By Michael Haag | Sports Writer
No.7 Baylor football are Sugar Bowl champions; when you put that into perspective it can seem almost unthinkable. Predicted to finish eighth in the Big 12 before the season, the Bears achieved the unachievable and let the nation know there is something special in Waco.
The entire country watched as the Bears wreaked havoc defensively and throttled a high-powered University of Mississippi offense. What was not apparent to the viewer’s eye is how the journey became possible due to the athletes being more than players who rack up stats. The players bought in and invested in being selfless teammates under head coach Dave Aranda.
“All of that is with personal choices and doing little things right and adhering to a standard over feelings,” Aranda said. “And [I’m] just way proud. And it’s just something when you see that, you want other people to see it. I’m appreciative that we had the opportunity, and we took advantage of it.”
The Sugar Bowl’s Most Valuable Player award went to senior linebacker Terrel Bernard, who spoke about the entire team’s mindset and doing what was believed to be right.
“I think you can pick out 30 or 40 guys on this team that just do things the right way,” Bernard said. “There are probably more that aren’t being seen yet but will be seen later on down the road. I think that’s the cool thing about it. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other, doing what you are supposed to do, day in and day out. Eventually your time will come. And it’s just crazy to see the growth and everything that’s happened to get to this point.”
In what is expected to be Bernard’s final game as a Bear, he made sure to fill up the stat sheet, as he recorded 17 total tackles, two sacks, and two tackles for loss.
Amid the stats and glory, Bernard made sure to give mention to the people he has been around for his collegiate career. For the linebacker out of La Porte, the program at Baylor has stood out in a way that made him incredibly proud to represent and be around those amazing people.
“It’s been amazing, man,” Bernard said. “I couldn’t say enough good things about Baylor, about the people here. I think that’s what truly makes this place special, is the people. Just after the game, I was just looking out at everybody standing in front of me, and just thinking about everybody’s story and everybody’s journey to get to this point. I couldn’t be more proud of those guys, man. I’m so excited for everything that’s come their way, and everybody finally getting the opportunity to be seen.”
Another experienced Baylor athlete is senior running back Abram Smith, who rushed for 177 yards in the Sugar Bowl and secured the Bears’ single-season rushing record with1,606 yards. While he ran over defenders and shattered records, he also didn’t hesitate to talk about his teammates and their selflessness.
“I think for us, it’s just playing for one another,” Smith said. “We look at the man to the left and right of us, and we want to give it our all for each other. So every time we stepped on the field, that was kind of our thing to go to.
Aranda said the team’s attitude is what led to the change in performance from the disappointing 2020 season. He said this team has been positive for him as a person and he is grateful for the season Baylor had.
“I look at just all of the change that has happened with Baylor football,” Aranda said. “I think the closer you get, you just see so many names and faces come and go. You see just change, and you see people demanding beliefs and motivating people in different ways. And so I think for us, the change from last year to this year was really kind of breaking all of that down and earning trust and believing in each other and being selfless. And I think when you get to that, you get to a team. We’ve had some team wins throughout the year, and so appreciative of the team. I’m a better person for it.”
Baylor finished the season with 12 wins, a program-first. The path Aranda and the team took this season was a success, and they now turn towards a long offseason to look into what is up next. It will not be easy to replicate the historic season the Bears had, but Baylor football can enjoy the sweet taste of sugar throughout the new year.