With back-to-back Big 12 championships in his pocket, Baylor coach Art Briles doesn’t have to hand out business cards to inform recruits who he is and what his program is all about.
Baylor’s rise to prominence has been all over national television, the Internet and Twitter.
With Wednesday’s 20-player signing class, Briles believes he’s found the talent he needs to keep Baylor among the nation’s elite college football programs.
While Baylor’s 2015 class doesn’t rank with schools like USC, Alabama or Florida State in the national recruiting rankings, Briles thinks he’s filled his program’s greatest needs.
Stephenville quarterback Jarrett Stidham headlines the class, but it’s loaded with defensive backs and linebackers. Baylor grabbed two of the best Waco-area players as Midway linebacker Lenoy Jones and wide receiver Devontre Stricklin stayed home to play college football.
“I’m borderline giddy,” Briles said. “These guys are going to continue to help us stay the elite level we are at as a football program. We’re filling in spots with guys who fit the needs for us who are talented, and that’s the big key. As we continue to progress, I think our talent level will certainly never diminish.”
Baylor ranks No. 43 nationally by Rivals and No. 44 by Scout. The Bears are seventh among Big 12 schools behind Texas, Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in both rankings.
That’s lower than last year when Baylor’s 23-player class was rated No. 23 by Scout and 35 by Rivals. But with a small class of seniors on the 2014 squad, Baylor had fewer scholarships available this year. The class includes one signee from last year, Houston Bellaire offensive lineman Devonte Jones who enrolled this spring.
But Briles has never been concerned with recruiting ratings. It’s all about getting the players he needs and developing them into a championship level program.
Fitting Briles’ program
“We’re looking for guys that fit what we are looking for with our program,” Briles said. “I would rank us with anybody in America as far as developing student athletes. And then schematically on the football field, we play as good a brand of football as anybody in the United States.”
Ranked as the nation’s No. 13 prospect by 247Sports and No. 33 by Scout, Stidham is the top rated player in Baylor’s class. After de-committing from Texas Tech, Stidham enrolled at Baylor this spring and will compete with junior Seth Russell for the starting quarterback job.
Stidham passed for 2,934 yards and 35 touchdowns and rushed for 969 yards and 15 scores as a Stephenville senior.
“He gives us a chance to continue our quarterback tradition, not only at Baylor but what we’ve done at the University of Houston and prior to that,” Briles said. “So he’s a guy that has the potential to certainly be next in line. He’s a strong-armed kid, a dual-threat quarterback very intelligent and very passionate about the game.”
While Baylor only brought in two new receivers, they’re both highly rated.
Gilmer’s Blake Lynch, who is enrolled at Baylor this spring, is rated the No. 21 receiver prospect in the country by Rivals after making 47 catches for 1,043 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior. Stricklin is rated No. 25 nationally by 247Sports after making 67 catches for 1,309 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior.
“What’s kind of unknown about Blake is how fast he is,” Briles said. “He’s a legit 6-2½, 6-3 kid about 200 pounds that ran a sub-22 seconds in the 200 (meters) as a sophomore and went low 21 last year as a junior. I think he has a tremendous upside here at Baylor in the next few years for us at the receiving position.
“(Stricklin) is really good and a difference maker,” Briles said. “He’s a dynamic player with a dynamic personality to back it up. He’s certainly going to fit in with the line of receivers we’ve had here in the last few years.”
Baylor addressed a major need by signing five defensive backs. Houston Lamar’s J.W. Ketchum is the most highly touted recruit in the secondary, and is projected to play safety after excelling as a dual-threat quarterback at the high school level.
“You say who is the best football player in Houston and they’re going to say J.W. Ketchum,” Briles said. “So we’re really excited that he’s going to come here and play. He’s going to play safety for us and be a return guy. He’s an exceptional athlete, and I appreciate his journey.”
Moving to defense
Briles projects Grand Prairie quarterback Tony Nicholson as a potential cornerback.
“He’s an extremely gifted athlete, and a guy who has had his team depend on him,” Briles said. “He’s a kid who can come in here and make an impact. He’s a kid who fits exactly what we’re looking for which is an exceptional athlete on the defensive side of the ball.”
Ketchum and Nicholson will be joined in the secondary by Shreveport Woodlawn cornerback Henry Black, Austin St. Michael’s Academy’s Jameson Houston and Missouri City Ridge Point’s Jordan Tolbert.
Baylor’s new crew of linebackers includes Midway’s Jones, Abilene Wylie’s Clay Johnston, Richmond Foster’s Eric Ogor and Paris’ Jordan Williams. Ogor is projected to play nickelback in Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s scheme.
Continuing Midway’s pipeline to Baylor, Jones stayed at home after originally committing to Houston.
“If these guys can play and they are from this area and we have an opportunity to get them, we’re going to get them,” Briles said. “We’re really excited about what he’s going to bring to the table, not only from the football aspect but from the leadership position. He was one of the leaders of the football team without question.”
Highly recruited Longview star JaMycal Hasty is the only running back in Baylor’s new class. But Baylor restocked its offensive line with a pair of junior college transfers and several high school recruits.
Maurice Porter originally signed with Baylor out of Fort Bend Marshall High School in 2013 but didn’t meet entrance requirements. He’s played the last two seasons at Navarro College where he became one of the top junior college prospects in the country.
“He’s the No. 1 rated offensive tackle in America in the JC ranks,” Briles said. “He’s 6-7 and 315 pounds and very fluid. We’re excited about getting him on campus and continuing this journey with him.”
City College of San Francisco offensive tackle Dominic DeSouza is enrolled at Baylor and should contribute immediately. Jones and Ringling (Okla.) offensive linemen Riley Daniel are potential redshirts who will help Baylor down the road.
One of the most intriguing prospects is Plano’s Sam Tecklenburg who played offensive line, tight end and defensive line.
“I listed him as an athlete because really that’s what he is,” Briles said. “I think he can play center, guard, big slot, D-tackle or D-end. He’s a guy who can do it all. He’s very intelligent, very explosive and has had a lot of snaps. He played both ways at a 6A school which is pretty uncommon. He’s going to be a great addition.”
Big 12 breakdown
A look at how many players teams signed on each side of the ball, plus how recruiting services judge the classes:
|Baylor||20||10||10||43||44||QB Jarrett Stidham||5 DBs|
|Iowa St.||22||11||11||68||70||DT Desmond Tucker||4 DTs|
|Kansas||24||12||12||66||61||QB Ryan Willis||17 Texans|
|Kansas St.||22||9||13||50||52||DB Duke Shelley||5 O-linemen|
|Oklahoma||24||11||12||14||14||LB Ricky DeBerry||4 receivers|
|Oklahoma St.||20||10||10||38||39||DT Darrion Daniels||7 JC players|
|TCU||23||9||13||34||27||CB D. Raymond||11 from DFW|
|Texas||28||14||14||12||8||LB Malik Jefferson||5 Floridians|
|Texas Tech||19||12||7||40||28||DL Breiden Fehoko||No QBs|
|West Virginia||21||12||9||33||30||DB Rasul Douglas||6 Floridians|