Rhule era kicks off against Liberty

By Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

By Ben Everett | Sports Writer

Baylor football faces Liberty University at 6 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium in what will be a debut game for many coaches and players involved.

Head coach Matt Rhule will be making his first appearance on the sidelines for the Bears since being hired to run the program in December 2016.

Rhule brings with him a 28-23 head coaching record following four years at Temple University, along with many assistant coaches from the Owls’ program, including co-defensive coordinator Phil Snow and co-offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas.

In addition, co-offensive coordinator Jeff Nixon and wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell will make their openers at Baylor after coaching with the San Francisco 49ers last season.

Joey McGuire will make his first appearance at the college level as the tight end coach after a long career as a high school coach at Cedar Hill.

Senior quarterback Anu Solomon, who was named the starter on Tuesday, will make his Baylor start after transferring from Arizona, where he was the starter for three years.

After suffering a season-ending knee injury last year, Solomon says he is healed and ready to lead the Bears’ offense.

“I’m very comfortable,” Solomon said. “I feel like Anu Solomon. I’m healed. I’m 100 percent. I’m ready to go.”

Baylor fans will get the chance to see senior tight end Ishmail Wainright in a football uniform for the first time since the spring game, after Wainright completed a successful four-year career as a forward on the men’s basketball team.

Additionally, multiple freshmen are expected to make their Baylor football debuts. Center Ryan Miller, linebacker Jalen Pitre, cornerback Harrison Hand and safety Jairon McVea are set to start on Saturday.

Among those who will be out for the first game are sophomore cornerback Grayland Arnold, who broke his arm and will be out for up to eight weeks, senior safety Davion Hall due to an undisclosed injury and senior safety Taion Sells, due to a three-game suspension. Senior left tackle Mo Porter will sit out for the first half of the opener because of a suspension.

Rhule says the young players have practiced enough, they just need to be put into a game environment.

“It’ll be interesting to see how guys handle the situation of playing in the games,” Rhule said. “That’s really the next step for our team. They’ve shown what they can do, so now how are they going to handle it in front of a crowd and in front of a good team.”

Liberty is coached by Turner Gill, a coach that Baylor fans might already be familiar with because of his Big 12 ties when he was the quarterback coach at Nebraska from 1992 to 2002, and when he served as the head coach at Kansas from 2010 to 2011.

Rhule says he is familiar with Gill from his time at Buffalo and holds him in high regard.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Turner Gill,” Rhule said. “I had many chances to go against him when he was the head coach of Buffalo and I was the offensive coordinator at Temple. I know they know the Big 12 better than I know the Big 12, and I know they’ll come out here ready to play and we’ll have to play our best as we move forward.”

Liberty brings back an experienced offense led by sophomore quarterback Stephen Calvert, who took over in the middle of last season and posted a 57.3 completion percentage over six games.

Calvert is joined on the offensive side by the top three returning rushers from last season: seniors Carrington Mosley and Todd Macon and sophomore Frankie Hickson. The three combined to rush for 1,733 yards in 2016.

The defense is led by junior cornerback Chris Turner, who had three interceptions and led the team with 11 pass breakups a year ago.

Baylor has recent history on its side, winning its last eight openers and 19 straight non-conference home games dating back to 2010.

Baylor is offering complimentary admission, parking and a meal to any family affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“We know that a football game is not going to make what’s happened better,” Rhule said. “But if, for three or four hours, families that are in flux and having to react to these events, they can have three or four hours of fun and take their minds off of what’s happening to their homes, that would be a great thing.”

Following the season opener, the Bears will face UTSA at 7 p.m. Sept. 9, at McLane Stadium.

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