By Cody Soto
DALLAS — There is one final game in the 2014 season for No. 5 Baylor football, and the all-time winningest senior class is prepared to go out on top in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington.
The 16 seniors on the roster have an opportunity to cap off an incredible run playing for the green and gold. In four seasons, the senior class has a record of 40-11, including three seasons with at least 10 wins each.
From 2011 to 2014, they have made an appearance in four straight bowl games, winning the Alamo Bowl and Holiday Bowl in 2011 and 2012 respectively. They have hoisted two Big 12 conference championship trophies in their home stadium for the past two seasons, and they don’t plan on taking that tradition with them.
”I knew we had the guys to do it, but we just needed to put it all together,” senior receiver Antwan Goodley said. “At first, when you heard Baylor, no one wanted to come. We wanted to make that change and make a name for ourselves.”
The senior class stepped into the shoes of former seniors who had just won the school’s first Big 12 title, and they wanted to have that feeling again. Amongst a plethora of activities surrounding the final game at McLane Stadium on Dec. 6, the Bears had an impressive performance to take a 38-27 win over then-No. 9 Kansas State for their second straight conference championship.
This senior class not only has playmakers on the field, but leaders. Senior quarterback Bryce Petty and senior linebacker Bryce Hager lead their respective sides of the ball. Both Petty and Hager have pushed the team to be explosive and dominant in different parts of the game.
Petty and the Bears offense lead the nation in points per game for the second straight year, and Petty said it’s a testament to the man behind it all, head coach Art Briles.
“I owe everything to him,” Petty said. “He gave me the opportunity and the chance to be part of it. Coach Briles had a lot of vision, a lot of determination. We just had to see it in reality, and we have, and that’s the best part about it.”
In his senior season, Petty suffered two cracked vertebrae in his back during the season opener on Aug. 31 and had a minor concussion following the team’s shootout against Texas Tech on Nov. 29. The struggle has provided him motivation to close out his final game in a Baylor uniform.
He plays for his team, not anyone else, Petty said.
“I haven’t had the easiest journey, so it means a lot. That’s why I want to close out for myself and the seniors,” Petty said. “Every time a class comes in you bond together. I think that’s what means the most is just where we came as a group, as a team, as a locker room.”
This senior class has been a major part in the turnaround of Baylor football. In Briles’ second year as head coach, the Bears were 4-8 on the season. Since then, they’ve made some of the biggest moments in school history.
Robert Griffin III won the Heisman trophy in 2011, which is the same year the team beat Oklahoma for the first time in team history. The team has played in two home stadiums, with each of them hosting a championship game in the final season game. Now, the Cotton Bowl is another game to add to their resume.
Goodley loved the memory of last season, but it was the loss against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., that really helped the team get to where they are now.
“Last year, we started out hot,” Goodley said. “We played good football and kept the ball rolling, and then we went up to Stillwater. That loss hurt us but it didn’t define us as a team.”
As the seniors step onto the field Thursday morning, there’s going to be a lot of emotions, but according to junior offensive tackle Spencer Drango, it’s still game time.
“It’s been fun playing with these guys, and it’s going to be tough to see them go,” Drango said. “It’s always an emotional time, but we have to put that aside and play the game and be emotional after.”
Drango is impressed with the way the senior class embraced the leadership roles last spring.
“They’ve done an outstanding job taking charge of this team,” Drango said. “We have a different group of seniors each year, and we have high expectations for them. Every year they deliver and exceed expectations.”
It’s been an exciting career for the Baylor seniors, and they’re ready to pass on the torch, Goodley said.
“We want to leave the underclassman the message to stay hungry and never satisfied and play with a chip on your shoulder,” Goodley said. “Make everything count. Enjoy every moment and live it up because it will be gone before you know it. We’re going to miss it.”
With Petty and several other players graduated, and several ready to walk the stage in the spring, they look to leave Baylor football with one more trophy on Thursday and the momentum to fire away next season.
“We wanted to leave [the team] better than we found it. Now, it’s just about making that a tradition,” Petty said. “If every class comes in and has that mentality of leaving it better than they found it, then we’re going to be alright.”