By AnnaGrace Hale | Sports Writer
Three-headed monsters are no longer a myth. In fact, one lives in the trenches of Waco; it’s called the Baylor defensive line.
Defensive linemen Siaki “Apu” Ika, Gabe Hall and Jaxon Player merge together on the line of scrimmage to create quite the trio for opposing offensive coordinators to deal with. Each head has a unique role, but joined, they serve to wreak havoc for opposing offenses.
For 2022, Baylor football’s D-line is composed of experienced upperclassmen who know their way around the sport.
“We haven’t had a lot of older guys like this,” Hall said. “With this many older people, we can all put our input in and get each other better. You can study film and be like, ‘I think you can do this. I think you can do that.’ It’s like a brotherhood, and it just makes us really strong.”
One of these notable seasoned players is Salt Lake City junior Siaki “Apu” Ika.
The Utah native played under head coach Dave Aranda’s defensive system as an LSU freshman in 2019. He transferred to Baylor in 2020 and immediately made an impact on a conference-wide level.
In 2021, he claimed major awards, such as Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and AP All-Big 12 First Team. Additionally, he just received 2022 Preseason Best Defensive Lineman in Texas from Dave Campbell’s Texas Football publication.
Despite the accolades, Apu only has one thing on his mind.
“I just like to win,” Apu said. “I try to do my job — do what’s asked of me. As long as we win, that’s all that matters to me.”
Pounding the rock alongside Apu is Waller junior Gabe Hall.
An absolute athletic unit, he has not only size and strength but also agility. He can maneuver around offensive lines and hunt down quarterbacks, recording three sacks against Kansas State last season. Hall said this season’s group is unlike any other.
“I’ve never played with a stacked defense like this, especially the defensive line,” Hall said. “We push each other a lot, more than I’ve been pushed in my life, and it’s very exciting because it makes everybody better on the team.”
While Hall said he is being pushed by his teammates, his companions are looking up to him to set the standard.
“One guy that has been standing out obviously has been Gabe Hall,” sixth-year senior defensive lineman Chidi Ogbonnaya said. “He’s just been doing some crazy stuff all around.”
During fall camp, the offensive and defensive lines got to compete against each other at the line of scrimmage during practice countless times.
“I go against Gabe Hall and Apu every single play,” sixth-year offensive lineman Jacob Gall said. “Those two guys are amazing I think. Obviously, both are two of the best in the nation.”
With the anchor of Apu and the strength of Hall, fifth-year senior Jaxon Player steps in to complete the beast.
A transfer from the University of Tulsa, Player is the new guy on the block — but only slightly. Waco is his hometown, and the Midway High School graduate has returned to play for the green and gold.
“I’m very comfortable with the defense now,” Player said. “I’ve got the hang of things. I have great teammates that help me learn every day … Anything I need, they help me with, so it’s been a smooth transition.”
Player had some dominant seasons in the American Athletic Conference, as he claimed two First Team All-AAC awards in 2020 and 2021. Player stepped up in big games, forcing a fumble against No. 2 University of Cincinnati and recording tackles for losses against No. 9 Ohio State University and Oklahoma State University.
Player joined a group that has lots of depth, but that didn’t deter him from his decision.
“He is not scared of competition,” Hall said. “He’s going to go out there, he’s going to push himself and he’s going to get better. He doesn’t care how stacked we are, how many people there are. He’s just going to come out here and play his hardest and get better every day.”
As Apu, Hall and Player take the field this season, their goals align to make one animal, ready to shift the tide of a game.
“The mission is the same,” Apu said. “We are pounding the rock every day, getting ready for week one.”
This three-headed beast will come to life against the University of Albany at 6 p.m. on Saturday at McLane Stadium.