By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Matt Rhule's certainly made the rounds on the Baylor campus, taking in basketball and softball games, tennis and equestrian matches and an acrobatics & tumbling meet. He even jumped on a plane to New York City to watch the men's basketball team play in Madison Square Garden.
As part of Tuesday's Diadeloso celebration, Rhule invited the campus -- or at least the students -- out to watch football practice.
"I thought it was important to have a day like this where we invited the students to come out and be here, and hopefully we can continue to grow it," Rhule said after a Tuesday morning workout. "It's great for our players to see their peers, the kids they're in class with or they live with, to see them come out. And to have the kids on campus come out and see the amount of practice that goes in. I think it's a fun day for all of us."
Sophomore safety Chris Miller said, "It's always good to give back and give them something to watch. You know they're going to be there on Saturday nights."
It's part of the team concept Rhule is trying to develop with his football team and within the Baylor community, where "we should all support each other."
"To me, that's one of the great things about being at Baylor is the fact that you can go see 11 of 19 ranked sports," he said. "I went to acrobatics & tumbling on Sunday. It was one of the greatest things I've ever seen in my life. It was amazing. I was actually getting angry, as like 15 girls are running at each other full speed and tumbling. And I'm saying, `Why can't we run all the hitches correctly?'''
Eight practices into his first spring at Baylor, Rhule said the Bears have had a productive camp.
"Saturday's practice was, I'd say in my short tenure as a coach, probably the best practice I've been around," he said. "Today was good, it was just different. The music playing is still beating in my head. It was more of a student practice. . . . It was really important to see today if we started doing ridiculous things when there was a bunch of people here, or if we were able to stay focused. And we stayed focused.
"There's issues we have to fix, technically, and we're short some bodies at some positions. But, I'm pleased with the effort and the attention. I think it's been a good camp, and hopefully it will continue to get better."
Miller said the defense is "starting to get comfortable and have more confidence when we play."
"The safety is playing more of a big role," he said. "So, I have to be more confident and line everyone else up so we can play fast. It's pretty much like the defense we ran last year. It's just getting to know the language and adjusting, that's pretty much it."
On the offensive side, the coaching staff has been "ultra-aggressive" in getting everything installed, "just because we wanted to really push them and shock them and show them," Rhule said.
Baylor's first-year head coach said he keeps the "giant (offensive) playbook" on his office desk to show recruits "this is what's going to be expected of you at this level."
"We want to make sure they're kind of realizing there's a lot more studying and learning in football than there is just `Hey, I can run and get open and catch balls,''' Rhule said. "At the same time, we don't really know everybody we have. When you see (wide receiver) Tony Nicholson and all of a sudden realize he's pretty special at these things, then you better have some things to allow him to showcase his talents."
"R.J. is a unique kid, he and Charlie Brewer both," Rhule said. "Like, they should be at the (high school) prom. They should be sitting in home room right now. And they are really mentally and physically light years ahead of where you would think a kid in that time frame would be. The biggest thing is those are high-character kids."
Sneed, one of the first players to commit after Rhule was hired from Temple, said it helped him to come in early and have "the same chance as everyone else."
"We all came in not knowing anything at all, so it's an even race," he said. "If I don't understand something, I always ask Coach, but I'm picking it up pretty good. At first, it was kind of different. In high school, they pretty much tell you every play what to do. You come here, you've got to know what to do."
While the 2017 Bears will wrap up their third full week with practices on Thursday and Friday, a group of former players will go through Baylor's Pro Day on Wednesday at the Allison Indoor Facility.
Pro Day participants include quarterback Seth Russell, running back Shock Linwood, wide receivers KD Cannon, Lynx Hawthorne, Kaleb Moore and Ishmael Zamora, center Kyle Fuller, linebacker Aiavion Edwards and defensive backs Pat Levels, Ryan Reid, Orion Stewart and Tion Wright off the 2016 team.
Others showcasing their talents in front of the NFL scouts are former offensive lineman Tyler Edwards (2013-14) and running back Lache Seastrunk, a sixth-round draft pick by the New York Jets in 2014, along with players from Division III national champion UMHB, Stephen F. Austin, Prairie View A&M, Tarleton State, Lamar and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
"First of all, I think it's an unbelievable opportunity for them," Rhule said. "These guys were here in what was probably a pretty tough year, and they weathered the storm and they overcame adversity. . . . They represented Baylor University and Baylor football with class and dignity and they won and these guys are graduating and doing things right.
"So, to have this opportunity to go out and on the other side of it be elite athletically and show what they can do at the next level is exciting."