A traditional recruiting season is a 12+ month long marathon of epic proportions. There are junior camps starting in January, then summer camps, fall campus visits and official visits throughout the winter and up to signing day. The new accrues and builds slowly, before the final release of signature and official announcements from the school's twitter handle begin the party.
The 2017 Baylor Bears recruiting class had no such long and winding journey. It was a dead sprint to the finish, with roughly 6-weeks to build an over-sized class and restock the talent pool for the recent two-time Big 12 champion. With Matt Rhule accepted the head coaching position at Baylor University on December 6th, the spring had begun.
Making the task even more difficult was the recruiting dead period going from December 10th through early January, leaving just three weekends to bring recruits to campus and introduce them to the new Baylor. Yet, despite the comically shortened timeline and the NCAA regulated obstacles, Matt Rhule and company put together a Top-40 class built on relationships in the Northeast, Florida, and new ones in Texas.
Twenty-seven young men will grace the Baylor Bears roster as freshmen, four of which are already on campus and will participate in spring drills. The remaining twenty three will sprinkle into Waco through the two summer sessions and the fall, hoping to earn their spot on the depth chart and make an impact for a team and program that will need it.
With major needs on both lines and at quarterback, along with depth needed across the roster, Matt Rhule went to work. Just over 50-days to rebuild the Baylor roster, down to the low-70s for most of the 2016 season. After graduation, the Bears could have been as low as around 50-scholarship players, roughly 35 spots below the allowed 85 players.
As Baylor began to rebuild their numbers through graduate transfers, former recruits transferring to be closer to home, or bringing in players looking for a fresh start, the Bears also hit the recruiting trail hard through the first few weeks of December. The dead period from December 12th through January 11th put a stop to the new Baylor coaches, the few that had been hired to that point, from visiting recruits in person. However, offers were extended when they could, putting out feelers to recruits in the northeast and Florida that Rhule and his skeleton staff had a prior relationship with.
The week of December 12th though became a turning point for the Baylor staff with the hire of David Wetzel, Shawn Bell and Joey McGuire. All three very successful high school coaches in the state, they brought knowledge, connections, and Texas relationship to Rhule and company. With offers going out, and evaluations being made, it wasn't until December 28th that the trickle of commitments that would turn into a flood, as Trevon Lewis was the first recruit of the Matt Rhule era hours after it began with the Bears dominant Cactus Bowl victory.
With Lewis priming the pump, Baylor would receive two more commitments before the calendars turned to 2017 as Charlie Brewer and Timarcus Davis flipped from SMU and Houston. Over the next 34 days, Baylor would secure the commitment of 23 more student athletes, with several choosing the Bears over offers or commitments from schools like TCU, USC, Colorado, Houston, Texas, and many more.
It was a magical 6-weeks, one that built confidence in Matt Rhule and the hire that Mack Rhoades decided to make. It was a 6-week period that impressed all in the recruiting world, with many fan bases asking how this could be happening, and why a recruit would choose Baylor over them.
In the end, it was a Baylor class loaded with size and numbers on the offensive and defensive lines, two primary needs for the Bears, especially going into 2018. At least five defensive linemen, and 6 offensive linemen. Three wide receivers to restock the depth chart after the departure of juniors KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora to the NFL. Even as many as three tight ends to build depth at a position that the previous regime rarely used, and almost never focused on in recruiting. Every single recruit a high school player with four years of eligibility.
While this classes Top-40 ranking is mostly linked to the pure size of the class (27-strong), this is a group filled with recruits that had other power-5 conference offers. A class unanimously rated in the Top-40 by all recruiting services, and 36th by Scout.com, something most would have laughed at as an impossibility just 5-weeks ago.
This is a group with a high upside, and needed quite a bit of development in several critical areas to reach its high ceiling. Luckily, the Bears have built a staff proven and experienced in developing recruits into all-conference an professional players at the highest level.
The first class under Matt Rhule is complete. There is no going back and redoing things. There is no reset button to try again. The Bears have rebuild their roster, filled it with numbers, potential and upside, and will trust their coaches to do what they have done over their careers; develop fine young men and good football players.