It's been so long ago, it seems like a different life. But as the volunteer College Director at my church in the early 1990s, I recruited Baylor players and coaches for a part of our Sunday morning service that we called "Bear Testimonials."
I hate to leave anyone out, but I specifically remember special visits from J.J. Joe, Derek Draper and former running backs coach Ken Rucker. Nearly 20 years later, those Sunday mornings remain special.
In this week's installment of Compliance Corner, I ask Associate Athletic Director for Compliance Keith Miller about any NCAA or in-house rules regulating such visits. And I'll confess, if there were any procedures back then, I didn't know about them.
Q: If I want to ask Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III or one of the other student-athletes to speak at my church, what do I need to do?
A: There are many NCAA rules having to do with promotional appearances by student-athletes. Thus, Baylor's Compliance staff closely analyzes requests for student-athlete promotional appearances. An individual/organization can request a student-athlete appearance by filling out and submitting an online form at the following website: http://www.baylorbears.com/comm-outreach/bay-donation-requests.html
Note that several restrictions apply and requests must be made a minimum of two weeks prior to the proposed event. The website and online form set forth other Baylor and NCAA guidelines. Note that student-athlete appearances may not interfere with class or other educational commitments and, if the request meets all requirements, it is still up to the student-athlete whether to attend.
If you have a compliance question or anything concerning NCAA rules and regulations, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will pass it on to Keith.
Joe Williams might be one of the most unlikely heroes you will ever meet.
For starters, in a game dominated by large, grown men who can power-lift small cars, Williams is 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds. He looks like he should be handing out equipment rather than actually wearing it.
Then there's the fact that he's a former high school quarterback from St. Louis, Mo., who had never even played defense until last year at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College.
"I wanted to play quarterback," Williams said. "But my (high school) coach broke it down to me and explained that it would be a better fit for me with my athletic ability. I just looked at it as more of a challenge, learning something new and trying to get better at it. . . I had some tough times (last year at Fort Scott), but I had some good times, too."
Williams, who had never even heard of Baylor until a chance visit from assistant coach Jim Gush in the spring, had offers from Indiana and Missouri and nearly wound up at USC until the school turned him down, "because I was a mid-year transfer, and they didn't think I could catch up (academically) and play sports."
After redshirting in 2009, Williams had 30 tackles (28 solos), six pass breakups and one interception and returned one of his two fumble recoveries for a touchdown in his first season as a cornerback.
"What we saw on his (junior college) tape, watching him in one-on-one drills, is he had great ball skills," said Baylor head coach Art Briles, who signed Williams in May as a late extension to the 2011 recruiting class. "When the ball's in the air, he had great ability to make a play on the ball. That's the No. 1 thing you look for in a defensive back. Guys can flip their hips, they can run, they can cover, but can they play the ball when it's in the air? There are going to be a lot of jump-ball situations . . . you've got to make a play on it. And that's the No. 1 thing that we noticed about Joe."
Depth was obviously an issue. But with starters Chance Casey and Tyler Stephenson returning, redshirt freshman Tuswani Copeland making a push and transfers K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson entering the mix, Williams looked like a long shot at best when camp started in August.
"My only concern was just to get better," Williams said. "I felt like if I could just get better every day, I'm going to do just fine on this level. The position battle didn't really down on me until like fall camp. All I was doing was working on trying to get better."
But with Copeland suffering a knee injury in the first week of camp, Morton and Goodson both getting a late start and then Stephenson going down with a sprained ankle in the first quarter of the season opener, Williams was thrown into the fire against 14th-ranked TCU.
"I kind of knew just to stay ready and stay calm, because you never know what's going to happen in a football game," Williams said. "I was mentally ready from taking reps in practice, but I was just thrown out there, so I had to go with the game flow. It was the heat of the battle, so you had to come with it."
Williams responded with six tackles in the Bears' 50-48 win over the Horned Frogs that got the year started off with a bang.
"That first series, I was just so excited to be out there," he said, "I had to come back to the sidelines and calm myself down."
