When Baylor began its stretch run last November, offensive tackle Spencer Drango was on the sideline recovering from a ruptured disk.
Drango saw the high point of the season when the Bears won their first Big 12 title with a 30-10 win over Texas in the freezing final game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
He also saw the low points when the Bears’ shot at an unbeaten season was crushed at Oklahoma State and their first BCS bowl appearance ended with a 52-42 loss to Central Florida.
All that time, Drango was hungry to get back in the lineup. Now after missing spring drills, Drango is finally back on the field protecting quarterback Bryce Petty and carving holes for Baylor’s running game.
“This is the first time I’ve put on pads since the injury, so I’m definitely excited to get back out there,” Drango said. “I think I’ll be rusty since I haven’t played since November. We’ll see how it goes, but I think I’ll be OK.”
Drango was so highly regarded that he still made first-team all-Big 12 despite missing the last four games. Several publications have projected him to be an All-American this season.
The Bears certainly missed Drango’s presence at left tackle, especially Petty, who counted on him to keep pass rushers from closing in.
“Spencer is one of those guys who is a big teddy bear off the field, but when you get him between those white lines he knows when it’s time to roll,” Petty said. “Your blindside is your main guy. He’s a tremendous talent and it’s great to have him back. Not only from a physical standpoint, but from a leadership standpoint because guys really look up to him.”
Besides All-American guard Cyril Richardson, Drango was the most talented and respected lineman for the Bears last season. He was a key cog in a line that helped the Bears lead the nation in total offense and scoring offense.
Drango was in the midst of a tremendous sophomore season when he first heard something pop during Baylor’s practice on the Tuesday leading up to the Texas Tech game.
“It kind of felt like a muscle popped in my leg,” Drango said. “It was just like an annoying, numb pain and it progressively got worse and worse until the game, where I played on it.”
The Bears romped to a 63-34 win over the Red Raiders on Nov. 16 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. But the pain in Drango’s back was so fierce that he didn’t finish the game.
Drango learned that he suffered a ruptured disk. Three days after the game, he underwent surgery to remove the herniated part of the disk.
“As soon as I woke up from surgery, the nerve pain was gone,” Drango said. “So that was instant relief from that. Luckily, we got to see Dr. (Andrew) Dossett up in Dallas, and he is the Cowboys’ spine specialist and one of the leading spine doctors in the country.
“So I knew I was in good hands and was calm about the whole situation.”
Watching the Bears complete their winningest season in school history was tough for Drango, but he was determined to be a supportive teammate. The Bears tried several offensive line combinations before right tackle Kelvin Palmer eventually switched to the left side while Troy Baker moved in at right tackle.
“I made the best out of the situation that I was dealt,” Drango said. “It was definitely tough, but it’s the team first. It put me in a position to look and learn a lot more about the team, so that helped a lot. I could help Pat (Colbert), Troy and Kelvin, and see things they couldn’t and help them that way.”
Though the 6-2, 305-pound junior has had to be careful not to re-injure his back, he thinks he’s maintained his strength through weight lifting and conditioning.
Baker believes Drango will give the Baylor offensive line both a physical and emotional lift while providing exceptional leadership.
“We’re real close and we take a lot of pride in protecting (Petty),” Baker said. “With him out, we were missing another voice. So now it’s not just one or two voices, it’s two or three as far as leadership goes among the offensive line. He’s got experience, and you can’t trade that for anything.”
With Drango and Baker back in the lineup, the Bears expect to maintain the standard set by the previous offensive lines. The rest of the starting lineup includes center Kyle Fuller, right guard Desmine Hilliard and either LaQuan McGowan or Blake Muir at left guard.
“The more experience you get, the longer they’ve been here, you have the potential to be the best you’ve been,” Drango said. “We have a high standard, and I’m not saying we can’t do it, but it will definitely be a good road to get there.”
BEAR FACTS — Walk-on Collin Brence has been put on scholarship for his senior year after coming out of spring drills as Baylor’s starting nickelback. . . . Former Australian rugby player Peni Tagive, who played defensive end for Baylor last year, is no longer playing due to health issues. However, he is still with the football program helping out the strength staff while working toward his degree. “He’s a good, mature guy to have around, and everybody respects him,” Baylor coach Art Briles said.