WACO, Texas -- Phil Bennett could only shake his head.
"He's just a football player. He's a football player," he said.
The text couldn't say less. But the context said plenty. Rarely does a player draw a simplistic, yet meaningful review. But Baylor's sophomore defensive end Tevin Elliott did exactly that after leading Baylor in sacks, with five, as a redshirt freshman in 2010.
"He was dominating at times," said Baylor coach Art Briles. "He’s got a chance to be a very dominating football player in the Big 12, without a doubt."
The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder, on a large scale, had a moderate season. But along with junior receiver Josh Gordon, he's one of a pair of Bears who could become big names in 2011 across the conference.
Gordon, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver, made such an impression on his quarterback when he arrived on campus, the Bears' Robert Griffin III lobbied his coaches to put the true freshman on the field, rather than redshirt him.
The coaches were already high on him. We were excited when he got here," Griffin said. "I pleaded with [wide receivers] coach [Dino] Babers and he went to Coach Briles, because obviously that’s not my place, but we got him to take the redshirt off."
Griffin wanted another tall receiver opposite David Gettis, now with the Carolina Panthers, in addition to Kendall Wright. But Griffin injured his knee in the season's third game, and Gordon finished with just one catch for 7 yards. Griffin returned in 2010 and Gordon finished the year with 42 catches for 714 yards and seven touchdowns.
"He has the raw talent at receiver, we just had to get his mind right," Griffin said. "He’s working and he realizes has to be more vocal and speak up, because he’s only going to be a big weapon for us. I can honestly say I trust him now, I don’t have a problem throwing one up for him, I know if I do, he’s going to try his hardest to go get it. If he does, he’s going to do something nasty with it."
Elliott was already pretty nasty on the defensive line, drawing comparisons from Bennett to a former player of his at Pittsburgh, Jabaal Sheard, who won the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. Elliott moved into the starting lineup early on in conference play, notching three combined sacks in games against Kansas and Texas Tech.
It's even more impressive knowing he did it with a torn labrum that caused him occasional pain. He suffered the injury in high school originally, but it worsened recently, and Elliott is sitting out the spring after surgery to repair the tear. Without pain and a full-strength shoulder, he could be due for a big encore as a sophomore.
The highlight of his first year on the field, even with the injury, came awhile after he first slid into the starting lineup.
"When we beat Texas, that was a moment I’ll never forget," he said.
As a native of Houston, he grew up a fan of the Longhorns. After the win, he called up a friend back home, a staunch burnt orange supporter, to celebrate the win.
"My mom called me before the game and told me, 'Hey, this is all you’ve been talking about your entire life.' I finally got out there and when we won, it was a special moment," he said.
Plenty more of those special moments and big wins for Baylor could come courtesy of Elliott and Gordon in the coming years.
"Look out for Baylor football, we’re going to do a lot of big things," he said.