By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
Baylor football senior tight end Ishmail Wainright made a change this offseason that is becoming more common in the sports world today.
Wainright is in the midst of learning how to play football after playing four years of college basketball for the Bears.
The sports world has seen tight ends such as Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates succeed in the NFL after having played basketball in college.
More recently, former Baylor power forward and three-year starter Rico Gathers was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys last year around this time to play tight end after having no college gridiron experience.
Wainright said going against the physical Gathers in practice for three years prepared him for battle on the football field.
“He made me football tough,” Wainright said. Going against him every day-black eyes and chipped teeth. We used to just fight in rebounding battles.”
In the Green and Gold spring game on Saturday, Wainright hauled in a 23-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Charlie Brewer to the delight of the Baylor fans.
During the play, Wainright pushed off slightly from his defender in order to make the catch, something he couldn’t have gotten away with in basketball.
“Somebody said it was pass interference,” Wainright said. “But there’s no fouls in football, and there was no flag thrown.”
Wainright initially was not going to play in the spring game, according to head coach Matt Rhule, but Rhule was persuaded otherwise by Wainright himself.
“I’m proud of Ish,” Rhule said. “I did not want him to play in the game. But he came to me and said, ‘I can play in the game. I know what I’m doing’.”
Wainright says this offseason will be crucial to getting into football shape and learning the nuances of the game after years of battling on the hardwood.
“Get bigger,” Wainright said of his goals this offseason. “Learn to play. Learn the playbook. I studied that playbook for three hours last night.”
While the move may be a surprise to some, Wainright says it feels natural due to his body type. He said he has been confused for a football player on campus because of his 6-foot-5, 230 pound frame.
“I thought about it,” Wainright said. “It came up a couple times throughout the years here. First semester I was going to class and one of the new [football] coaches said ‘Hey, class is that way’. I said ‘No, class is this way’.”
Wainright, the winningest Baylor basketball player of all time, said the door finally opened for him after the season when Rhule invited him to practice following the conclusion of basketball season.
“After the season, Coach Rhule reached out,” Wainright said. “I prayed about it, took two weeks off. Talked to my family, talked to my lady, everybody.”
The spring game concluded the spring practice season, but Wainright and the Bears will be back in action to face Liberty University on Sept. 2 at McLane Stadium to open the 2017 season.