Football names the front nine for the 2019 season

Junior running back John Lovett reaches the end zone for a touch down against Abilene Christian in the home opener Sept. 1, 2018 at McLane Stadium. Lovett will wear a single-digit jersey for a second straight season. Lariat File Photo

By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer

The single-digit jersey number is one of the highest points of recognition in Baylor’s football program. Voted on by teammates, the jerseys one through nine represent leadership, hardwork and dedication. The final and complete list of honorees came out this Sunday.

Five of the nine players wearing single-digits this season have been given the honor in previous years, including Chris Miller, Grayland Arnold and Henry Black on defense, along with running backs John Lovett and JaMycal Hasty.

Additionally, six of the selected men are defensive players, showing the growing maturity and strength of the defense. Head coach Matt Rhule emphasized that the single-digit jersey allows the opportunity to show younger players the level they should strive for.

“The great thing for me is our young guys that are on the team now have a great example of what a single-digit means,” Rhule said. “There have been some really great single-digits the last two years. I expect us to be nine strong the entire season where those nine guys are showing up game in and game out.”

Rhule continued to illustrate that the only thing that matters coming up on their first matchup is having his front-nine show up to the game and set the tone for their younger teammates.

“We feel like we have a scheme to do it, we feel like we have the toughness to do it, but we have to go do it,” Rhule said. “Then when the two’s go in, the young guys go in, they need to play to the same standards. So, I’m excited to see them play and see how they handle things.”

The complete list of the team’s leaders is below.

#1 Junior cornerback Grayland Arnold

Arnold is a veteran corner who redshirted in 2018. He played in four games and totaled six tackles last season before suffering from an injury. In 2017, he started nine of 12 games and finished the season with 35 tackles, seven pass breakups and an interception. Arnold was ranked 14th in the Big 12 in pass break up.

#2 Senior linebacker Blake Lynch

Lynch is a versatile player on the Bears team with 18 career starts at five different positions (corner, linebacker, safety, wide receiver and running back) but has finally found his place at linebacker which he started at nine times in 2018. Last fall the senior linebacker racked up 47 tackles, 31 of which were solo, 1.5 sacks, and had a career-high two tackles for a loss in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl.

Earlier in the year, defensive lines coach Frank Okam described that Lynch’s next step is to “become the most violent player on defense.”

“I think that’s the next jump for him because he has great, elite athleticism and cat-like quickness,” Okam said. “He’s able to maneuver around people, and when he adds that brand of physicality to his game he’s going to be unstoppable.”

#3 Senior safety Chris Miller

The returning safety has played 31 career games with 13 starts and comes into his third year with a single-digit jersey. Miller is only one of two players who under Rhule has earned the jersey all three years. In 2018, Miller recorded 12 sacks, 50 solo tackles and a sack for nine yards, earning him a Big 12 honorable mention.

#4 Senior linebacker Clay Johnston

Previously wearing 44, Johnston earned his first single-digit this year. He leads the team with 179 career tackles and is one of the top LB in the Big 12. Last year Johnston ranked 5th in the conference with 99 tackles and averaged 8.25 tackles per game. In November, the linebacker began averaging 13.3 tackles per game and had a career high game against Oklahoma State with 17 tackles — Baylor’s most since 2013.

#5 Senior wide receiver Denzel Mims

Known for the famous homecoming game-winning catch against OSU last season, Mims has received over 1900 yards throughout his career, with 120 receptions and 16 touchdowns. Mims, in the past season, averaged over 66 yards per game, catching 55 balls for 794 yards.

The biggest step for the Daingerfield senior this season? Leadership on the sidelines, said wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson.

“We already know he’s a good player, a really good player,” Jackson said. “He’s got to do that other part. If he can get those guys to run through a brick wall for him, the sky’s the limit. That’s the big piece missing in my opinion.”

#6 Senior running back JaMycal Hasty

Rhule claimed that he has never seen someone with as many votes than what Hasty received this year. The fifth year senior has 31 career games and 13 starts under his belt. Hasty comes into the 2019 season with the potential to reach 2,000 career yards against Stephen F. Austin this Saturday. He sits at 1,920 currently, and last year totaled 637 total yards of offense.

#7 Junior running back John Lovett

After moving to safety in the spring of 2019, Lovett officially moved back to running back earlier this summer. The junior led Baylor’s rushing in 2017 and 2018, becoming the 39th player in program history to reach 1,000 career yards. Last season the running back played 12 games with three starts and totaled 109 carries for nearly 580 yards.

#8 Senior safety Henry Black

Black was one of the first announced players to earn the single-digit number. The senior safety comes off a season with 22 tackles, 18 of them solo. Against TCU in 2018, Black recorded a career-high game with eight tackles, a sack and two tackles for a loss.

#9 Senior defensive end James Lockhart

Lockhart has been a defensive name that has circled around the coaching staff for leadership. Named the most improved defensive player at the end of last season, Lochart in his redshirt junior year played 13 games on the season with 11 tackles (7 solo) and a sack.

Okam described him as someone who could take another step in the program.

“He’s done a great job of understanding who he is as a player, and that’s been the biggest dynamic and mental evolution for him and getting a little bit better every day,” Okam said. “Now he’s started to be more vocal as a leader and that’s translated through our defense. That’s helping to pull everyone along to make that next step.”

The Bears host Stephen F. Austin at 6 p.m. on Saturday at McLane Stadium.