When the Baylor coaches learned Waco High star Andrew Billings was staying home to play college football, the roar from their offices could be heard from one end of the Simpson Center to the other.
Landing the four-star defensive lineman capped the most highly rated recruiting class in Art Briles’ six years at Baylor.
“There was pandemonium,” Briles said. “I felt 40 again.”
Billings was among 19 players who signed with Baylor on Wednesday’s national signing day, bringing the total for the 2013 class to 23. Baylor already signed four players in December who enrolled for the spring semester.
Baylor started gathering commitments in this year’s recruiting class shortly after quarterback Robert Griffin III won the school’s first Heisman Trophy followed by the Bears’ Alamo Bowl win over Washington in December 2011. The momentum continued as the Bears finished the 2012 season with an 8-5 record after beating UCLA in the Holiday Bowl.
“When we came here in we were recruiting with hope and vision,” Briles said. “Now we’re dealing with facts and production. What’s really unmatched is the RG3 factor. All you have to say is 3 to a high school junior, and he’ll know what you’re talking about. The difference in the classes we’re signing now is the quality and depth.”
Baylor’s class features 15 defensive recruits, but isn’t short on offensive talent. Fort Worth Southwest receiver Robbie Rhodes, the No. 2 receiver in the country by Scout.com and 247Sports.com, is the most highly-touted player in the class.
“In my mind, he’s the best wide receiver in America,” Briles said. “I don’t know who can be better than a guy who is that fast and who has such great hands, and plays with that much passion and energy.”
But Briles and his staff clearly focused on bringing in more defensive talent across the board as they signed five defensive linemen, four linebackers and six defensive backs.
“Defensively, we signed some tremendous explosive players who will help us depth wise,” Briles said. “The way we finished the season defensively gave us a lot of energy, and I think this class will increase the production for Coach (Phil) Bennett and his staff.”
With the addition of the 6-1, 308-pound Billings, Baylor not only signed the 12th-rated defensive tackle in the country but also landed the premier Central Texas recruit. That was important to Briles and his staff because he wants to keep the best high school players at home like former Copperas Cove star Robert Griffin and former Midway star Ahmad Dixon.
“It’s a huge signee that I’d put in the same category as RG3 and Ahmad Dixon because of what it means to Central Waco and Baylor,” Briles said. “Andrew is the strongest player in America. He can be an impact player right now. We felt there were three or four defensive linemen in the state who could play next season, and Andrew was one of them.”
Briles’ second most prominent defensive recruit could be former Euless Trinity linebacker Brian Nance who signed with Baylor last year but attended Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy in the fall to get his grades in order. Nance collected 160 tackles and six interceptions as a junior at Euless Trinity before a knee injury cut short his 2011 senior year.
Nance enrolled at Baylor for the spring semester along with Bryan quarterback Chris Johnson, Riverside (Calif.) City College tight end Gus Penning and Carrollton Hebron receiver Kiante’ Griffin.
“Brian took care of business and he’s here now,” Briles said. “He’s extremely gifted and talented, and is a tough kid with good leadership skills.”
Nance is joined at linebacker by West Orange-Stark’s Travon Blanchard, Rockwall-Heath’s Raaquan Davis, Fort Worth All Saints Episcopal School’s Xavier Phillips and DeSoto’s Taylor Young.
Though Young was overlooked by most major colleges because of his 5-9, 215-pound frame, Briles likes the production he brings to the table. He was named Class 5A defensive player of the year after collecting 130 tackles, three interceptions and four sacks as a senior.
“He’s got the measurables we were looking for,” Briles said. “We like the toughness, passion and intensity that he brings as a football player that made him the Class 5A defensive player of the year.”
Besides Billings, Baylor also signed defensive tackles Byron Bonds from Allen High School and Terell Brooks from Navarro College. Hutto’s Tanner Thrift and Frisco Centennial’s K.J. Smith are defensive ends with pass rushing potential. Smith finished with 21 sacks and 22 quarterback hurries as a senior.
“K.J. is an extremely quick-twitch player, a great kid with a great motor and great instincts,” Briles said.
Baylor’s big class of defensive backs includes Kyle Fulks, a cornerback who helped Katy win the Class 5A Division II state title.
Fulks finished second in last year’s state track meet with a time of 10.3 seconds in the 100 meters.
“What can you say? He’s the fastest guy in America,” Briles said.
While Rhodes is certainly Baylor’s top signee at wide receiver, Wylie East’s Quan Jones also possesses tremendous speed and skill. The only running back in the class is Killeen Shoemaker’s Johnny Jefferson, who rushed for 1,597 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior.
“We think he’s a great running back who is explosive and strong,” Briles said. “He reminds me of Glasco Martin.”
Though Johnson didn’t put up big numbers for Bryan, he’s rated the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the country by ESPN.com. Briles believes Johnson has a tremendous upside.
“He’s a big mobile guy who is completely untapped,” Briles said. “When you look at him physically you think ‘Wow’ and rightfully so. We think his growth will be as high as anybody in this class.”
Baylor’s offensive line received a big boost when Fort Bend Marshall’s Maurice Porter switched his verbal commitment from Texas Tech on Monday. The 6-6, 290-pound Porter was joined by fellow Fort Bend Marshall offensive lineman Darius Moore as a Baylor signee.
“Maurice will continue to fall in our long tradition of NFL talented offensive line guys that have been in our system,” Briles said. “We love D-Mo (Moore). He love his personality, toughness and skill level.”
Briles said Baylor could sign several more players before camp opens in August. Houston Second Baptist kicker Chris Callahan said he plans to sign with Baylor in June and join the program as a scholarship athlete in the spring of 2014.
Big 12 recruiting breakdown
A look at how many players teams signed on each side of the ball, plus how recruiting services judge the classes
|Baylor||23||8||15||28||25||WR Robbie Rhodes||Briles’ best class|
|Iowa St.||25||13||12||58||64||OL Jake Campos||9 Fla. recruits|
|Kansas||25||11||13||44||55||DT Marquel Combs||15 juco signees|
|Kansas St.||32||13||18||64||68||LB Nick Ramirez||6 juco signees|
|Oklahoma||24||9||14||15||15||RB Keith Ford||7 four-star recruits|
|Okla. St.||23||10||12||34||24||WR Ra’Shaad Samples||Ateman gifted WR|
|TCU||22||11||11||35||48||RB Kyle Hicks||11 DFW recruits|
|Texas||15||9||6||23||23||OL Kent Perkins||Smallest class in Big 12|
|Texas Tech||23||13||10||51||54||WR Devin Lauderdale||5 Ga. players|
|West Va.||28||12||15||24||26||WR Shelton Gibson||15 different states|