It's almost too perfect. It's almost as if the road was designed specifically for Baylor football.
Driving south on Interstate 35 into Waco, Texas, the road bends one way as you head into downtown, then it bends another way, and suddenly there it is. McLane Stadium devours your entire horizon. It's a 45,000-seat stadium that, if you didn't know any better, you'd guess would hold almost twice that. It's like the Jacksonville Jaguars moved to Waco.
Considering this all takes place one of the major thoroughfares of high school football talent in America, Art Briles couldn't have designed it better himself.
In Part III of our conversation with the Baylor graduate assistants, we delve into the new stadium and how it changes things for them, Baylor recruiting and the Bears' epic 2013 season. Part I and Part II were released earlier this week.
Once again, the principals:
Mike Anthony: seventh year in the program, second as quality control
Jordan Shoemaker: third year in the program, third as a graduate assistant
Kevin Park: sixth year in the program, first as a graduate assistant
Andrew Walsh: second year in the program, first as a graduate assistant
Dominique Zeigler: sixth year in the program, second as a graduate assistant
FS: How is the new stadium going to change things for you?
Anthony: It’s about to make it a lot better. It’s huge having it on campus. Weren’t we one of like three D-I schools that didn’t have a stadium on campus? Just recruiting-wise, you’d take guys out to Floyd Casey and it’s pretty far removed from here. The area, you take recruits there and they’re like ‘This is Baylor?’ Our campus is beautiful. Putting them around this, it’s great. Any time a Dallas kid is heading south, what do they see? I think it’s going to be vital recruiting.
Before we had this facility, that was where we practiced. It was a cluster just making sure guys got there. But then you’ve got to worry, is this guy going to make it, is that guy going to make it? You’re having to call guys all the time.
Zeigler: You’re talking to somebody who used to have to drive every day, even if it was a 5:30 workout. This was a time when I didn’t have a car so now you’re having to search for a ride at 5 o’clock in the morning or set it up the night before and drive all the way around Floyd Casey to get all your work in, then come back here on campus to go to class. Kids now they can just come over here and walk from their apartment and get another weight room workout in. When I was here, you’re either going to have to get a cab, which is going to cost money, or you’re going to have to give somebody some gas money. It made things difficult. If you wanted to get better, you’re going to get better. But it just makes things so much easier right here.
Park: It’s going to be night and day. It’s going to change life for Waco, for Baylor. A $250 million stadium, it’s hard not to. It brings everything on campus. Recruiting goes to another level. It just adds on to Coach Briles’ vision when he first got here. Our mindset is we’re second to none. Our athletes are second to none. We’re the fastest. That’s what we want and that’s what we strive for, so having that stadium is just another part of it. It’s going to be beautiful, it’s going to be a great environment. I don’t see anything bad about it.
FS: How often do you use the indoor facility?
Zeigler: Here, now, since I’ve been back it’s not a thing of ‘Oh this person is late for a morning workout at 6 in the morning.’ When I was here it was a frequent thing because such-and-such isn’t here because he doesn’t have a car so he doesn’t have a ride or someone forgot that he needed a ride. It’s not that you can just jump up, go across the street and make it there in time. You have to get up, find somebody to get you there at 5:30 in the morning. It made everything so much more difficult for the kids. Now you’ve got an indoor. It didn’t matter if it was raining, sleeting, we were outside. You’re just wasting a day out there but you have to get it in because coach isn’t going to be like, “Well, it’s raining. We’re done with practice.” Now if it’s raining we’ll go in and still get a good day’s work.
Anthony: During the season it’s the second half of every practice. Part of it early on is temperature. Everybody always talks about rain but really in Texas in August and September you can go in there and actually get good work in.
FS: How much time do you spend on Hudl?
Anthony: This time of year, a lot. Any recruiting period we're looking at kids a good chunk of the day.
Shoemaker: In season, not as much just because we're working ahead of schedule. They have a kid that they hear about or they look at when they go to a school and they get the name here, we'll look at them. Other than that, we're scouting ourselves.
Park: A lot.
Walsh: That’s our main recruiting avenue.
FS: What about recruiting services like Rivals?
