In this exclusive Q&A, BearsIllustrated spoke with Joseph Gillespie, former HC at Stephenville (TX) HS, to see what type of impact Jarrett Stidham will have on the Bears moving forward. Stidham will make his debut, as the Bears new signal caller, tomorrow night in Manhattan, Kansas against Kansas State. Stidham, a former 5-star recruit by Scout.com, takes over the starting job after Seth Russell was lost for the year due to surgery in the neck area.
BI: As a sophomore transitioning from WR to QB, his Junior year, what were some characteristics you saw in Jarrett that made you believe he'd be successful?
JG: He had been a quarterback through Jr. High and a year in high school and I probably had the best second team quarterback in the nation from a high school standpoint because of Jarrett Stidham. Honestly, Jarrett is an exceptional athlete, not just at quarterback. He was a great wide receiver his sophomore year, the only year that he really played receiver. Jarrett brought a number of tools to the table. He could play a number of positions. We placed him at receiver, corner, safety, and put him in the backfield. Honestly to sit there and exercise all of his weapons that he brought. But, he also grew up with my son. He and Jarrett were in the same class so I watched this kid grow up and knew what type of skills he had. It probably paid off in the long run as well for him. He got to go play receiver and when he took over the quarterback role his junior year he could communicate really well with the receivers. He had been there, done that. It just elevated his leadership and knowledge of the game that much more. He’s a very unselfish young man, willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win. He just represents a lot of great characteristics.
BI: When did you first realize that he was a special talent?
JG: In all honesty, from a quarterback standpoint you knew it in Jr. High. He’s always been a phenomenal athlete. You knew it from a growth standpoint, he stood out above everyone else. He was 6 foot tall in the seventh grade. He was a little boy in a mans body playing with a bunch of other little boys really. So you knew that, as long as God continued to bless him and he continued to grow. He had a phenomenal work ethic. That’s probably when we realized. We knew that he had a talent and he was blessed with a skill. And now you just have to hope that he will have the work ethic to go along with that. Fortunately he does. He also had a phenomenal coach at the time, our OC at the time who’s now the head coach at Stephenville. He’s a legend from a quarterback standpoint, so he had the fortunate ability to get to be around him. And now to get to be with Baylor, and of course Art and Kendall Briles, they are just going to continue to perfect his trade.
BI: What type of leader was Jarrett and how did his teammates respond to his leadership style?
JG: I think he was one of those guys that relates to the kids real well. It was a joy to sit there and watch him handle all that excitement and attention that he got. As a young man all that attention and all the offers he had before he even took a snap at a varsity level at quarterback was astronomical. He hadn’t even taken a snap on the field at quarterback. But, a lot of universities recognized the talent he had. I think he handled it with a great deal of grace. One of his big things was to be humble and stay hungry. A lot of young men at his age that get that kind of attention, it would go to their head in a hurry. I wish I could’ve said that I could’ve handled it the same way, and I don’t know that I would have at that age. So that obviously helped him immensely in the locker room and out on the field, and in the huddle. He never put himself above anyone else. He wanted to win. He knew that he was blessed with a talent, but at the same time he knew that he couldn’t win by himself and that it was a team game.
BI: With Jarrett enrolling in the spring, how do you think he will handle the starting role and how do you think it will affect him in a hostile environment Thursday?
JG: Did it help him by enrolling in the Spring? Most definitely. Jarrett’s not just a great athlete, he’s a phenomenal student as well. He’s always been very strong in the classroom. He knows that athletics, in particular football, may not be with him his entire life. He has a strong mind to fall back on. He’s going to be successful in whatever he does.
He’s been in some hostile environments. Obviously not an environment like what he’s about to go in. He’s played in some of the biggest games in Texas High School football. He’s been in some pressure situations. All of those things have been leading up to an opportunity like this. I had the opportunity to speak to him the other day I was able to tell him that ‘for the first time in your athletic career you don’t have to shoulder the burden of going and winning the game. You’re surrounded by a bunch of freaks. Just go manage the ball, do what you do, and have fun with it and let them perform their trait as well.’ So it’s going to be a different sense for him, because he is surrounded by guys who are in their trait just as good or better than him at what they do.
BI: How do you see Jarrett performing on Thursday and moving forward?
JG: I think he’s going to do a phenomenal job. I really do. A lot of that is because of the coaching staff that he is surrounded with at Baylor. They are going to put him in situations where he is going to be successful. Then those guys are going to rally around him from a team standpoint, in particular the offense. It’s one of those life lessons, you lose something and everyone else has to pick up their game. There’s going to be other players around him that due to the unfortunate injury to Seth Russell, they are going to have to step up their game as well, not just Jarrett. I think he’s going to go out there and continue to lead Baylor in the direction that they had their sights set on. I don’t think it changes a thing for them.
***Ashton Warren contributed to this story.