How Baylor got its Freak on
A once dismal program has now been to three consecutive bowl games and looks better and faster than ever -- thanks to a foundation that Robert Griffin III helped Art Briles build in Waco.
Ask Kaz Kazadi who is the biggest Freak in the Baylor program and you might get a dozen different answers. The Baylor strength coach, a former NFL linebacker with the St. Louis Rams, never used to have much trouble indentifying "That Guy" in the program.
Usually, there was only one truly special athlete if the Bears had one at all. Then again, when a program doesn't qualify for a bowl game for 15 years, that probably shouldn't be too surprising.
Things have changed dramatically around Waco for the Bears football program since Art Briles and his staff arrived in town. After back-to-back 4-8 seasons in Briles' first two years, the Bears have gone 25-14 and been to three consecutive bowls. They finished last season on a four-game win streak that included a win over No. 1 Kansas State and two other ranked teams.
Credit Robert Griffin III, who came to Waco as a World Class hurdler and blossomed into a Heisman Trophy winner and program-changer for a big role in the Bears' freakish evolution.
"Rob set the bar," said Kazadi, who in February was named the 2012 Samson Equipment Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year at the FBS level by American Football Monthly. "He was a major contributor to the direction of the program. He was the starting point, and guys have picked up where he left off.
"It's the culture of it now. They understand what the work does for them and where it's gotten them. Three years ago it was easy to say that when we're doing running drills, you could just point to No. 10 and say he's a really hard worker. But after the years of bowl games, the guys understand it's the process."
RG3 not only proved to be a catalyst for the players in the program, but also in making Baylor a "cool" option for aspiring football players trying to sort through the recruiting process.
"It's honestly indescribable," Briles said. "You see so many kids mimic how he dressed, how he plays at the high school level -- even collegiately. I had a junior who I was talking to and I told him, 'I've had a III before, what about a IV?' And this player knew exactly what I was talking about.' It's absolutely indescribable what he's been able to do for us and our university."
The best example of that is one of the newcomers riding that wave to Waco, blue-chip WR Robbie Rhodes.
"I've been doing this deal for awhile and I've had some really fast receivers: Donnie Avery from Houston, David Gettis, Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams and to be that big, fast, strong and be able to track the ball like Robbie can, that's why he was the No. 1 receiver in America," Briles said. "Without question, he is. That guy is special."
Rhodes is also going to have plenty of competition pushing him.
Kazadi's entry point to this year's Freaks discussion starts with his seniors, and that means Cyril Richardson, an All-American candidate on the O-line. Kazadi says that Richardson, at 328 pounds and moving the way he can, is a different kind of Freak. "He's by far the most explosive O-lineman we've ever had here."
And then Kazadi drifts into talking about linebacker Bryce Hager, who has gone from running in the 4.6s to clocking a 4.48 40.
Then, there's Tevin Reese, who Kazadi said has been timed at 4.32 for three years in a row. "His first time running the 40 here, he was a 4.5 guy," Kazadi said of the wideout who weighed about 148 pounds when he arrived. "He didn't buy into the nutrition and to make sure that you were properly fed after exerting yourself."
Kazadi said back then Reese might have a Pop Tart around 11 a.m. and then maybe eat some fast food around 1:30 if he was going to have a meal that day. Dinner was just a bunch of snacks. "He was just that type of guy."
Reese hardly looks like Terrell Owens now, but he's up to 169 pounds and is much more powerful. His vertical jump which was in the high 30s when he got to Baylor is now at 45 inches and he broad jumps 11-5. Reese is the only one in the program with a better vertical than Lache Seastrunk, the Bear who was chosen for the 2013 Freaks list. More about Seastrunk in that story.
After weighing in on Seastrunk, Kazadi mentions another favorite of his, Antwan Goodley, a wideout who squats 660 pounds -- second most on the entire team. And Eddie Lackey. A bit later Kazadi brings up a pair of 6-1, 225-pound redshirt freshmen linebackers, Kendall Ehrlich and Aiavion Edwards: "They came in more powerful and explosive than any other linebackers we've had come into the program. And by the time they're done, they're going to be really flying around."
Then Kazadi gets back to the Bears quarterback. The new starter is Bryce Petty, who actually has topped all of Griffin's testing marks in everything except the 40-yard dash.
The 6-3, 233-pound Petty's fastest time in the 40 was a 4.55. His vertical jump: 37 inches. Broad jump: 10-2. He benched 225 21 times. "He is really impressive," Kazadi said of Petty.
"It's really hard now here to determine who is the freakiest of them all here. We have a lot of freaky guys."
If a lot of these 40 times sound too fast to be true, you're not alone in the skepticism. I figured Kazadi must've been referring to hand-timed 40s.
"Noooo. They're all electronic. We don't hand-time anything," Kazadi said. "Hand times are for your mama. Your mama don't work here. We're not hand-timing anything around here. We encourage people to come watch our guys work. They take this seriously.
"Make sure that's clear. Because we have a lot of people that question what our guys are doing in the program. We take that as a compliment. If you don't believe what they do, thank you."
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