Unproven but not untested: Shapen learns to be a leader

Blake Shapen makes a pass at the Big 12 Championship Game against Oklahoma State University on Dec. 4, 2021. Baylor University Photography Database photo.

By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer

For the third straight year, Baylor football finds itself with a new player under center. Sophomore Blake Shapen was named starter back in April, following yet another offseason battle for the quarterback spot. After one of the best seasons in program history, all eyes are on Shapen.

Although unproven as the full-time starter, the 6-foot, 200-pound slinger is not untested. In the 2021 Big 12 Championship, Shapen stepped in for an injured Gerry Bohanon and caught the attention of everyone who watched. Shapen came out of the gates with guns blazing, with a record-setting 17 straight completions to start the game — enough to take home the Most Outstanding Player award.

Shapen acknowledged his unique position and said he and the team are improving overall.

“We’re all learning together,” Shapen said. “I’m still technically inexperienced, and I still have something to prove, and so we’re all going out there together to do that. I’m glad I get to do it with these guys.”

Following his big game and his performance this spring, Shapen was able to win over head coach Dave Aranda in order to get the starting position. Aranda said he is seeing good things from the new leader of the offense, and the team is seeing it too.

“Blake’s been really impressive,” Aranda said. “There were a couple throws where the zip is on the ball, the placement, where it’s at, the anticipation, the timing. We’ve got a fair amount of guys — Ben Sims was one of them — where after a throw, he would come up to Blake and go, ‘Man, that was awesome! Great throw!’”

One of the question marks surrounding Shapen being named starter was the idea that Bohanon was a more natural leader who had earned the respect of the team. However, Aranda said he is noticing Shapen step into his role as leader well, as he has become more communicative with and thoughtful of his teammates.

“Blake, with all of it, is continuing to kind of stay attached to kind of the day-to-day process and is bringing guys along with him in terms of ‘This is how I study; this is what I do,’” Aranda said. “I think that’s a big stretch for him. He’s a very private dude, and I think he’s doing it in a really great way.”

Shapen commented on his new leadership role and said it has been one of his main focuses as he prepares for the season.

“I’m not a backup quarterback anymore, so I have to take full control of everything that’s going on on the field,” Shapen said. “I learned a lot of things being the backup, so stepping up into a leadership role and things like that is key for me right now.”

Shapen has not only impressed Aranda; seventh-year quarterback Luke Anthony and junior tight end Drake Dabney both sang high praises when talking about the new starter’s throwing ability.

“He’s got exceptional twitch, you know,” Anthony said. “You see guys like Aaron Rodgers and Zach Wilson where they can kind of just throw it from any angle — you know, different arm angles, lightning quick release and a lot of velocity. It’s not necessarily like a power throw or like some of these guys that you’ve seen in the past, but just a really good, twitchy thrower.”

“He can spin it for sure,” Dabney said. “He’s going to put it on you. He’s got it. He has a real good touch, and he knows just where to put the ball.”

The Shapen show begins soon as Baylor football kicks off the season at 6 p.m. Saturday against the University at Albany in McLane Stadium.