Park: We use it more as a reference. This kid committed here. This is what he said during an interview. But as far as our evaluation, we don’t use them. It’s where you start. You can see who Alabama has offered, who’s visiting Tech or who’s at this junior day. You can keep track of it and it’s a starting point. (Coaches) are spending all the time on the road, they’re getting names from coaches they’ve known for years. Coach Bennett knows anybody and everybody. We’ve been recruiting in this area, we’re bred in Texas high school football, especially from Coach. We use it as a starting point but we’ll go from there.
Anthony: You can get lists off recruiting sites like Rivals, and then word of mouth. I’ll talk to high school coaches I know, "Do y’all have anybody? Is there anybody in y’alls district that y’all played that stood out?"
FS: After you've scouted a kid on Hudl, how often do coaches ask for your opinion?
Park: Don’t talk unless you’re asked.
Walsh: If he asks he’ll respect you. He asked, what do you think about this linebacker? Then you bring it up.
Park: When we’re in a meeting as a defensive staff, if they ask us, he wants your opinion. We don’t like yes men around here. We want to be respectful but we’re not yes men. They don’t want that. They don’t want someone to pat their back because then you don’t get better. Somebody could see something that somebody else doesn’t see. But you don’t go and blurt out your opinion.
FS: If you get a tip on a kid and then over the course of the film it's obvious he's not Baylor good, would you let the coaches know or do they want to decide that for themselves?
Shoemaker: I’ll do O-line with Coach Clements, Coach Lebby on their grading scale. I’ll usually watch it and if it’s a good kid I’ll pass it along. If it’s not, probably don’t move too much forward with that. I like to think that we have the same opinion on most things.
Anthony: With me, the way I’ve found I can be the most helpful is I find a way to try to get ahead. I’m watching 2016 kids right now. We have 16 scholarships for this year, we’re going to have a smaller class and we’ve kind of already pinpointed the guys we think are going to be our guys in ’15.
FS: Is it worthwhile to look at 2017 kids yet?
Anthony: The only guys that are on our radar is if they’re
Zeigler: That Dude, That Guy
Anthony: Yeah, we’re not out there searching.
Zeigler: If you come across somebody that’s like “Oh, he’s a 2017 kid” then you’ll go back and look at some stuff but we’re not like “Hey, let’s go look at some 2017 kids.”
FS: How long does it take to identify a kid that is Baylor good?
Zeigler: You’ll know quick.
Anthony: You can just tell.
Zeigler: You’ll know within really, I would say the first two or three plays.
Anthony: Especially for skill guys. Obviously O-line and quarterbacks take a little longer. We’re not involved with defensive guys but we know with them that’s a different world. But for us, skill guys we’re wrapped around speed. Either they’ve got it or they don’t.
Zeigler: If they’re not running then we don’t want them.
FS: Do you devote time to track what kids say on social media?
Park: We do. We keep track of what they say. Austin (Steele) does an amazing job of it, following people on Twitter. Who tweets what, what they’re tweeting. I think social media is just part of the game nowadays. If you’re not involved on Twitter, that’s how they speak their minds. “Had a great visit at Baylor.” Awesome. That’s what we feels. You’re not going to tweet it if you don’t feel it. I think that’s a really big part of it, and I think we have a really good staff. Austin, Andrew, me, offensive GAs, Beau (Trahan) do a really good job of it, managing and watching.
FS: How does Baylor beat Texas or Texas A&M for a kid?
Anthony: Really it’s all out of our realm, being GAs and quality control, but what I’ve noticed is the relationships our coaches are able to build. There super personable, there always there for those kids. Some of the high-dollar guys we’ve gotten, Corey Coleman, Robbie Rhodes, some of those guys, it’s been 100 percent because they felt so comfortable around our coaches. And we get on them early. That’s a big part of it, too, is being the first.
FS: I imagine you're going head-to-head with A&M a lot these days, especially for offensive players.
Shoemaker: They’re always in the picture. With our recruiting, we’re not really playing them.
Anthony: Honestly, if it’s just us and them it’s almost comforting in a way. You know if we lose we won’t have to play this guy.
FS: Have you noticed an increased SEC presence in the Texas recruiting scene since A&M joined the league?
Anthony: We may have. I think it’s not attributable to that, mainly it’s the level we’re able to recruit now. We’re getting in on guys that everybody’s after. Four years ago we were more after diamond-in-the-rough guys.
