If you wonder why Baylor football coach Art Briles is willing to take chances on transfer players, all you have to do is go back a few months to April's NFL Draft.
Penn State transfer Phil Taylor was taken by the Cleveland Browns with the 21st pick overall, while Butte (Calif.) College transfer Danny Watkins was drafted two picks later by the Philadelphia Eagles.
"Really, all the way back to Houston, I've had a lot of good fortune with transfer players, (junior college) players and players from other countries," Briles said before Sunday afternoon's practice. "And the thing I love about those players is that their chances are limited. When you get somewhere, you've got to make it work right there. So I like guys that are mature, I like guys that have been through a couple things to get where they are, and they understand when they're walking that tight rope that they're holding that bar, because you don't want to slip and fall off. They'll focus in a little more a lot of times than a guy who's 18 years old, fresh out of high school."
Just in the last week, the defense has added a pair of transfers in linebacker Cordarius Golston (6-1, 215) from Kilgore College (by way of Lancaster, Texas, and the University of Arizona) and safety/cornerback K.J. Morton (5-10, 185) from College of the Sequoias (Calif.).
After redshirting at Arizona in 2009, Golston recorded 50 tackles, three tackles for loss, 2 ½ sacks and two blocked punts in just seven games last season at Kilgore. He arrived on Thursday and went through his first full practice on Sunday.
"It's a little tight time table," said Briles, when asked if Golston still had a shot to get into the mix at linebacker. "He's at a position that's a little less open. But if he shines in the next two weeks, then he'll shine on Sept. 2 (in the season opener against TCU). We're still just trying to feel him out."
Because of a more desperate need in the secondary, Morton might get a shot right away. An all-state player at Northside High School in Warner Robins, Ga., Morton had 47 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, three interceptions and one sack last year at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif.
"Right now!" said Briles, when asked about Morton's time table. "We've been waiting to get him, he's here, it's time. And I think certainly he'll have an opportunity to see what he can do to get himself on the field. We're glad he's here. He's a good football player."
Morton was at Sunday's practice, but cannot go through full drills until Tuesday. With safety Sam Holl out with a hamstring injury, Morton will "probably start out at safety, and then (we will) try to work him a little bit of both is what it looks like right now."
Safety Kolby Gray (6-2, 185), a sophomore transfer, will have to sit out this season after following defensive coordinator Phil Bennett from Pittsburgh.
Other transfers in this year's two-deep include starting running back Terrance Ganaway (from University of Houston), first-team offensive linemen Philip Blake (Tyler Junior College) and Robert T. Griffin (Navarro), safety Josh Wilson (Kilgore), cornerback Joe Williams (Fort Scott Community College), tight end Jordan Najvar (Stanford), defensive tackle Nick Johnson (Navarro) and deep snapper Marcus Santa Cruz (Phoenix College).
"When they're looking, they've got to keep looking forward, because what they've done behind them might not always be the avenue that's going to get them where they want to get," Briles said. "So they've got to really catch on, make some changes and understand the path to success."
With only the slightest hint of sarcasm, senior center Philip Blake says the offensive linemen are clearly the "smartest people on the field, next to the quarterback."
But then again, he may have a point.
When the names were called at Baylor's summer commencement on Saturday, the three current football players that picked up their diplomas were Blake and fellow offensive linemen John Jones and Jake Jackson. Joe Korbel, an o-lineman off the 2010 team, and former wide receiver Stacey Williams also graduated Saturday.
Throw in former offensive guard Hunter Hightower, who earned his degree in May, and the offensive line accounts for 25 percent of the 20 football players who have graduated in the last year. Of the eight players on the 2011 roster who have graduated, Blake, Jones and Jackson account for 37.5 percent.
"My mom really stressed to get a degree, get a degree," said Blake, who hails from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. "She likes football, but the main thing for her was to get the paper, to get the degree. And for her to come down and watch (Saturday's graduation), it was a great experience."
Asked what he was feeling as he crossed the stage to pick up his diploma, Blake said: "Just excitement and accomplishment. (I'm the) first person from my family to graduate from college. So when I crossed the stage and looked up and saw my family, and they were all screaming and yelling, it was just a great experience."
Baylor head coach Art Briles said getting an education is "what they're coming to Baylor for. That's what's going to help them later on in life is getting a great degree."
"At the end of the day, when they're 42 (years old), they may think 4.4 (speed in the 40-yard dash), but you know they're not running 4.4," Briles said. "And you can sit in the corner and think, but you can't run. So you've got to keep your mind fresh."
As far as walk-ons go, Travis McClain has lived a somewhat charmed life.
The 6-1, 185-pound senior receiver from Weatherford, Texas, has played in 15 games over the last three seasons and was part of last year's Texas Bowl team.
"Every year since my freshman year, it's been, `Let's be a bowl-eligible football team,''' said McClain, who was one of three senior walk-ons who were rewarded with scholarships this semester, joining tight end Bryan Swindoll and linebacker Reggie Rice. "So to be a part of the team that did it and actually be a contributing part of that team, it was huge. It's something I'll be able to tell my kids and grandkids about the day I was part of the Baylor football team that made that turn."
McClain has gone where few walk-ons ever go, actually moving up to the two-deep depth chart at wide receiver. And with junior Josh Gordon suspended indefinitely, McClain figures into the rotation even more.
But the thing that caught my eye at a recent practice had little to do with McClain's pass-catching ability.
After making freshman cornerback Anthony Webb look silly during a one-on-one session pitting the receivers and defensive backs, McClain didn't even pause to celebrate or gloat.
Instead, he used it as a teachable moment, taking the freshman to the side and explaining what he did wrong. In a me-first era dominated by the "Primetimes" and "King LeBrons" of the world, this selfless act seemed oddly out of place.
Here's a guy who needs to do everything he can to get his shot, and he's taking time to help out a player he will probably face every day in practice.
"My thing is I'm at the point where I'm on the way out, these kids are on the way in," McClain said. "I've gained a lot of football knowledge over the last 4 ½ years. If I'm really sitting here saying, `Let's be the best we can be,' it would be selfish for me to go up against a freshman and then not tell him how he could be better, to not share the knowledge. Even as an offensive player, it may not be as in-depth as his senior counterpart (on defense), but it's still going to be something that he can gain from.
"Why not try to help our team be the best we can be, so that these kids can reach their full potential."
As a business management major, you can bet that McClain will make a ton of money outside of football. But he's exactly what this game needs in coaching. And I don't care if he ever makes a single catch in a game, Travis McClain is exactly what this football team needs.
I always find it enlightening when one of the players from the Teaff Era come back and watch the Bears go through a workout.
That was the case on Thursday, when former defensive end Robin "Big Cat" Jones took in the opening practice of fall camp with his family on their way to San Marcos.
Jones, a two-time All-SWC pick and third-team All-American in 1991, is particularly a big fan of new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett.
"I remember going by a closed workout at SMU when he was there," Jones said. "Somebody came up and asked who I was. And a few minutes later, I look up and see Coach Bennett walking over toward me. So I started getting a little worried. But he told me that he had worked with (former Baylor defensive coordinator Pete Fredenburg at LSU), `And he told me you were the best defensive linemen he had on that team.' He definitely knew how to make an old man like me happy."
Jones was part of an outstanding defense in 1991 that included unanimous All-American and Lombardi Award finalist Santana Dotson, who played 10 years in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers.
One thing that's changed since the arrival of Baylor head coach Art Briles, Jones said, is "they've got some big ol' scary guys."
"Before, I'd come out here, and I didn't see anybody that I would be afraid to go up against," he said. "Now, there's three or four of those guys that I wouldn't want to mess with."
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