When Elliot Coffey looks around the locker room these days, he can't help but notice all the missing faces.
From Baylor's original 2007 signing class of 28 that included 22 high school seniors, Coffey and offensive guard John Jones are the lone survivors that will suit up for the 17th-ranked Bears (8-3, 5-3) when they host No. 22 Texas (7-4, 4-4) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday for their final game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
"I'm just so honored and blessed that I've made it this far," said Coffey, a 6-foot, 235-pound middle linebacker that leads the team with 90 tackles. "We had some guys who had their Senior Day last year, but there were so many guys from my signing class who didn't make it all the way through. It's just awesome that we're still around and we're making a difference and we're going into Senior Day the way that we are."
In Coffey's first three seasons, the Bears went in knowing it was their last game. And then last year, they were in the middle of a disappointing four-game season-ending losing streak. This time, they're riding the four-game winning streak of a "November to Remember."
"The thing about it is I didn't take time to sit back and look at the season until (Sunday). That was really the first time I had looked back at the month of November," he said. "And that's probably for the best, because you have guys like (strength coach Kaz Kazadi) screaming at you every day, making sure you're focused and you're recovering, because you've got another game coming.
"Kansas wasn't the best team in the conference, but we had to go out and fight our butts off for that win. So if you're going into the Oklahoma game thinking, `Oh, man, we got a win in overtime,' you don't win that game. So I think just for a second, I'm going to sit here and look back, because (defensive coordinator Phil Bennett) has been telling us: `People will remember November and December.' Just the way we ran through November, it's something I'll never forget."
Coffey also hasn't had time yet to reflect back on a Baylor career that started at safety and ended up at middle linebacker. The ultimate team player - he was actually a high school cornerback - Coffey was moved to outside linebacker after his redshirt season and then switched to the middle under new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett.
"I imposed my will on Elliot," Bennett said. "He's probably not a Mike (middle) linebacker. But he's come in and he's given us leadership, he's given us direction. And when he didn't play well, it was short-term. He responded, came back and played his best game Saturday (in a 66-42 win over Texas Tech)."
In his five seasons, Coffey has played under two head coaches, three coordinators and no less than three position coaches.
"Early on, I was one of those knuckleheads that was like, `No, I like what I'm doing, I think my footwork's good. I think I'll do it my way.' And that didn't work, didn't work at all," he said. "The more I listen to (linebackers coach Jim Gush) and the more I learn from him, the better everything gets, the more plays I make. I'm able to shed blockers and get in position to make plays. It's been great."
Coffey came to Baylor in what he refers to as the "darkest of days." In his redshirt season in 2007, the Bears finished 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the Big 12 under then-head coach Guy Morriss. Their closest conference game that season was a 20-point loss at home to Colorado.
"You don't ever want to limit what you're capable of doing. But after my first year, I was like, `What am I doing here?''' he said. "There was just so much pessimism that was still floating around the program from guys who had been defeated for so long that they had just accepted that as their fate. There were guys when coach (Art) Briles got here that did not buy into his system, didn't buy into coach Kaz's system, felt like what they were doing was the right way and they would win doing it their way. And that wasn't the situation at all."
Slowly but surely, Coffey said, attitudes changed. Once the players started buying in, you could see the tides turning. Baylor ended a 16-year bowl drought last season and has posted 15 wins over the last two years.
"I thought last year was going to be the year, and it turned into this year being the year where we really took that giant step to separate ourselves from where we were," he said. "My freshman year, it was like a monumental thing to think that we could even win a game in the Big 12. And now, just to approach the games the way we do, knowing that we're a solid team. Coach Briles says we're a great team, and we have great players It's just great to see that it's changed the way it has, because it's night and day compared to what it used to be."
Here are bio capsules on Baylor's other 13 seniors:
PHILIP BLAKE, 6-3, 320, C, Toronto, Ontario (Tyler Junior College): Three-year starter in the line, Blake moved from tackle to center last year and has made 36 consecutive starts. Blake was named to the preseason Rimington Trophy watch list and 2nd-team Midseason All-Big 12 by Phil Steele. An August 2011 graduate with a degree in sociology, he was selected 23rd overall in the 2011 CFL Canadian Draft by the Montreal Alouettes.
THOMAS DRAPER, 6-3, 200, WR, Dallas (Highland Park): Part of a 15-1 team at Highland Park that lost to Lake Travis in the 2007 Class 4A Division II state championship, Draper is a walk-on receiver who joined the Baylor program in 2008. This year, he was a second-team pick on the Academic All-Big 12 team.
TERRANCE GANAWAY, 6-0, 240, RB, DeKalb, Texas (University of Houston): The Big 12's leading rusher this season with 1,195 yards and 14 touchdowns, Ganaway is just 23 yards shy of the single-season school record set by Jay Finley last year. He's the only player in program history to top the 200-yard mark twice and came up four yards shy of Finley's single-game record with 246 yards on a school-record 42 attempts in last Saturday's 66-42 win over Texas Tech. The former University of Houston transfer graduated in December 2010 with a degree in general studies.
