Rhule embracing walk-on culture

Coach Matt Rhule observes his team during an August practice. Photo credit: Jessica Hubble

Ben Everett | Sports Writer

Baylor head football coach Matt Rhule is in no rush to bring injured sophomore safeties Henry Black and Rajah Preciado back onto the field.

For Rhule, it provides an opportunity for others, most notably walk-ons, to get legitimate minutes.

“We’re being very cautious with Henry [Black] and Rajah [Preciado],” Rhule said. “I’d probably say another week to two weeks to three weeks. We have some wonderful non-scholarship safeties.”

Black and Preciado are not the only hobbled players among the Baylor secondary, Rhule said. Senior starting safety Davion Hall might miss the first game of the season due to an undisclosed injury.

“I don’t know the time frame for Davion [Hall],” Rhule said. “But the goal is to probably have them all back by the week of the first or second game.”

Rhule says freshman safety Jairon McVea and junior safety Jarrod Koym are both candidates to get on the field this season, but not just because they are hard-working.

“Jairon McVea is probably as talented as any scholarship player we have,” Rhule said. “Jarrod Koym is unbelievably talented. Those guys have really done a tremendous job of giving us reps while at the same time they’ll be really really good players on special teams.”

On the other side of the ball, junior starting running back Terence Williams is not expected to be back until the start of Big 12 Conference play due to a shoulder injury sustained during spring practice. Meanwhile, sophomore JaMychal Hasty will start in his place, but walk-on freshmen Dru Dixon, Trestan Ebner and John Lovett could see minutes in the backfield, as reported by Shehan Jeyarajah of Baylor Diehards.

Rhule has a history of developing non-scholarship players. Most recently, Temple linebacker Haason Reddick was selected with the 13th pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft after starting his career as a walk-on under Rhule.

Overall, Rhule’s old team had three players selected in the 2017 Draft, per philly.com. Offensive lineman Dion Dawkins was taken by the Buffalo Bills in the second round and cornerback Nate Hairston was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the fifth round.

Meanwhile, Baylor had just one player selected as center Kyle Fuller was taken by the Houston Texans in the seventh round.

Rhule credits his former players’ success to toughness.

“The NFL knows how hard-nosed the Temple players are, how hard they practice,” Rhule told philly.com. “These are truly Temple tough players and it is why kids in the area will want to come to Temple.”

Rhule, who played collegiately at Penn State from 1994 to 1997, was a non-scholarship player under Joe Paterno.

“I met with about seven walk-on kids last night and reminded them I was a walk-on,” Rhule said. “I’ve had two players in my four years as a head coach as walk-ons go on to the NFL.”

Rhule said walk-ons approach life with that same Temple toughness because they have to pay their way through school.

“I have a lot of respect for walk-ons because they’re paying their way,” Rhule said. “Which means they’re tough, they’re smart and they’re selfless. We’re going to look for contributions from everybody.”

Rhule went on to emphasize the importance of having non-scholarship players on the team, not only for depth, but also for team chemistry.

“I think we have so many walk-on kids that are going to play because they deserve to play,” Rhule said. “It might be on special teams but that to me is how you build a good team is having those guys.”

Rhule has not decided whether any walk-ons will play when Baylor opens the season at 6 p.m. Sept. 2 against Liberty University at McLane Stadium.