A few years ago, Kendal Briles sent Facebook friend requests to prospective recruits knowing that expressing Baylor’s interest might be a futile practice.
Plenty of those requests were denied. No, thank you. Not playing at Baylor.
“Now,” Briles says proudly, “we’re making some moves.”
The Baylor receivers coach has a much easier time selling what the Bears have to offer these days. Kids want to play in this high-tempo offense. They’re the ones befriending him now. The reason why is obvious.
Baylor is becoming the new Wide Receiver U.
Sorry, Tennessee. No offense, USC. But since arriving in Waco, Texas, in 2008, Art Briles has quickly built arguably the premier receiver factory in college football. The proof is all over, from his former players to current Bears to the next ones up.
What Briles’ son is selling now is tangible proof that Baylor can turn receivers into stars. Just look at Kendall Wright, the Tennessee Titans slot man who surpassed 1,000 yards in his second season. Former Baylor teammate Terrance Williams finished third among rookies in receiving for the Dallas Cowboys.
And how about Josh Gordon? The former Bear led the NFL in receiving with 1,646 yards this season. You bet Briles and his son are throwing their names around these days when recruiting.
Baylor replaced those three with one of the top receiving duos in the country in All-Big 12 wideouts Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese and one of the conference’s best slot receivers in Levi Norwood. They have underclassmen Corey Coleman, Robbie Rhodes and Jay Lee on the way.
“There’s no doubt you’ve got guys who are proven in the system and now proven on the next level,” Kendal Briles said. “If you’re a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kid in high school and you’re looking at where to play in college and you’re looking at the things we’re doing with throwing the football, it’s a pretty good deal. You’ve got to take a pretty heavy look at us.”
Art Briles’ first receivers coach at Baylor, Dino Babers, just landed the Bowling Green head-coaching job this month. Briles' son has been on the staff from the start and now coordinates Baylor’s passing game. He’s had plenty of talent to work with in this gig.
This season, Goodley became the third consecutive Bear to lead the Big 12 in receiving. He insists his 1,319-yard, 13-touchdown breakout season wouldn’t have been possible without his predecessors.
“I just knew you better show up to work every day, because those guys work hard every day,” Goodley said. “They play with a passion and love being out there. They taught me a lot and built me into the receiver I am today.”
In Wright, Williams and Reese, Baylor has three of the six most prolific receivers in the Big 12 since 2008. They all still send text messages to each other on a daily basis. Their position group is becoming a fraternity.
Gordon had the best hands of the bunch. Reese indisputably was the fastest. Williams was the superior route-runner. Goodley, at 222 pounds, might be the strongest. And Baylor cornerbacks say Wright was the most impossible to cover.
One thing nearly all of them had in common: They were not coveted recruits.
Goodley was a three-star prospect. Reese was a two-star recruit who weighed 138 pounds in high school. Gordon was ranked No. 128 among receiver prospects by ESPN. Only Wright was a member of the ESPN 150, but as a quarterback who’d never played receiver.
“We’ve been overlooked a little bit, but we like that,” Goodley said. “We show guys what we can do. You don’t have to be a five-star athlete to be a great receiver.”
Baylor’s approach to evaluating and recruiting receivers is no different than anyone else’s: Get them in camp and see what they can do. Hitting on the trio of Wright, Williams and Lanear Sampson in the 2008 class gave Briles precisely the kind of weapons Robert Griffin III needed. Baylor loaded up on speed and more speed.
“Track speed, football speed, it’s just speed, period,” said Wright, who finished with 4,004 receiving yards at Baylor. “They just want somebody with speed. Everything else will come.”
Kendal Briles would argue that Baylor’s scheme is as easy as it gets for a receiver. Often times, Reese said he’ll have three options on a route. A defender can’t answer for all of them. With how wide the Bears split out their receivers, there’s plenty of opportunity to get the ball in the open field.
What’s remarkable is the fact that Baylor has built a top-five passing offense nationally while still running the ball on 55 percent of its snaps. Since Art Briles arrived, Baylor ranks No. 5 in the FBS in yards per catch at 13.7. Its best big-play threats, Williams and Reese, averaged a stunning 11.2 yards per target.
No wonder the big-name recruits are interested. Landing Rhodes, the No. 3 receiver in the class of 2013, was a coup. Getting Cannon and Hall on board was even better, and Zamora might have the most upside of the incoming three.
“Now you get some top-notch players in here,” Kendal Briles said, “and it could be crazy what happens.”
Only Reese is graduating, setting up Baylor to have a loaded group of wideouts in 2014. That will mean plenty of competition, and Reese frequently talks with Goodley and Norwood about becoming the vocal leaders when he’s gone.
The way Reese sees it, there’s a certain pay-it-forward mentality within the group. Wright took him under his wing and believed in him from the start.
He cares about maintaining what’s quickly becoming a proud tradition.
“When we have wide receivers coming in, we’re going to put it in their head: This is Wide Receiver University,” he said. “You’ve got to play like it. Baylor produces the best wide receivers and the No. 1 offense in the nation.”
And a few good pros, too. Wright is looking forward to seeing his successors join him at the next level soon. Together, they’re planning to take over the NFL.
“That’s what we plan to do, man,” Goodley said. “They don’t call us Wide Receiver U for nothing.”