By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
As guys like Josh Fleeks, Mark Milton and Jackson Gleeson added their names to Baylor football’s commitment list, the Twitter hashtag #BFast just made sense.
But, not even Director of Player Personnel Evan Cooper could have projected just how fast this class of recruits would end up being.
“You have to have speed in this league and to be competitive in the country right now in college football, on both sides of the ball,” said recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach Mike Siravo.
Asked who was the fastest of the 21 players that Baylor added in the early signing period that started Wednesday, Siravo said, “I’m sure they would all fight about it.”
“I know when they come here, there’s going to be a race the first time they can. It will be Gleeson and Tyquan (Thorton) and a few of the other guys. And I’ll tell you, regardless of what their 40 time says, it’s going to be a race.”
The irony is that the last two that signed might be the first two to finish a race. Crosby running back Craig Williams has been clocked in a laser-timed 4.36 in the 40-yard dash and was third in the 100 meters at last year’s 5A state track meet (10.45), while Silsbee receiver Kalon Barnes is the defending 4A state champion in the 100 (10.22) and 200 (21.48) and won the prestigious Adidas Dream 100 in Boston.
“Kalon brings additional speed to an already fast class,” head coach Matt Rhule said when Barnes was the last of the 20 recruits that signed on Wednesday. “He’s a really special athlete, a special football player. He was one of the first guys that committed to us and really kind of helped (Evan Cooper’s) whole #BFast thing get up and running.”
Barnes is part of an impressive class of wide receiver recruits that includes Fleeks from Cedar Hill, Mansfield’s Gleeson and Thorton from Miami, Fla.
Fleeks has been timed in 4.48 in the 40 and ran anchor leg on Cedar Hill’s 4x100 relay team that finished second last year in the 6A state meet. Gleeson was the runner-up in the 200 at the 6A state meet as a sophomore and has a PR time of 21.14.
Thornton, who plans to run for the Baylor track team along with Barnes, Gleeson and Williams, has personal bests of 10.5 in the 100 and 21.07 in the 200 and won the Florida 2A state championship last year with a time of 47.09.
“We might go over there and try to compete with the track team,” cornerbacks coach Fran Brown said, “maybe run a little 4x100 or 4x200 against them.”
Baylor has a history of combo football-track athletes, including Ricky Thompson, Gerald McNeil, Bruce Davis, Johnny Thomas, Reyna Thompson, Lee Miles, Braelon Davis, Desmine Hilliard and Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winner who was third in the 400 hurdles at the 2008 NCAA Championships.
The latest was receiver Chris Platt, who has run on the 4x400 relay team that qualified for the NCAA Championships each of the last two years. Additionally, sophomore running back Obim Okeke is now playing for the 18th-ranked men’s basketball team.
Rhule said “the allure of letting guys play football and run track . . . knowing you can freely do that here was a tremendous draw to them.”
“We just want to have as fast a team as possible, and these guys are all really fast,” he said. “Football has to be your priority, but what better thing is there than to have Obim out there playing basketball. While everyone else is at home kind of hanging out, and we’re telling them to make sure you work out every day, he’s out there running sprints with the basketball team and diving for balls. I think in today’s society, the more you can go out and compete and do things, the better it is.”
Williams, nicknamed “Sqwirl,” could make an immediate impact on the football field and the track after signing his letter of intent on Thursday. A finalist for Touchdown Club of Houston Offensive Player of the Year, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound running back rushed for 1,990 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior.
Laser-timed at 4.36 in the 40 at The Opening regional in Houston, Williams has personal bests of 10.23 in the 100 and 21.33 in the 200 and was rated the sixth-best high school sprinter in the country.
“You’ve got to get legitimate numbers on people,” Siravo said. “Every kid, or every high school coach, is going to post that he runs a 4.4. There are so few 4.4’s out there. So, how do you find the guys? You have to look at track meets, and you have to get them on campus and time them yourself. Legitimate speed is always a huge thing for us.”
Baylor’s speed doesn’t begin and end with the receiver and running back positions. Four-star quarterback Gerry Bohanon from Earle, Ark., ran the opening leg on a 4x100 relay that won the 2A state title last year and third leg on the 4x400 relay that placed third.
One of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, Bohanon said, “Whenever the play we’re running has broken down, I can make something happen. I see a lot on the field, at all times. Anytime I’m under pressure, I’m still looking down field, but I’m dodging tackles. I can make a lot of plays happen.”
Cornerback Mark Milton from Houston Clear Brook has a PR of 21.35 in the 200 meters and a laser time of 4.48 in the 40, while cornerback Byron Hanspard Jr. and safety Christian Morgan have been clocked in 4.54 and 4.56, respectively. Hanspard is also a 6-8 high jumper who has run on DeSoto’s 4x100 and 4x200 relays.
“Mark ran a legit 4.4 at camp,” Brown said. “He didn’t take track seriously last year, but he ran a 21.3 as a sophomore. His father was a track guy, his mom was a basketball athlete in college, so he comes from good genes. He’ll come in and help us out. I’m excited about him. He loves football.”
Listed as an athlete, 6-7, 225-pound Bralen Taylor ran the second leg on Cuero’s 4x200 relay that finished third in the 4A state meet last year.
“Bralen Taylor is just a crazy athlete,” tight ends coach Joey McGuire said. “I watched him in practice and saw him coming out of a backpedal (as a defensive back). Coming out of the breaks and catching the ball, he doesn’t play an awkward 6-7, he plays almost like he’s 6-foot, 6-1. But, he’s going to use that height to go get the football.”
Cooper’s #BFast is more than just a hashtag, it’s real.
“Fastest class I’ve ever been a part of,” Brown said. “I don’t really pay attention to the rest of the nation, I just focus in on our guys. I just know we got what we needed to help us be able to compete in our conference.”