Belief drives Bears to Holiday Bowl
By Krista Pirtle
With 5:11 remaining in the final game at Floyd Casey Stadium and a seven-point Baylor lead, sophomore Lache Seastrunk broke through the line of scrimmage at the Baylor 24-yard line and saw the light of the Promised Land.
Halfway to the end zone, Seastrunk caught a cramp in his left hamstring. At this point, he had two options: he could fall down in pain or believe that he could finish and take the rock to the house.
Belief is a word that has been used a lot when talking to the football team.
After the SMU dominant performance, the team believed it could keep up the high profile football from last season.
After the nonconference schedule was completed, the team believed it could win the Big 12.
After four straight conference losses, the team believed it could resurrect its season.
After getting its first conference win over Kansas, the team believed it finally had all the pieces needed for success.
After the upset over No. 1 Kansas State, the team believed it could go to a third straight bowl.
After defeating Texas Tech for win No. 6, the team believed it could defeat Oklahoma State the next week.
Now, after a season full of belief, that spirit will propel the Bears into the post season for a record setting third time in a row.
“We got players and we got a team that fights,” senior quarterback Nick Florence said. “A month ago, people were writing us off and this team fought hard. It means a lot.”
The nation, however, had quite a bit of unbelief coming into the season without Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III not in the pocket.
Florence, who took over in 2009 when Griffin tore his ACL and burned his redshirt last year against Texas Tech, has his teammates’ support, trust and belief.
His numbers aren’t too far off of Griffin’s, too.
Last year, Griffin threw for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns and ran for 699 yards and 10 scores.
Florence has held his own with 4,121 yards and 31 touchdowns through the air and 531 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
“Nick [Florence] is a once in a lifetime kind of person,” Briles said. “It is a privilege to be able to be around people like that. You wonder why people are able to do extraordinary things and then you study them and you realize they do it because they are dedicated, disciplined, they have faith, and they are trustworthy. He is the definition of a leader.”
Another place of doubt was focused on who would be his main target down the field.
Last year, All-American Kendall Wright made his place in the record books.
This season, junior Tevin Reese and seniors Lanear Sampson and Terrance Williams each came in with 1,000 yards and finished the regular season with 889, 639 and 1,764 respectively.
Plus, Williams has surpassed Wright’s records in Baylor’s books and has been named an All-American and a Biletnikoff finalist.
The final, and biggest concern as the season progressed, was the defense.
Something clicked against Kansas that wasn’t confirmed until it held the No. 1 team in the nation to only 24 points.
“We had faith in our defense,” junior running back Glasco Martin said, “We knew as an offense that we could potentially score every time we got the ball in our hands. We just jumped on the backs of our defense and they came up with a stop and we took advantage of it.”
Since then, junior linebacker Eddie Lackey has had three interceptions, two returned for touchdowns.
Since Baylor’s inauguration in the Big 12 in 1996, people have wondered whether the Bears belong in the conference.
This season, with a team fighting for respect, its belonging shouldn’t be a question anymore.
“Congratulations to our football team,” head coach Art Briles said. “What they have accomplished, in my mind, has been a story of heart, belief and attitude and that’s what makes my position so worth while because I get the privilege to hang around people that do extraordinary things and extraordinary effort and that’s hard to do. We have been able to play at a tremendous rate of speed and also stay under control. I think that says a lot about this football team. They have a lot of confidence in what they are doing.”
That mind-set is what took over for Seastrunk as he caught the cramp halfway through his run.
With a good chunk of field left to go before the end zone, he found a second gear and galloped it in for the score.
“It was all God,” Seastrunk said. “I knew that it was bigger than me. It was all for my family. I’ve been praying and praying and for me to go through what I have gone through these last two years, no one will understand what I have to endure. Going from not playing for two years to just sitting there and watching everyone else play, God still had my back. Everyone gave up on me except my family and Coach Briles. I’m so happy to be here because the support system that I have sat with me when I wasn’t able to play.”
This team’s belief has brought it together as a family. While last year’s team had 10 wins and a Heisman Trophy winner, junior nickel back Ahmad Dixon said that this team is his favorite.
“I wouldn’t trade this season for the world,” Dixon said. “These seniors and these other guys that are here with me, we have grown tremendously, speaking for myself not just as a football player but as a young man. These guys, in our down times have taught me so much. Looking to these guys when I needed them, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
As for Florence, who will hang up his jersey after the bowl game,, this opportunity has been a blessing.
“I’m proud of this team,” Florence said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to play with this team. Win or lose, all glory goes to God and what he’s done on the cross for us. This team is a fighting team. I love it, and I wouldn’t want to be on any other team.”