Big 12 Football Media Day Notes: Baylor

Baylor hopes to crawl out from the Big 12 cellar this fall, and based on Kevin Steele's comments at the Big 12 Media Days, the Bears think they can do just that. This is the fifth of IT's reports from Dallas covering every league team:

Don't pity Kevin Steele. Despite the fact that the Bears' third-year head coach has one of the most daunting tasks in college coaching in turning around a moribund Baylor program, Steele says he keeps his situation in perspective. Coaching in Waco, mostly relying on the recruiting scraps of the Big 12 South Division's big boys, the coach's attitude may best be described as a defense mechanism to keep from going wacko. "I do not get my self worth from what is written and talked about," Steele said. "Put me on a shrimp boat in the Gulf of Mexico and I'll be happy. I'm happy with who I am . . ." Steele may get to test his shrimp boat theory if he has many more seasons like last year's 2-9 campaign. Unfortunately, even with an improved squad this fall, the Steele-led Bears may have trouble improving on that mark. Baylor opens with Arkansas State at home, travels to Minnesota and returns to Waco for a final non-conference tilt vs. New Mexico. In the Big 12, the Bears are at Iowa State, A&M, Oklahoma and Missouri and get Nebraska, Tech, Texas and Oklahoma State at Floyd Casey.

Asked about his team's chances for success given its schedule, Steele prefaced his comments by saying his answer would "shock the room" or at the very least make the gathered media members sit up and take notice. As I braced myself for a proclamation from Steele that the Bears' goal this fall is to win the National Championship (at that point, of course, the men with the white straight jacket would have entered the room to cart Steele off to a heavily padded shrimp boat in the Gulf), the Baylor head coach quietly said, "We've got a good football team this year. We've got a good football team this year. The reason we have a good football team is simply because we've been building depth, creating competition among players and that has come to fruition. We've gotten stronger and we've gotten older. I've been around different teams that have made different things happen at different levels -- whether it be the NFC Championship Game (in '96 as a Carolina Panthers' assistant) or the National Championship Game (in '94 as Nebraska's LB coach) or whether it meant doing something at a school that hadn't been done in a while -- and every one of them had a common denominator and it was that they got focused and they committed to make it happen themselves. They took accountability and responsibility themselves for leadership and they believe that they are going to make something happen. They feel like they're good and they get one heartbeat, everybody on the same page." Steele said his '01 team has those attributes, and he singled out WR Reggie Newhouse as a player who exemplifies the team's attitudinal turnaround. The BU Media Guide says "the players have bought into Steele's positive attitude about the direction of Baylor football and team morale has never been better." Earlier in the session, both Newhouse and FS Samir Al-Amin seemed to confirm that statement, mentioning the change for the better in the entire team's attitude. Steele is counting on that change, along with a bigger, stronger team, bolstered by several juco transfers and redshirt freshmen, plus 16 returning starters, for the improvement that will make the Bears' the "good football team" that he spoke of above.

Newhouse, from Lake Highlands, is the son of former Dallas Cowboy fullback Robert Newhouse. The 6-1, 197-pound junior wideout caught 40 passes (from five different QBs!) last season for 629 yards. He had three receptions for 51 yards against Texas. The guy tossin' the ball to Newhouse should be familiar to Longhorn fans. Greg Cicero, who transferred from UT after his redshirt freshman season in Austin, is expected to be under center this fall for the Bears after missing the final nine games of the '00 season because of a broken collarbone. The NCAA granted Cicero a medical hardship season, so he enters this fall as a junior. Newhouse said the Baylor offense has "a lot of confidence in Greg" and praised the 6-4, 213-pound QB's leadership. Al-Amin (another name that should be familiar to Orangebloods -- Al-Amin committed to John Mackovic and the Horns but switched to the Bears before Signing Day '97) praised Cicero's "ability to read defenses" and thus his "ability to pick any defense apart." Steele called Cicero a "very confident person" who displays an intangible that many great players share. "He has an uncanny ability to make the right play at the right time," the Baylor head coach said. "He has accuracy, he has toughness and he has the ability to make the play in clutch situations." Hopefully, Cicero, as a former Horn, displays all those traits this fall. Except, of course, on Nov. 3 in Waco.

With Cicero at QB, the Bears will run more one-back sets and spread the field more than they have in the past, according to Steele. After having just three wideouts on the roster in his first year in Waco in '99, Steele now has the depth at receiver to open up the Baylor offense. Depth will also play a factor on the other side of the ball, according to Al-Amin. The DB said, "We expect great things on defense," particularly because of the Bears' depth in the defensive backfield. Along with FS Al-Amin, Baylor starts junior Randy Davis (Montrell Flowers' teammate at Dallas Skyline who chose the Bears over the Horns in '98) at left corner, senior Kyle Staudt at strong safety and sophomore Bobby Hart at right corner. Steele tabbed Hart as a future star in the secondary.

One final Baylor note: Mart's John Garrett will start at middle linebacker for the Bears. Texas backed off recruiting Garrett, who liked the Horns along with the Huskers, Ags, Raiders and Bears, a little over a month before Signing Day '00, and the 2A Defensive Player of the Year eventually ended up in Waco. When Texas backed off recruiting Garrett, the Horns had already received commitments from LBs Aurmon Satchell and Austin Sendlein, but took a late commitment (in mid January) from Dallas Carter's Rashad Thomas. IT ranked Garrett as the No. 26 prospect in the state and the second-best LB in the state in '00 behind Devaughn Darling. As a true freshman last fall, Garrett earned mention as a True Freshman All-American and is listed on several preseason all-conference teams heading into '01.

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