across the board, the class is highly regarded since it’s ranked No. 32 nationally by Rivals.com.
Four of those recruits graduated from high school early to enroll at Baylor in January including Pitre, Lake Travis quarterback Charlie Brewer, Abilene running back Abram Smith and Cypress Ranch wide receiver R.J. Sneed.
“They should be at the prom right now,” Rhule said. “They should be sitting in home room right now. They are really mentally and physically light years ahead of where you would think a kid in that time frame would be. I think the biggest thing is those are really high-character kids.”
With three transfers coming in at midterm – former Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon, former Texas A&M defensive lineman James Lockhart and former UCF offensive lineman Christian Beard – Baylor’s roster has received a significant boost from its new enrollees.
With sophomore Zach Smith returning and Solomon immediately eligible as a graduate transfer, Brewer clearly doesn’t have the experience of the quarterbacks he’s competing against.
But he’s talented and confident. He completed an unbelievable high school career last fall as he led Lake Travis to the Class 6A Division I championship by completing a national record 77.4 percent of his passes for 3,908 yards and 54 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He also rushed for 746 yards and nine touchdowns to earn Associated Press Texas player of the year.
During his high school career, Brewer threw for 8,343 yards and 107 touchdowns in three years. Through the first few weeks of spring drills, Brewer has already given the Baylor coaches some hints why he had such a special high school career.
“Yeah, he doesn’t throw a lot of incomplete passes,” Rhule said. “And he knows where to go with the football. He’s got a niftiness to get outside the pocket.”
Sneed was a top 200 national recruit who could make a quick impact in Baylor’s receiving corps. At 6-2 and 185 pounds, Sneed possesses good size and speed and doesn’t looked overmatched against the veterans in camp.
“I just came in since Day One with my head down and made sure I can do what I can do best on the field,” Sneed said. “I can only control what I can control with my effort and let everything else take care of itself. I think it helped me a lot coming in early and having the same chance as everyone else.”
Sneed believes he has an advantage by getting in on the ground floor with Baylor’s new offensive system. The Bears will combine elements of the spread offense with a pro-style attack.
“We all came in not knowing anything at all, so it’s an even race,” Sneed said. “So if you learn it faster and you can process it faster, you can get on the field faster. If I don’t understand something I always ask coach, but I’m picking it up pretty good.”
Though Sneed would be completing his last semester at Cypress Ranch, he hasn’t gotten too homesick yet by starting at Baylor early.
“I’m only two hours from home which is not so bad at all,” Sneed said. “If I ever get homesick I can go home. But the transition is pretty good. I feel like it’s going easier than I thought.”
Pitre quickly became a fan favorite since he was the only Baylor recruit who stuck to his commitment after Art Briles was fired last May. He was Baylor’s lone commitment for many months before Rhule and his staff started hitting the recruiting trail in December.
After playing defensive back at Stafford, Pitre has already impressed the Baylor defensive coaches with his move to linebacker.
“The kid who came in at midyear, Pitre, is practicing as hard and as well as anybody out there,” said Baylor linebackers coach Mike Siravo. “So I’m really excited about that.”
Though Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty return in the backfield, Smith is a welcome addition after rushing for a school-record 4,955 yards during his Abilene High School career.
“Abram is a big, strong, fast runner — a home-run hitter,” Rhule said. “He has great growth potential to be an all-purpose downhill runner. He’s punishing, bruising and has the ability to break long runs.”
Among the three midterm transfers, Solomon is the only one who will be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer from Arizona. Both Beard and Lockhart will have to sit out under NCAA transfer rules.
Solomon brings a great deal of experience at quarterback after passing for 6,922 yards, 49 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in his three-year career at Arizona. His 2016 season was derailed by a knee injury.
While Smith might have the edge at quarterback after starting the last four games in 2016 following Seth Russell’s ankle injury, Solomon has more experience and has adjusted well to Baylor’s offensive system.
“It’s a lot similar to my high school offense, some pro style, some spread,” Solomon said. “It’s a lot different than what we ran at Arizona. It’s all spread where I’m a threat every play whereas in this offense I’m a threat on some plays. The concepts are pretty easy.”
Some people questioned why Solomon transferred to Baylor with all the issues the program has faced. But he sees his transfer as a new opportunity.
“Why not?” Solomon said. “Baylor is known for its football excellence and all sports really. You look at the basketball teams. Academic excellence, I’m part of the grad school here. The transition from Arizona to Baylor academically is very hard.”
BEAR FACTS – Rhule said numerous players are out of spring drills with unspecified injuries including linebacker Taylor Young, offensive lineman Josh Pelzel, running back Terence Williams, receiver Blake Lynch, cornerback Grayland Arnold and defensive ends Jamie Jacobs and Greg Roberts. However he expects most of them will be ready to play in the fall
“Some of those guys if it was in the season they could continue to play,” Rhule said. “The smart thing is to get guys healthy right now.”
Baylor invited former letter winners to Saturday’s practice. Among the ex-players returning to practice were All-American receiver Lawrence Elkins, quarterback Don Trull, defensive end Santana Dotson and safety Thomas Everett.
“At the end of the day, it’s great for our players to see the players who came before them, all the guys who played 60 years ago to last year. They stand on their shoulders, and all these beautiful, wonderful facilities and things we have are because of the people that came before you and the sacrifices and the work they made.”
Former Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd visited Baylor’s practice Saturday, and is one of the schools he’s considering as a transfer possibility. Hurd, who rushed for 1,215 yards as a sophomore in 2015 before an injury plagued junior year, reportedly wants to play receiver. He’ll have to sit out next season under NCAA transfer rules and will have one year of eligibility remaining.