When the coronavirus shut down college athletics in mid-March, new Baylor football coach Dave Aranda and his staff didn’t let that get in the way of building their 2021 recruiting class.
Although shelter-in-place orders have meant no home or campus visits, Aranda and his staff have stayed persistent with phone and text conversations and occasional virtual interaction with recruits.
Their effort has paid off in eight verbal commitments since April 4 to give the Bears 12 commitments in the 2021 class. Additionally, Joplin (Mo.) High School defensive end Kaian Roberts-Day became the first member of the 2022 class to commit to Baylor on May 2.
The recruiting surge has boosted Baylor to No. 22 in Rivals.com’s 2021 recruiting rankings, which is currently second in the Big 12 behind No. 14 Texas. There’s a long way to go before the early December signing period, but it’s an impressive start for Aranda, who became Baylor’s head coach on Jan. 16 after helping LSU win the national championship as defensive coordinator.
“It’s a brand new world with all of us with a lot of guys being able to be contacted and then people not being able to see the campus,” Aranda said. “So the ability to reach out and be available and communicate and talk with parents, all that has been a strength for building the ’21 group.”
Aranda gives a lot of credit to Vince Guinta, Baylor’s associate athletic director for player personnel, and the recruiting staff for the Bears’ success in attracting players.
“I think they’ve done a great job of identifying recruits and finding guys that fit our positional needs,” Aranda said. “We’re looking for this many linebackers, this many corners, this many O-linemen, this many tackles. So out of that group, then here’s a board of how guys are ranked and how we look at them. They’ve done a great job of that and keeping in touch with coaches.”
Thus far, Baylor’s 2021 recruiting class features six offensive and six defensive players which are spread liberally across position groups.
When Aranda arrived in January, Baylor only had two verbal commitments in the 2021 class after Cypress Ranch safety Romario Noel and West Orange-Stark linebacker Tyrone Brown committed in the fall of 2019.
Although former Baylor coach Matt Rhule took much of his staff with him to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, Aranda retained outside linebackers coach Joey McGuire, tight ends coach Shawn Bell and associate athletic director for football relations David Wetzel.
All three former Texas high school head coaches have remained vital to Baylor’s recruiting efforts, and have helped lay the groundwork for the 2021 class.
On April 4, Lindale running back Jordan Jenkins committed to the Bears. Landing the four-star recruit was a major step as Jenkins chose Baylor over USC, Tennessee, Texas Tech and BYU.
“Every school that offered me had good programs and a good education,” Jenkins said. “That was a given. The biggest factor for me was how comfortable I felt with the place. I felt like I fit in and it was like family at Baylor.”
Throughout the rest of April, Baylor picked up four more commitments including Stillwater defensive back Tevin Williams, Albuquerque Sandia linebacker Sam Carrell, Georgetown offensive lineman Connor Heffernan and Pearland Shadow Creek quarterback Kyron Drones.
The 6-3, 200-pound Drones was another premier commitment as the gifted dual-threat quarterback chose Baylor over Auburn, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Georgia Tech.
During Shadow Creek’s 16-0 run to the Class 5A Division I state championship last season, Drones passed for 3,402 yards and 46 touchdowns while rushing for 825 yards and 18 scores.
Staying in Texas was a key factor for Drones, who is looking forward to developing his passing and abilities in Baylor offensive coordinator Larry Fedora’s system.
“At the end of the day, it was between Baylor and Auburn,” Drones said. “I wanted my parents to be able to see me play. The way Coach Fedora explained it, once I get into their offense they’ll adjust it to how I play. I really like everything they showed me.”
Eleven miles southeast of San Angelo, Wall is a Class 3A school that’s off the radar of most Power 5 schools. But the 6-4, 264-pound Williams, who comes from an athletic lineage, could be a major find for the Bears.
A day after Baylor offered him a scholarship, Williams committed last Saturday.
“Baylor has kind of been at the top of the list for me,” Williams said. “I always had a dream to play for a Big 12 school, and they came along and it was great to receive the attention. Baylor is also a great school academically. I like the business school.”
Besides playing football, Williams also plans to join Baylor’s track team. Before the coronavirus shut down high school sports, Williams had recorded a throw of 51 feet, 8 inches in the shot put and 166 feet, 2 inches in the discus.
Williams is the son of Ty Williams, who was an All-America shot putter for Angelo State. His mother, Kirstie, was an outstanding shot putter for the Angelo State women’s track team. Her father, Tom Klaerner, played football with Joe Greene at North Texas.
Tate also plays basketball, and has no trouble wrapping his 11-inch hands around the ball for dunks.
“I dunk and rebound,” Tate said. “I have no problem palming a basketball. I don’t shoot further out than 10 feet.”
Williams is no stranger to hard work since his family operates a 2,500-acre cotton farm.
Baylor began recruiting Williams following Aranda’s arrival, but he hasn’t been able to visit the campus due to coronavirus recruiting restrictions.
“I haven’t been on campus, but I’ve talked to Baylor graduates,” Williams said. “They said it’s a big school with a small school feel to it. It would have been nice to check it out first, but talking to some of the coaches and players, I figured it would be the right place for me. (Baylor football director of scouting) James Blanchard sent me pictures of the weight room and the field and all that other stuff.”
Aranda can’t comment publicly on recruits until they sign with Baylor. Since college coaches are currently barred from visiting recruits, Aranda has tried to bring Baylor’s campus to them virtually under NCAA guidelines.
It’s all part of the new normal during the pandemic.
“We’ll be able to highlight our coaches, have a highlight of what the stadium is like, what the facilities are like and our academic programs and the Baylor campus, the city of Waco, to give people an idea of what we can offer and really try to highlight our strengths,” Aranda said. “So I think that’s been going great. We try to get the families to all sit down and be a part of it. And so far, so good.”