Newcomers key Baylor bowl bid

By John Hillman  |   Monday, April 06, 2009  |  Comments( 2 )

Baylor Bears
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Baylor's college football team hasn’t played in a bowl since the midpoint of Bill Clinton’s first presidential term. But if newcomers Phil Taylor and Danny Watkins perform as expected next season, the Bears might land their first postseason appearance since New Year’s Eve 1994.

Taylor, a former Penn State defensive tackle, transferred to Baylor last summer. He had been dismissed from the Nittany Lion program for his role in an on-campus altercation at the school's student union. The 6-foot-4 lineman eventually pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges related to the incident.

Although Taylor looked at Virginia Tech, Tennessee and Maryland as options, he decided on the Bears because of his relationship with Baylor defensive coordinator Brian Norwood. The transfer arrived on the Waco, Texas, campus weighing 380 pounds; but after eight months of conditioning and undergoing spring drills, he has slimmed down to under 350. After redshirting last season, the defensive tackle has two years of eligibility remaining and projects as Baylor’s starter on the right side following spring practice.

Baylor can certainly use Taylor’s run-stopping ability. Last year, the Bears ranked 85th in total defense, 87th in scoring defense, 84th in sacks and 109th in tackles for losses.

Another fresh face can make a difference on the Green and Gold offensive line. Last December, Baylor signed Watkins, a junior college transfer who spent two years at Butte (Calif.) Community College.

Watkins’ gridiron career materialized from almost nothing. The Canadian, who hails from Kelowna, B.C., played hockey as a youngster and joined the local fire department after graduating from high school.

He earned a scholarship to Butte’s Fire Academy, and because of his 6-4, 310-pound frame, a friend suggested he try out for football team. Watkins’ build made him a natural for the offensive line.

After playing two years at Butte, recruiting services ranked him in the nation’s top 40 junior college prospects. He chose the Bears last fall over California, Arkansas, Hawaii and Kansas.

Since arriving in Waco, Watkins has benefited from a special tutor. Jason Smith, last season’s starting left tackle, worked intensively with the newcomer this spring. Smith, an expected top five NFL pick, likes the potential of his successor and believes he can develop into an All-Big XII player with increased strength and additional practice.

Two high-octane playmakers return to Baylor for their sophomore seasons. Quarterback Robert Griffin, who threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s final spring scrimmage, will direct the Bears’ offense. Wide receiver Kendall Wright, who caught five passes for 68 yards in Baylor’s last practice, will serve as Griffin’s favorite target.

With this pair providing the points, the Bears only need a little bolstering in their offensive and defensive lines to upgrade last year’s four wins into six or more for bowl consideration. The two northern newcomers, Taylor and Watkins, could be just the answer.
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About John Hillman

John Hillman graduated from Baylor University in 1974 with a BBA in accounting and earned an MBA from Baylor in 1987. He worked for accounting firms until 1982 when he became the chief financial officer for an independent insurance claims adjusting service, a position he still holds today....
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