ROBERT T. GRIFFIN, 6-6, 330, OL, Euless (Navarro): Expected to follow in the footsteps of Baylor offensive linemen who have gone high in the NFL draft (Jason Smith, J.D. Walton, Danny Watkins), the massive Griffin was a first-team pick on Phil Steele's Midseason All-Big 12 team and an honorable mention All-American. He has started 20 of the previous 24 games and ranks second on the team with 56 knockdowns
NICOLAS JEAN-BAPTISTE, 6-2, 335, NG, Houston (Strake Jesuit): Former walk-on that's turned into one of the best success stories in college football, Jean-Baptiste earned a scholarship in '09, broke into the starting lineup last year and is now one of the most dominate d-linemen in the league. He leads the team with eight tackles for losses, ranks 2nd with 3.5 sacks and also has three pass breakups and a forced fumble. Second-team Midseason All-Big 12 pick by Phil Steele, he graduated in May with a degree in general studies.
JOHN JONES, 6-4, 320, OL, Cedar Hill: One of three players off Cedar Hill's 2006 state championship team that signed with the Bears, Jones has played in 35 games and made five starts in Baylor's o-line. This season, he's been a valuable reserve as a back-up at left guard. He graduated from Baylor in August with a degree in sociology and plans to become a coach.
TRAVIS McCLAIN, 6-1, 190, WR, Weatherford: One of three former walk-ons who were awarded scholarships prior to the 2011 season, McClain played in 10 of the team's 13 games last season and has 19 career games to his credit as a backup receiver and special team performer.
BEN PARKS, 6-1, 210, K, Argyle: Splitting time with Aaron Jones on kickoffs this year, Parks has averaged 63.1 yards on 45 kicks and leads the team with 12 touchbacks. Parks beat out incumbent Shea Brewster to win the full-time kicking job as a true freshman in 2008, hitting 39-of-44 extra points and 6-of-9 field goals with a long of 42 in a win over Texas A&M.
REGGIE RICE, 5-11, 220, LB, Houston (New Mexico Military): After two seasons at New Mexico Military, Rice redshirted in 2009 and then played in seven games last year, making special-team tackles in wins over Kansas State and Texas. The former walk-on was awarded a scholarship in August and played in two of the team's first three games.
TRACY ROBERTSON, 6-4, 280, DT, Houston (Lamar): One of just six true freshmen who played in 2008, Robertson has been an invaluable d-lineman who has started at both end and tackle. The team leader this year with four sacks, Robertson has made 12 career starts at end and another 13 inside at tackle. He recorded two sacks at Kansas State and one each against Iowa State and Texas Tech.
BRYAN SWINDOLL, 6-3, 230, TE, Miami, Fla. (Westminster Christian): Another former walk-on that was awarded a scholarship in August, Swindoll was nicknamed "Sunshine" by the coaches because of his long, golden locks and resemblance to the quarterback in the movie, "Remember the Titans." Off the field, he's made three mission trips to Kenya and is on pace to graduate in May with a double major in philosophy and economics.
ISAAC WILLIAMS, 6-0, 200, RB, Los Angeles, Calif. (El Camino College): Williams has rushed for 122 yards on 36 carries (3.4-yard average) over the last two seasons. His career high came in last year's win over Kansas, when he rushed for 53 yards on nine carries.
KENDALL WRIGHT, 5-10, 190, IR, Pittsburg, Texas: Baylor's all-time leading receiver, Wright has set single-season marks this year with 95 catches for 1,406 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also holds all the career records with 289 receptions, 3,747 yards and 28 TDs. A preseason All-Big 12 pick, he was named to Phil Steele's Midseason All-Big 12 team and a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist.
Hey, Christmas is just around the corner. And I'm sure your favorite student-athlete has a wish list. I know I do.
So here's this week's Compliance Corner question for Associate Athletic Director for Compliance Keith Miller:
Q: Can I give a student-athlete a Christmas gift?
A: No, it is not permissible to give a student-athlete a Christmas gift, a get-well gift, birthday gift or any gift, because it would be considered an extra benefit. An extra benefit is a serious violation that not only affects Baylor University, but it also makes the student-athlete immediately ineligible to compete for Baylor.
Here is the bylaw from the NCAA Compliance Manual that addresses extra benefits:
NCAA Bylaw 16.02.3 Extra Benefit
An extra benefit is any special arrangement by an institutional employee or a representative of the institution's athletics interests to provide a student-athlete or the student-athlete's relative or friend a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation. Receipt of a benefit by student-athletes or their relatives or friends is not a violation of NCAA legislation if it is demonstrated that the same benefit is generally available to the institution's students or their relatives or friends or to a particular segment of the student body (e.g., international students, minority students) determined on a basis unrelated to athletics ability. (Revised: 1/10/91)
Now, if you want a copy of my wish list . . . or more importantly, if you have a compliance question, you can send me an e-mail at Jerry_Hill@baylor.edu, and I will pass it on to Keith. Consider it your Christmas gift to Keith. I'm pretty sure it's not seen an extra benefit, even for our Compliance staff, and it would make Keith a happy man.