After making his first start the next week, Williams was replaced by Morton and rotated in and out before Casey was moved to safety and then went down with a knee injury himself. Six weeks into the season, the Bears were going with a starting pair of corners that weren't even here in the spring.
"I think that says a lot about those two guys and the competitors they are," said cornerbacks coach Carlton Buckels, who has been kept busy trying to keep players standing in an injury-depleted secondary. "Joe was actually here a little bit longer than K.J. and kind of got his feet wet, so to speak. And then with the injuries that we've had in the secondary, those guys have stepped up, and I'm glad they're here."
Buckels was definitely smiling last Saturday, when Williams came up with arguably the biggest defensive play of the year.
After scoring on the first play in overtime, Kansas coach Turner Gill opted to go for a two-point conversion and the win. But Williams, despite giving up seven inches, batted down Jordan Webb's pass to 6-4 tight end Tim Biere on a fade route in the right corner of the end zone to secure the Bears' 31-30 victory.
The instant hero was on the bottom of a massive dogpile as Baylor (6-3, 3-3) celebrated becoming bowl-eligible for the seconds straight year.
"As soon as I saw them come out in that formation, I knew it was coming," Williams said. "We ran that play a lot in practice, I knew it was coming, so I just played the play."
"You've seen it all along," senior middle linebacker Elliot Coffey said. "You've seen him come downhill, you've seen him in coverage, you've seen him do great things. But that was a huge play. The tight end had the height advantage, but regardless, (Williams) made the play. It was awesome just knowing what he's capable of doing and seeing him do it. It's all that work finally showing."
Williams doesn't see his height as a disadvantage, "because I've got real long arms and some big hands. So I feel like I can go against a 6-4 receiver."
Since Buckels started at that size or smaller in the SEC at LSU, "I can't knock anybody's size, and you definitely can't know their heart and desire if they go out and make plays."
"Those guys have to play above and beyond their height and talent week-in and week-out," Buckels said of Williams and the 5-10 Morton. "The thing you look for is just playmakers. You want a guy that can make plays. It doesn't matter what size they are."
Williams and the Bears will be challenged again this week when they face fifth-ranked Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Floyd Casey Stadium. And if anything, he's got a little bit more of a swagger after making his biggest play to date.
"I don't know if my confidence arises. It was already there," he said. "That's just part of doing our job. It's what we're supposed to do. It just happened to be a great play at the right time."
Keith Miller, Associate Athletic Director for Compliance, has been kind enough to answer some commonly asked questions that apply specifically to boosters and fans of the Baylor Bears.
Each Tuesday, with Keith's help, I will blog on a compliance question of the week. So if you have a compliance question or anything concerning NCAA rules and regulations, send me an e-mail at email@example.com, and I will pass them on to Keith.
Here is the first weekly installment from the Compliance Corner:
Q: As a fan, is it OK for me to invite a student-athlete to my house for dinner?
A: It is permissible for a booster to provide an "occasional meal" for a student-athlete or entire team in a sport under certain conditions and with the approval of the head coach and Compliance Office. NCAA bylaw 126.96.36.199 allows a booster to provide such a meal on "infrequent and special occasions" so long as the meal takes place in an individual's home, on campus or at a facility that is regularly used for home competition. The meal may be catered. A booster may provide reasonable local transportation to student-athletes to attend the meal only if the meal is at the booster's home. Note that a booster may not provide an "occasional meal" at a restaurant.
If all of these requirements are met, a booster must submit an "Occasional Meal Request Form" for approval to the Compliance Office at least two days in advance of the proposed meal. The Compliance Office will evaluate the permissibility of the proposed meal and notify the requester whether she/he can proceed. Contact Josh Lens in the Compliance Office at 254-710-3893 to request the form.
Just for the record, I am also available for "occasional" or "very frequent" meals. And I'm pretty sure no forms are needed, but I'll check with Keith just to make sure.
In the meantime, if you have compliance questions or maybe a lunch invitation, shoot me an e-mail.