By Ben Everett | Sports Editor
Baylor head coach Matt Rhule received a text message from Nick Florence on Thursday night. Florence, a quarterback for the Bears from 2009 to 2012, offered words of encouragement for the second-year head coach.
With the Bears coming off a 40-27 loss to Duke at McLane Stadium the previous Saturday, Florence told Rhule he believed in what the team was doing and asked if there was anything he could do to help.
Rhule asked Florence to speak to the team prior to their game against Kansas, and Rhule said the speech had a significant impact on the team.
“I thought it was really one of the pivotal moments in trying to build a football program,” Rhule said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to build a football program.”
Florence shared the story of the 2012 Baylor football team with this year’s group.
Florence served as the third-string quarterback in 2009, but started games down the stretch of the season due to injuries. Florence played sparingly as a sophomore and junior, serving as the backup to Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
When Griffin left for the NFL in 2012, Florence took over the starting job as a senior. The Bears had a rocky start to the season, overcoming a halftime deficit to beat Sam Houston State at home and scraping by Louisiana-Monroe with a win of 47-42 to close their non-conference schedule. To open Big 12 play, Baylor lost four games in a row.
The Bears picked up a win over Kansas, but fell to No. 12 Oklahoma to drop to 4-5 overall and 1-5 in the Big 12. With the No. 1 team in the country coming to Waco, the Bears needed to turn their season around. They did just that with a 52-24 upset of Kansas State.
Baylor went on to defeat Texas Tech and No. 23 Oklahoma State en route to a Holiday Bowl appearance. The Bears took down No. 17 UCLA 49-26 to finish the year 8-5.
In the Holiday Bowl victory, Florence broke Griffin’s record from the previous year for passing yards in a single season in Baylor football history with 4,309.
Rhule said the key takeaway from the story is that the team stopped pointing fingers and rallied together to finish the season strong.
“And so Nick told the team about how all of a sudden, in the middle of that year, through all the adversity and people saying things, they just stopped worrying about ‘Is it the offense? Is it the defense?'” Rhule said. “They came together as a team.”
When Florence gave the speech, the Bears had a winning record, but they were coming off a loss to Duke in which they were favored. They were only favored to beat Kansas by one touchdown with key conference matchups against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia looming in the distance.
Rhule said Florence’s words took pressure off of the team’s shoulders and gave them a new perspective.
“You’re sitting there talking to the players and they’re trying to figure it out and putting too much pressure on themselves. He gave them a message that it’s all about coming together as a team,” Rhule said. “When he said that, I thought our kids sat up a little bit in their chair[s] and took a little bit of pressure off them.”
Baylor picked up its first home conference win since 2016 on Saturday on the heels of Florence’s advice. Freshman wide receiver Josh Fleeks, who led the Bears in receiving yards and caught his first career touchdown in the 26-7 win, said Florence’s speech “really got [him] ready for the game.”
Sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer said having a former successful Baylor quarterback readily available for advice is something that he has cherished.
“He’s an awesome guy that I definitely look up to and is there when I need to talk to him,” Brewer said. “He’s been a huge help for me. He had a bunch of success here at Baylor and anytime someone like him can speak to us, I think it’s good for us to learn from what he had to say.”
The Bears hit the road for their first Big 12 away game when they face No. 5 Oklahoma at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Norman, Okla.