By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
With all the players returning, plus the freshmen and transfers sitting out and a 2018 recruiting class that is currently ranked in the top 30 nationally, Matt Rhule believes the Bears “have a chance to build something special.”
“The foundation has been laid by the guys who were here this year, the guys who were willing to stay here and fight when they didn’t have to,” he said.
It’s the 2018 class of recruits, though, “that will put Baylor over the top and keep us over the top for a long time,” Rhule said.
“This will be a freshman class coming in that’s making the decision to come here right now off a team that (finished 1-11),” he said. “It’s a class that’s making a decision to come here when people around them would say, ‘Why would you go there?’
“They’ll be coming because they see opportunity where other people see adversity. They’ll be coming because they believe in the mission of the football program and the mission of the University. . . . We need great people from great families, that want to come in and have a shot to play early and be a part of one of the greatest comeback stories in college football. That’s what this will be, and that’s what they’re signing up to do.”
This is the first year for an early signing period, with recruits having a 72-hour window to sign their national letters of intent from Dec. 20 through Dec. 22. Those who do not choose to sign in December will wait until the traditional signing day, which this year falls on Feb. 7, 2018.
Last year, Rhule signed a 27-player class that was ranked in the top 40 nationally despite having just one commitment when he was hired on Dec. 7, 2016.
In addition to returning as many as 17 starters from the season-ending 45-22 loss at TCU, the Bears have 27 other players with starting experience and three specialists coming back.
Rhule’s squad will also get an experience boost from a quartet of Division I transfers that redshirted this season – wide receiver Jalen Hurd (Tennessee), offensive linemen Jake Fruhmorgen (Clemson) and Christian Beard (UCF) and defensive lineman James Lockhart (Texas A&M).
A three-year starter at running back at Tennessee, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Hurd left Knoxville as the program’s No. 6 all-time rusher with 2,638 career yards and fifth in 100-yard games with 11. He transferred to Baylor with plans to finish his collegiate career as a receiver.
“He’s an elite athlete and an elite player,” Rhule said. “He’s a competitive, competitive football player who I think will bring a tremendous amount to the team.”
The 6-5, 290-pound Fruhmorgen started eight games, mostly at right tackle, for Clemson’s national championship team a year ago. As a true freshman in 2015, he played in 11 games with one start and graded 90 percent in the Tigers’ Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma.
“When you have a great player like Mo (Porter) graduating, we are hopeful that Jake can come in and help,” Rhule said, penciling in Fruhmorgen as a starter at one of the two tackle positions.
A former all-state pick at Midway High School, Beard is making his fourth stop. He had a redshirt season at Arkansas State, played one year at Trinity Valley Community College and then two games at UCF in 2016 before suffering an injury. “He would have helped us this year,” Rhule said of the 6-3, 291-pound Beard, who could play guard or tackle.
Lockhart (6-3, 260) was a U.S. Army All-American at Ennis (Texas) High School, where he recorded 14 sacks and 20 QB pressures as a senior in being named District 16-5A Defensive MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honors on the Dallas Morning News all-area team. He played 16 games in two years at Texas A&M, backing up defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2017 NFL Draft.
“I don’t know that there is anyone more bought-in to our process – the way we practice, the way we do things, the attention to detail,” Rhule said of Lockhart. “He’s down there on the scout team and he’s making the scout team defensive guys do everything (defensive coordinator Phil Snow) makes the defense do. He’s training them.”
Since each of the transfers had at least two years of college before coming in this year and redshirting at Baylor, “they’re a little bit older, a little bit more mature, with a little bit better focus about what they want to do,” Rhule said.
“They put a lot of work in, and they will bring a lot of production and a proper mindset to the guys that we already have.”
Baylor football opens the 2018 season on Sept. 1 with a game against Abilene Christian at McLane Stadium.