Redshirt and grow: Players take the opportunity to develop before going all in

Sophomore running back Abram Smith scores the final touchdown against Stephen F. Austin Saturday night, dragging a defender down with him into the end zone. Smith redshirted his freshman year due to injury. Kristen DeHaven | Multimedia Journalist

By Jessika Harkay | Sports Editor

Redshirting gives student athletes an extra year to develop themselves as players, in size or to generally improve their skill sets. The year of growth not only works physically but mentally, as six of the nine single-digit honorees have redshirted at some point in their career.

Under third-year head coach Matt Rhule, over 79 true freshmen and redshirts have played a game on Baylor’s team. In Saturday’s matchup, sophomore wide receiver R.J Sneed earned his first two career touchdowns along with 57 total yards. Looking back at his 2018 season and taking a year to redshirt, Sneed described his year off as “one of the best things that’s ever happened” to him.

“It made my body get mature. It made me learn the offense even better than I did before,” Sneed said. “Redshirting isn’t always a bad thing. For me I think it’s the greatest thing that ever happened. […] All my life I never had to sit out from football so at first I was kind of disappointed, but as the year went on I realized it was a good thing for me.”

Seeing the success of Sneed in his comeback year and of other players such as Grayland Arnold, running back JaMycal Hasty and defensive end James Lockhart, who all have emerged as veteran leaders on the team, the idea of redshirting has become more enticing.

Rhule noted that he would never redshirt a starter and that the decision is up to each individual player.

“All these are their choices. These are never my choices. I don’t say, ‘Hey, you are redshirting’. That’s not my style, not my way,” Rhule said. “What I say is, ‘This is something you want to do’, they say, ‘This is something, coach, I want to look into’ and we take it week by week. There might be other guys who do it after we go through a few weeks and we have no idea what the future will bring. You get through the game and all of a sudden, a few guys go down and you are a starter. Their job each week is to prepare as they are the starter at all positions, every guy on the team and we see what happens.”

After week one, sophomore offensive linemen Xavier Newman and Johncarlo Valentin’s names came up for the potential to redshirt their 2019 seasons.

Newman comes into his third year at Baylor, and even with 11 starts in his first two seasons, both years were cut short due to injury, making him the perfect candidate to take a year off to develop strength, size and potential, Rhule said.

“He got hurt last year and if I could go back, I would not have played him at the end,” Rhule said. “There is just not a better kid on the team than [Xavier] and I think they all realize the power of redshirting after two years. They saw Jalen Hurd and Lockhart do it. You have a chance to play and then kind of catch your breath and take a year to develop their body.”

Likewise with Valentin, the senior guard started nine of 11 games after transferring to Baylor from ASA College in New York his junior year. This is something that Rhule said he regretted and he hopes that he can hold both men to four games this season.

“He came in last year and really should have redshirted after his junior college career and we did not have that luxury, so he played the best he could for us and got better as the year went on,” Rhule said. “If he is able to redshirt this year, he could have a monster year next year, so we will continue to try to do that and we never want to sacrifice this season, but we are going to build for the future as well.”

As the season continues to unravel, the idea of redshirting and allowing each football player a year to take themselves to the next level becomes more interesting. With the question arising with Newman and Valentin, the biggest thing Rhule has emphasized is going on a week-to-week basis as the Bears prepare to host UTSA at 4 p.m. this Saturday.