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So Now We've Come to the End of the Road
10:25 A.M., THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2011

JUSTIN CANGE
E-MAIL JUSTIN WITH FEEDBACK OR COMMENTS

Believe it or not, it's already mid May. Another school year has come and gone. Seniors are ordering their caps and gowns, cleaning out funky in-dorm refrigerators and the class of 2015 will soon arrive for freshmen orientation. Sorry for making us all feel that much older. 500 miles north, in my own classrooms in St. Louis, teachers and students alike are counting down the days in `anticipation' of our senior's departure into the post high-school abyss.

So with summer closing in, it is once again time to take inventory on the past, present and future of the Bears' football and hoops squads. 2010-11 saw a number of bright spots along with some unfortunate setbacks, but also gave us plenty to look forward to as we, as always, look forward to the fall.

Baylor football turned the corner last season. The Bears won seven games, qualified for a bowl game for the first time since the peak of grunge music, and landed another impressive recruiting class. We all know that Art Briles' job in rebuilding this program will not be accomplished overnight, but year three of Briles' tenure certainly produced a season that BU fans can feel good about moving forward.

The addition of new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is the hire Bears fans have been waiting for. Along with what should be an improved defense, despite only five starters returning, is a formidable offense with a bevy of talent coming back at key skill positions including quarterback Robert Griffin, and receivers Josh Gordon and Kendall Wright.

The next step for Baylor is life in the rebuilt Big 12 Conference. The days of the Big 12 South are over as will be the eight game conference schedule. Instead, BU will play each conference opponent and only three non-conference games, each prior to the conference opener. BU will have an incredible opportunity to make a statement when they open the season against defending Rose Bowl champion neighbors TCU on a nationally televised Friday night game in Waco.

Those still needing evidence that the program is headed in the right direction need to look no further than impact Baylor had at the NFL draft last month. Four Bears were drafted this year, the school's highest collection since 1996. First round picks Phil Taylor (Cleveland) and Danny Watkins (Philadelphia) were joined later in the draft by Jay Finley (Cincinnati) and DB Mikail Baker joins me, Jason Smith and about nine other Baylor alums in St. Louis. Hopefully we'll all be together for my TCU watch party in the fall.

This past winter didn't produce the basketball season that we were all ready for after the 2010 team's run to the elite eight. The Bears were simply never able to come together and play to their ability and although the team's NCAA bubble didn't really burst until the final night of the regular season, it was a disappointing campaign. Adding insult to injury was the post-season suspension handed down by the NCAA to freshmen phenom Perry Jones III. As the season ended, it seemed all but certain that BU would be losing our two biggest scoring threats to the NBA with Jones joining LaceDarius Dunn.

A funny thing happened though, Jones elected to return for his sophomore season in Waco. Was it because Coach Scott Drew inked another another top 20 recruiting class? Was it because of Perry's close bond with likely 2011 captain Quincy Acy? Maybe Jones' return can be attributed to his commitment to not letting his college career end on a sour note. In 2011, Jones and co will have every opportunity to re-solidify a basketball program that missed its first postseason invite for the first time in four seasons. Here's to hoping that Baylor's recent disappointment leads to an underwhelming preseason ranking, that seems to be when Drew is able to get the most from his roster.

For the rest of us alumni, we wish nothing but the very best to the most recent set of Baylor graduates. Welcome to the alumni family. Fling your green and gold afar, make our school proud in the workforce, never hesitate to represent your pride in the office and come back to Waco as often as you can, and always be willing to lend a hand to our current students, that is now your role as a Baylor graduate.

As a senior in the fall of 2002, I was in the class that first caught word of the school's ambitious goals and ideals for the next decade. `Vision 2012,' it was titled. Along with Baylor becoming a tier one academic institution were plans to elevate the school's Christian mission, diversity and research funding. Also included in the school's vision was an elite athletic program. It would be one that heightened the school's image and national prestige that would graduate student athletes, enhance community support and most of all, make the alumni proud to say `I went to Baylor.'

The class of 2012 will return to campus as seniors in August. Another monumental year at Baylor awaits.

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