It didn’t take Ishmael Wilson long to find out just how fast Baylor reels off plays.
After transferring from Texas A&M last summer, the 6-4, 305-pound offensive lineman was exhausted after a few repetitions in the Bears’ high-tempo offense.
“My lungs and heart were dancing on my tongue,” Wilson said. “After a while you catch up with conditioning. I really think we’re the most in-shape team in America.”
Now a sophomore, Wilson is among a group of young offensive linemen working for their shot to play behind veterans.
The Bears feature one of the most experienced starting lines in the country with seniors Spencer Drango, Pat Colbert, Blake Muir and Jarell Broxton and junior center Kyle Fuller. Left guard Desmine Hilliard is also a senior.
When those seniors are gone, Baylor’s line will have a much younger look next season.
Players like Wilson, Blake Blackmar, Rami Hammad, Tanner Thrift, Maurice Porter and Dom Desouza will have to take on bigger roles.
Though they’re the future of the program, they want to make sure there’s no dropoff when they’re called upon to play this season. They’re soaking in all they can from the veterans.
“Aside from football skills, they’ve taught us it’s a lot about preparation and work ethic and how you approach each day as far as the mindset goes,” Blackmar said. “Right now we’re just trying to get to the same point those guys are at. Even though they’ve been here for years there can’t be any falloff.”
Blackmar was one of the top offensive linemen in the state out of Clear Lake High School in 2014. Like most freshmen, he wanted to play immediately, but quickly learned the value of redshirting last season.
“Everyone who gets recruited is like ‘Oh, I’m not going to redshirt,’” Blackmar said. “I’m strong enough, I don’t need that. But you come in and realize there’s a definite gap. You need that year. I got a lot faster and had better movement and my body composition was part of it.”
Coming out of the spring, Blackmar was listed as the second-team center behind Fuller.
“Kyle helps out a lot with knowing what to do and how to approach plays,” Blackmar said. “I’m just trying to do the best I can and push everyone in front of me and be ready to step in if need be.”
Thrift was a defensive end at Hutto but didn’t hesitate when the Baylor coaches asked him to move to the offensive line in the spring of 2014.
“I had never played offense but I said ‘Oh sure, I’ll play for the No. 1 offense in America,’” Thrift said. “So they put me at left tackle behind Spencer (Drango). It took a lot of work but it came pretty naturally. I didn’t have any bad habits, so I was starting from scratch.”
After seeing some playing time last season, Thrift is looking for an expanded role this season. He’s put on about 45 pounds since he arrived at Baylor and now weighs 310. He feels fortunate to have Drango as his mentor and roommate.
“Spencer does everything right,” Thrift said. “On the field he rarely makes mistakes and does what it takes to be an All-American. It’s really good learning behind older guys like Spencer and Blake Muir. They’re good role models on and off the field.”
Nobody is more eager to play than Hammad, who will see his first college action this season. After redshirting at Texas in 2013, he had to sit out last season at Baylor under NCAA transfer rules.
Hammad was listed as the second-team right guard behind Broxton out of spring drills but has seen some time at center since returning for preseason workouts.
“It has been a journey,” Hammad said. “I didn’t think I would redshirt at UT but I got hurt in practice. It’s been a long two years but I’m here. I have seniors in front of me but I’m here to compete.”
Like Wilson, Hammad had to quickly adjust to the pace of Baylor’s offense after he transferred last August. It was much faster than the offense he played in under Mack Brown at Texas in 2013.
“It’s uptempo so you have to know what you’re doing,” Hammad said. “There you had a lot of time. If you didn’t know, other players could tell you what to do. You had so much time between the snap unlike here.”
Though he redshirted at Texas A&M in 2013, Wilson didn’t have to sit out at Baylor last season after he was granted a hardship waiver. He transferred to Baylor to be closer to his mother in Dallas after she suffered kidney failure.
Wilson played in all 13 games last season as a reserve lineman and on special teams. But he hopes to make a bigger impact this year and feels more prepared after learning the ropes from some of the best linemen in college football.
“I feel more comfortable and confident after being in the program,” Wilson said. “We got a lot of experience and wisdom and I’m trying to get as much from them and putting it back on the field.”
BEAR FACTS: Baylor coach Art Briles said there’s no rush to decide whether to play highly-touted quarterback Jarrett Stidham as a true freshman. Stidham and sophomore Chris Johnson back up starter Seth Russell. “We’re just playing that out day to day and it will take care of itself. We’re certainly pleased with his progress and we think he and Chris (Johnson) are doing really well.”
Briles said Corey Coleman and Lynx Hawthorne are candidates for punt returns but J.W. Ketchum is also a possibility if he plays as a true freshman...Baylor is looking at freshman Drew Galitz strictly as a punter this season and not to kick field goals and PATs. “He’s athletic and his leg is lively. He’s a pretty confident kid,” Briles said.