FS: Have you noticed a tangible difference in guys you're able to recruit over the past couple years?
Anthony: Absolutely, 100 percent. Especially since being Big 12 champs.
Shoemaker: Even since I’ve been here, being here for two years I’ve noticed a change in the kind of guys that we can go after now and they’re actually interested. They kind of go after us now, too.
Anthony: We’re “it” for the first time in six years.
FS: The magnitude and the twists and turns of your 2013 season were, for lack of a better word, epic. Let's start with the Oklahoma game. What was the atmosphere like?
Anthony: The atmosphere was unbelievable. We’ve never had anything like that here.
Shoemaker: After walk-through, going down to the stadium through all the fans and stuff, some of us go back to the field and get a little run in or whatever. Whenever they opened the gates, that was the first time the students actually ran into the stadium. It was crazy. And then you come out and it’s a blackout. It’s a fun atmosphere.
Anthony: When I went into change and then came back out, it was already packed. And we’ve never had that. That’s two hours before kick.
FS: The Texas game had a similar hype level and was of greater importance, but the game played out much differently than anyone expected.
Anthony: It was different. I think the weather had an impact.
Shoemaker: The weather affected things big time.
Anthony: Those two games were as full as Floyd Casey has ever been.
Shoemaker: That was our biggest crowd, I think, the Texas game.
FS: It was 3-3 at halftime. Not exactly a typical Baylor halftime score. What was the staff's message to the team?
Shoemaker: They knew we were doing right but we were just missing on a few things. They knew that when we put it together it would be okay.
FS: And plus, against that offense you had to know 13 points would be enough to win.
Shoemaker: (laughs) I’m not saying that.
Anthony: Case will drop a dime on you.
Shoemaker: He will. He can spin it.
FS: Then you've got the Oklahoma State game where the final score isn't really indicative of the game on the field. You had a couple bad breaks early, Clint Chelf played the game of his life, and it just snowballed from there. How long did that game - and not being able to give it your best shot in such a big game on a national stage - eat at you as a staff?
Anthony: As far as the game goes, you can really, as bad as it looked, didn’t we really narrow it down and say if these four plays were different, we win. It was a lot closer than people think. It affected us just because it was the first time we had a bad taste in our mouth, but I don’t think we lingered on it like you would expect us to.
Shoemaker: We got over it pretty quick. We knew TCU was coming for us.
FS: What about the UCF game? How long did that sour taste stay in your mouth?
Anthony: To me, it was like Okie State. You dwell on it for a day.
Shoemaker: It was a little worse because you had to go back to the hotel there, you had to stay there until the next day and wake up there. It was a bad feeling. You come off winning the Big 12 and you’re sitting there for a month
Anthony: All you here is how good you are. That was the trap.
Shoemaker: We heard that too much.
Anthony: It wasn’t a deal where we’re like, ‘We don’t even have to try and we’ll win’, that kind of thing. It was just a deal, I think, with the duration of bowl prep, just hearing that every day it does have an affect on everybody. There’s nothing you can do about it. We learned from it. I think honestly it’ll benefit us in the long run.
Park: You get patted on the back for 30 days saying you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread or where you have somebody saying that you don’t deserve to be there, it’s kind of tough. We had been on the other side where we were hunting. UCLA, we didn’t belong there, blah blah blah, and we turned around and did the same thing. It was really hard to here.
FS: What Big 12 team had a scheme that impressed you the most?
Shoemaker: From what we got this past year, I like what Oklahoma State did to us just because they cancelled the run game.
Anthony: Each team brought its own challenges. The Kansas State running game, the quarterback power is extremely unique. You don’t see that very often. That’s something that Coach Snyder’s discipline brings, they know exactly what they’re doing, how they’re doing it.
FS: There were a whole host of rumors floating in December and January about Coach Briles leaving for Texas. How much time of day did you give to that stuff?
Shoemaker: I didn’t.
Anthony: With me, I was going to let it play itself out. It’s ultimately his decision.
Shoemaker: Honestly when I heard it, it took me to a flashback a little bit. I didn’t really put much thought in it.
Walsh: We were Big 12 champs. It was in our grasp. That’s all we talked about.
Park: We’re not worried about it.