Dec. 9, 2013
The last four years have been arguably the best in Baylor football's long history, and the group of Baylor seniors playing their last game at Floyd Casey Stadium Saturday played a large part in getting the program there.
With one regular season game left (plus a bowl game), this year's class had already set a program record for most wins (35 and counting). This season marks the first time the Bears have ever won 7-plus games four straight years, and the first time since the 1930s that the team has even finished above .500 four years in a row. And though the destination isn't yet known, this year's Bears will be the first ever to play in four straight bowl games.
And that, say the seniors, is exactly why they came to Baylor - to set the program on this sort of trajectory.
"I feel like we brought a lot to the program, like we brought another attitude to the program," says three-year starter K.J. Morton. "Everybody came in with the same mindset - that we wanted to change the program to be as good as it could be - and I feel like that's what we're doing."
"Our legacy will be that we bought in and took this program to places some thought we'd never see," adds Cyril Richardson, a fifth-year senior.
"We want to say that we were the greatest team to come through here," sums up Ahmad Dixon, a three-year starter.
These seniors didn't come in with much fanfare. Recruited before Baylor's turnaround began to show in the win column, the 2009 signing class included current seniors Stefan Huber, Terrance Lloyd, Glasco Martin, Chris McAllister, Jerod Monk, Kelvin Palmer, Tevin Reese, Richardson and Brody Trahan (plus standouts like Philip Blake, Terrance Ganaway, Josh Gordon, Bryce Petty and Danny Watkins). Yet the class was ranked only around 50th in the country as a group.
Likewise, the 2010 class that featured Dixon, Bryce Hager, Sam Holl and Prince Kent was ranked between 39th and 51st nationally. Both classes were considered among the bottom half of the Big 12.
But by 2011, the improvements were becoming evident to everyone. With Dixon, Holl, Lloyd, Morton, Reese, Richardson, and transfers Jordan Najvar and Joe Williams all in the starting lineup as sophomores, the Bears tied a program record with 10 wins, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Two years later, yet another Bear is in the Heisman conversation, and Baylor appears poised to set yet another record for wins.
The seniors have made their marks individually, as well. Martin could crack Baylor's top five in career rushing touchdowns. Reese ranks third all-time in career receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, and fourth in career receptions. McAllister is Baylor's career sacks leader, and Lloyd has joined him in the top 10. Aaron Jones, a former walk-on, is the Bears' all-time leader in points and field goals and the NCAA's career leader in PATs.
As a team, the Bears' success allowed Baylor to finally move forward on that long-awaited on-campus stadium that will now open next fall. While the seniors regret that they won't be able to play in the new facility - "I'm real salty about that," says Dixon - they also express pride that they were able to make Baylor Stadium a reality.
"I'm glad we were able to help out in building that stadium. and we'll definitely come back and visit," says Martin, a fifth-year senior. "We were here grinding it out when a lot of people weren't fans or hadn't heard of us, so I'm proud we were able to get something accomplished like that."
"We wish we could play in the new stadium, but at the same time, we're gonna close down the old stadium in style and go out with a bang," adds Morton.
Once the season is completed, many of the Bears will turn their attention toward joining the professional ranks. An impressive number will leave with their degrees in hand; Huber, Jones, Martin, McAllister, Najvar and Trahan have each already graduated, while most others (including Dixon, Holl, Lloyd, Morton and Richardson) are on pace to graduate in either December or May.
After that? Any number of possibilities. But you can bet that they'll be back to see their former teammates (and those who follow in their footsteps) at Baylor Stadium.