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Vision becomes reality under Art Briles

9/1/2014

It was a brand new feeling for Art Briles.

For the first time since he arrived in Waco, the Baylor Bears' head coach stepped onto the field in a brand new stadium with a team considered a national title contender.

He couldn't have even dreamed of this.

"I don't dream big enough, don't think big enough, don't foresee big enough," Briles said. "It was unbelievable. The atmosphere was everything we hoped it could be."

The Bears opened McLane Stadium with a 45-0 win against SMU on Sunday night. Playing in an on-campus stadium for the first time since Nov. 9, 1935, Baylor looked comfortable in its new digs, cruising to a season-opening win with a dominant defensive performance. Yet many people left thinking the Bears had an off night, a sign of the rise in expectations surrounding the green-and-gold.

Those expectations could be seen and heard around the stadium as the pregame festivities led to an exceptional atmosphere for a season opener.

"The atmosphere was unbelievable," tackle Spencer Drango said. "We had the 'Walk of the Bears' and we had to stop before we were supposed to because there were so many people. It felt like it went on forever. It was an amazing environment. It was something special. I can't find the words to describe it."

Sitting alongside I-35 as the on-campus jewel of Baylor, the $266 million, 45,140-seat stadium is a physical representation of how far Briles program has come since he took over the Bears prior to the 2008 season.

Few college football cathedrals can match McLane. Fans can arrive by boat and tailgate on the Brazos river before entering one of the most innovative venues in the nation, one which also features an in-game app that can be downloaded to enhance the game-day experience.

Just outside the stadium's South entrance, a statue of Robert Griffin III sits just yards away from the Brazos river, serving as another representation of a new era in Waco.

"It's not a representation of me," said Griffin, who was in town to experience the opening of the picturesque facility first-hand. "It's more a representation of what we've done at Baylor."

After a pair of 4-8 seasons to begin his tenure, Briles' Bears have put together four straight winning seasons, including double-digit wins in 2011 and 2013. He is 44-32 during his six seasons in Waco, including 29-10 in the past three seasons as the talent he recruited started to really put its stamp on the program. The Bears won 21 total games in the six seasons prior to Briles' arrival.

It's ideal that the two men who have become the face of Baylor's rise were reunited to open BU's new home. Griffin played an integral role in the rise, leading the Bears to a 23-17 record in 40 starts including a 10-win season in 2011. And he continues to play an active role.

"He had a nice little talk with us during summertime, basically saying we have to keep this trend going," tight end Tre'Von Armstead said.

The bulk of Baylor's success was all built upon the vision Briles had for the Big 12's second-smallest school. He's no longer selling a vision.

Seven years later, reality is finally on Briles' side. The Bears do have a recent Heisman Trophy winner, the Bears do have one of the nation's nicest stadiums and, most importantly, the Bears do have one of the nation's best teams.

"The sky is the limit for this team, for this program, for this university," Griffin said. "It's only going to get bigger, it's only going to get better."

They don't have to dream anymore on BU's campus. All the pieces are in place to cement a spot among the nation's best, year in and year out. Thus, the focus has turned instead to another dream: A berth in the College Football Playoff and the first national championship in school history.

"We plan on, we are going to, go all the way," Armstead said. "We'll take it one game at a time, but we have big goals."