There is no bigger surprise on Baylor’s depth chart than senior Collin Brence opening preseason drills as the starting nickelback.
Brence came to Baylor as a walk-on and has spent the last three seasons mostly playing special teams. But with the departure of senior Sam Holl, the Bears needed someone to step into the nickelback role, and Brence played well enough in the spring to shoot his way up the depth chart.
Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett doesn’t care that Brence lacks a four-star pedigree.
“I don’t care, I like him,” Bennett said. “Nobody knew who (former Baylor all-Big 12 linebacker) Eddie Lackey was either. But I tell you, he’s a coach’s son, and looking at those tapes, he knows how to do it.”
Following his outstanding spring performance, Brence earned a scholarship for his senior year. He knows he’ll have to hold off younger players like Patrick Levels to keep his position, but he has confidence in his ability and has gained a great deal of knowledge in four years at Baylor.
“Coach Bennett always says knowledge is power,” Brence said. “You’ve got to be in that film room every single day. It’s one of those things where you have to be patient and wait for your opportunity. I made sure the more opportunities I got, the more I took advantage of them.”
Growing up in a football family, Brence has been around the game his entire life. His father, Gerald Brence, was head coach at Plano High School from 1992-2007 and is currently the school district’s athletic director.
Two older brothers preceded Collin at Plano. Ryan was a defensive back who played college football at Army while Beau was a defensive end who played at UNLV.
“I didn’t put a lot of pressure on them to be great football players — they just developed on their own,” Gerald said. “All I asked was that they play hard and smart. Collin did whatever they needed him to do. He was real aggressive and just loved the game.”
Gerald coached his two oldest sons at Plano, but he became the school district’s athletic director before Collin moved up to the varsity in 2008. After playing fullback as a sophomore, Collin switched to defense and played a hybrid safety-linebacker position much like the nickelback spot that he plays at Baylor.
Collin made Class 5A all-state as a senior as he collected 112 tackles, five interceptions and nine pass breakups.
“With my dad being head coach at Plano a long time, I understood what to look for, the way I need to play the game,” Collin said. “I knew I had to be disciplined and have knowledge of the game. That came naturally as a coach’s son, but when it comes down to it, it’s all about your work ethic and determination and giving it your all.”
Despite a tremendous senior year, Collin got very little attention from college coaches. Gerald said Louisiana-Monroe offered him a scholarship, but Collin’s decision came down to Baylor or Columbia.
Collin was familiar with Baylor since his mother, Liz, and others on her side of the family attended the school. But Collin ultimately decided to attend Baylor as a walk-on after speaking with Art Briles.
“Coach Briles had a great open mind to it,” Collin said. “The more reps I got, I became more comfortable and confident.”
After performing on special teams throughout his freshman year in 2010, Collin tore his ACL as a sophomore and saw more limited action. However, he came back to play in 11 games last year on special teams and made four tackles.
Now he’s in line to finish off his college career as a starting nickelback for a top 10 team.
“He’s the kind of guy you want to cheer for,” said Plano coach Jaydon McCullough. “He’s a kid with high character and a great work ethic. It tells a lot about him by the way he’s hung in there. What an accomplishment for him to walk on at Baylor and to be rewarded.”
BEAR FACTS: Baylor will hold a practice instead of a scrimmage at Saturday’s 10:30 a.m. “Meet the Bears” event at the Highers Athletic Complex practice fields. It will be Baylor’s fourth practice of the season, and teams can’t wear full pads until the fifth practice . . . Junior defensive end Sam Ukwuachu, a transfer from Boise State, isn’t practicing with the team but has been on the field doing conditioning work.