By Shehan Jeyarajah
Baylor football announced the eighth signing class in program history as the Bears signed 20 players to National Letters of Intent on National Signing Day on Wednesday.
“Our people on staff have done a tremendous job,” head coach Art Briles said. “We’re looking for guys who fit what we’re looking for in our program. I’m looking forward to getting them on campus. I would rank us with anyone in America, both at developing student athletes and schematically on the football field.”
The class featured 17 recruits straight out of high school to go along with two junior college athletes and a grayshirt from the 2014 signing class. In addition, 17 came from the state of Texas. Four of the athletes were early-enrollees and arrived on Baylor’s campus in January for the spring semester.
While it was a smaller class, the Bears picked up several nationally-ranked players. Stidham was ranked No. 37 in the ESPN 300, while Waco Midway wide receiver Devontre Stricklin was ranked No. 257 and Longview running back Ja’Mycal Hasty ranked No. 262.
The crown jewel of the class is five-star quarterback Jarrett Stidham out of Stephenville, where Briles used to coach. Stidham originally committed to Texas Tech before flipping at the last minute. Briles has never had a quarterback rated as highly out of high school.
“His mentality impresses me,” Briles said. “It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. I thought he was laid back, but he’s very passionate about being a dominant football player. He has a dynamic quality that could help push him to greatness.”
Stricklin and linebacker Lenoy Jones Jr., both hail from nearby Midway High School. The duo become the fourth and fifth player from Midway on Baylor’s roster and gives the Bears seven players overall from the Waco area.
“We love to stay local if we can,” Briles said. “It’s like what Dorothy said; she wasn’t saying that there’s no place like your neighbor’s, she said there’s no place like home.”
The Bears gave a particular emphasis to the defensive side of the ball, where eight of their 10 commits reside. In addition, five of the prospects are set to play defensive back, while another four are set to take the field at linebacker.
“You can never have enough great defensive backs, can never have enough linebackers that can cover the space or enough explosive players up front to pressure the quarterback,” Briles said.
With 18 returning starters, including nine on both sides of the ball, opportunities for signees to get on the field will be limited. However, All-American kicker Drew Galitz from Rowlett is expected to be the day-one starter at punter.
While sophomore quarterback Seth Russell is expected to be the starter in 2015, Stidham could push him, or unseat freshman Chris Johnson for a backup spot. Briles also opened the possibility of Houston Lamar athlete J.W Ketchum playing at kick returner during his first year in Waco.
Scout national analyst Greg Powers said he believes that while the signing is not among the top in the nation, it has enough quality to continue Baylor’s ascent towards a national championship.
“What they’ve done has proven they can hang on the field,” Powers said. “They have continued to find success, Baylor no longer sees itself as hanging behind its competition.”
The Bears will go into the 2015 season in search of their third-straight Big 12 Championship; only one other team has accomplished the feat.