When the news broke that Andrew Billings was coming to Baylor, shouts of joy could be heard throughout the Bears’ football offices.
The Baylor coaches knew how big it was to bag Billings. Not only was he one of the top rated defensive linemen in the country, he was a local kid from Waco High.
Billings was arguably Baylor’s biggest local signee since Midway safety Ahmad Dixon in 2010.
“Andrew was a top 10 D-tackle in America,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “Getting those guys solidifies the fact that it’s OK to stay at home and play especially when Baylor is good overall athletically, academically and location-wise.”
Billings has lived up to the hype.
Despite constant double teams, the 6-2, 300-pound sophomore leads the No. 12 Bears with seven quarterback hurries and is tied for second on the squad with 6.5 tackles for loss. But statistics don’t tell the whole story. Because teams often need more than one blocker to occupy him, Billings frees up Baylor’s other defensive linemen and linebackers to hammer quarterbacks and running backs.
“He’s relentless,” Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. “He doesn’t think there’s a play he can’t make. He plays hard and plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played. He has a very high motor and finishes play. Once he gets his techniques fine-tuned, the sky’s the limit.”
In the opening minutes of Baylor’s last game against West Virginia, Billings blew through the middle of the offensive line and drilled quarterback Clint Trickett so hard that he fumbled. It set up an easy 7-yard touchdown for the Bears.
“He had two 300-pounders draped all over him and they couldn’t stop him,” Bennett said. “I’ve had some great interior guys and he dominates.”
Even before Billings arrived at Baylor, his strength was legendary.
As a senior at Waco High in 2013, he broke a 22-year-old record in the Texas high school state powerlifting meet by raising 805 pounds in the squat, 500 pounds in the bench press and 705 in the dead lift for a total of 2,010 pounds.
“It was my first time being a champion, winning something big,” Billings said. “We made the playoffs in football but we didn’t win state. So it was my first taste of victory.”
Nobody on the Baylor squad is anxious to challenge Billings to a weight lifting contest. When they see him warming up, they know they have no chance.
“It’s unbelievable,” Baylor defensive tackle Beau Blackshear said. “He’s warming up with 315 pounds on the bench press. I think everyone knows to stay away from that challenge.”
“That dude is a freak,” Baylor receiver Corey Coleman said. “He’s the strongest guy in the nation. Any weight you put on there he can squat five times, not just one time.”
But Billings isn’t just a big guy who plows through offensive linemen. He’s got tremendous quickness for a player his size and has the speed to chase down ballcarriers. Billings takes pride in getting a good jump off the line of scrimmage.
“I like to be the fastest off the ball,” Billings said. “I’m right over the ball, so I have no excuse. That’s what’s fun. I think I surprise people with my speed. They know I’m strong, but they think I’m just muscle. Speed is one of my pluses.”
Andrew’s father, Anthony Billings, remembers his son winning a 60-yard dash as an 8-year-old in a Waco city track meet. While attending Carver Middle School, Andrew began growing bigger and was a natural to play offensive and defensive line.
During a weight lifting meet at Midway as a freshman, Billings began to find out how strong he really was.
“One of the officials said the weight he was lifting was too easy,” said Anthony Billings, who played baseball at Paul Quinn in the 1980s. “He needed to put more weight on the bar.”
Billings moved into Waco High’s starting offensive line as a sophomore and also saw some action on the defensive line. During his junior year, he began getting a lot of attention from college coaches who saw his strength and power.
“People recruited me both ways, but I could tell they were leaning toward the offensive line,” Billings said. “But defensive line is where I wanted to play.”
While starting three seasons at offensive tackle for Waco High, Billings also became a fixture at defensive end as a senior. Waco High coach Marty Herbst knew tackle was his more natural spot on defense, but he didn’t want to risk any type of injury.
“We knew other teams would try to cut Andrew every time,” Herbst said. “He had brutal strength on both sides of the line. Two offensive players couldn’t block him when he was on defense. He always wanted to do what was best for the team, which says a lot about his character and why he’s a successful player.”
Though Andrew grew up in Waco, he initially thought he wanted to experience college away from home. He narrowed his choices to Baylor, Texas and TCU before choosing the Bears on Feb. 5, 2013, the day before the NCAA national signing day.
“I always loved Baylor,” Billings said. “I was deciding between that and staying in Waco. The main reason for my decision was the success of the (Baylor football) program. I started thinking it feels good to be in Waco.”
Most linemen fresh out of high school need a redshirt year to develop enough strength to play at the college level. But Billings was already strong enough to compete as a true freshman. Coming mostly off the bench last season, Billings recorded 29 tackles including 3.5 for loss in 11 games.
Billings learned a lot from playing against All-America guard Cyril Richardson during practice. Though Richardson flattened him a few times, it accelerated Billings’ learning curve.
“The man is on another level,” Billings said. “Playing against him definitely helped because I couldn’t get away with some things that I did in high school. I got caked a couple of times, but it helped.”
Since last season, Billings has worked more on his technique and getting even faster jumps off the line of scrimmage. He said he can lift more weight than he did in high school.
Baylor’s defensive line has been one of the team’s strengths and Billings is a big reason why. The Baylor coaches not only admire his talent, they like the effort he gives on every play.
“He’s one of the best noseguards in America right now and I’m glad he’s at Baylor,” Briles said. “He requires an extra person because he’s such an active player. He’s physical, dynamic and plays with extreme effort, and that’s what I respect about him the most. By him being as disruptive as he is inside, it certainly frees up some other guys on the D-line and our linebackers.”
Billings hopes to play in the NFL someday, but he’s enjoying his college experience. He was thrilled to play on Baylor’s first Big 12 championship team as a freshman last season and hopes to repeat as the Bears delve into their stretch run.
There are worse things than staying at home to play college football.
“I’m glad I’m here,” Billings said. “That was huge getting that taste of victory we never had before.”