Dec. 20, 2013
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
As the first in their families to graduate, Baylor football players Demetri Goodson, Prince Kent and Darius Jones see Saturday's winter commencement ceremonies as the culmination of a dream.
"Whether I played football or not, graduating from college was the No. 1 thing my family wanted from me," said Kent, a senior nickel back from Norcross, Ga., who is graduating with a communications degree. "I'll be the first of my mom's kids to graduate, so it's a huge accomplishment. My family supported me throughout my whole college career, and they couldn't be more proud of me."
Joining in that trio are All-American offensive guard Cyril Richardson, starting offensive tackle Kelvin Palmer, cornerback K.J. Morton and safety Cody Wetsel. When the sixth-ranked Bears (11-1) play No. 15 UCF (11-1) in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day, no less than 16 Baylor graduates will be suited up.
"I'm really proud of those college graduates that we have," Baylor head coach Art Briles said. "That's a big deal. A lot of them are first-family graduates. And to me, that's a legacy that will live on forever, and that makes it very exciting."
Kent had to make a detour before coming to Baylor, going through Hargrave Military Academy for a year and then playing on four straight bowl teams with the Bears.
"It helped me to realize that you can't take school for granted," he said. "That's what I did coming out of high school, I took it for granted. But (the military school) woke me up, and I was able to stay focused."
Goodson took a different route in a different sport, starting out as a point guard for a Sweet 16 basketball team at Gonzaga. And when he transferred to Baylor to play football after the 2010-11 basketball season, "I want to say half of my credits didn't come over, so that's why it took these extra couple years to graduate. But I made it, so that's all that counts."
A general studies major, Goodson said he would like to go into coaching when his playing days are over. "But whatever comes up, I'm going to go with it. I'm just going to go with the flow."
Jones, a wide receiver and kick returner who was a blue-chip prospect coming out of Marshall (Texas) High School, said he "couldn't have asked for more" than the way this year has gone.
"It kind of caught me by surprise when I got that final grade and I realized, `I'm really graduating,''' said Jones, also a general studies major who's interested in a coaching career. "And with us winning the Big 12 and closing down the Case, it all happened at the right time."
Richardson, a two-time All-American and potential first-round NFL Draft pick, said he is interested in becoming a computer tech down the road, "because I work with those a lot." Asked if his mom was excited about his graduation, the 6-5, 340-pound lineman from Fort Worth, Texas, said, "She's ecstatic, to be honest. I feel like this was a big accomplishment for my family and also for myself."
Palmer, a Dallas, Texas, native who started alongside Richardson on Baylor's offensive line this season, said just "coming to college was already a shock."
"So, completing it is a dream," said Palmer, also a general studies major. "This is something my mom always wanted, something I want to show my kids that I graduated from college, that I made it through it."
Like Goodson, a fellow cornerback, Morton didn't start his career at Baylor. He spent a year at College of the Sequoias in California before jumping into the starting lineup for the Bears' defense as a sophomore two years ago.
"This is big," he said. "I just give all glory to God, helping me to just stay focused under the circumstances with practice and the games and just making sure I keep my priorities in order; and just knowing that there is life after football."
Morton said he plans to coach or become a sports broadcaster when his playing days are over. But he is looking forward to going through graduation with Goodson and five of his other teammates.
"Both of us grind together on and off the field," Morton said. "So just seeing both of us graduate, that's a big accomplishment."
Wetsel, a walk-on safety from West (Texas) High School, earned his BS degree in mechanical engineering. "I'm kind of the only guy on that side of campus," said Wetsel, who joined the football team in his second year at Baylor. "I don't see a lot of the rest of the guys, day-to-day."
Already holding a job offer from Lochridge Priest, Wetsel said he has an interview set up with Halliburton. "So, if I did that, I would go into petroleum engineering and end up in either West Texas or down in Houston."
The Bears will go through their final pre-Christmas practice on Saturday and return Christmas evening before a walk-through practice next Thursday on the same day they travel to Phoenix, Ariz., for the New Year's Day bowl game.
"The guys are really focused," Briles said before Friday's practice. "The good part is they finished up their classes a couple days ago, so now it's kind of like being in fall camp where all you do is focus on football, which makes it outstanding."