When the Baylor offensive linemen barrel into a restaurant, diners put down their forks and knives and stare.
It’s a Thursday night ritual during the football season for the 15 linemen to chow down at a local restaurant like Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q or Baris III Italian food.
“You can see people’s eyes get big when the first person comes in, and they keep getting bigger as more guys come in,” Baylor All-America tackle Spencer Drango said. “It’s pretty funny.”
It usually doesn’t take long for other diners to realize these are some of the biggest guys on the Baylor football team or anywhere for that matter. Some patrons like to joke around with them.
“It’s fun to see people’s reactions when 300-pound guys come in,” Baylor center Kyle Fuller said. “People make jokes like ‘Are you guys receivers or running backs?’ But they obviously know who we are. ”
The offensive linemen don’t pick restaurants with petite portions of food. When you weigh over 300 pounds and are hungry after a grueling practice, it’s all about quantity.
“It just has to be somewhere we know there’s going to be enough food,” Baylor guard Blake Muir said.
These forays to local restaurants are part of the bonding experience for Baylor’s offensive linemen. Some of them have been at Baylor together for five years and feel like brothers.
With four seniors and one junior in the starting lineup, the Bears feature one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country and arguably the best. Left tackle Drango, left guard Muir, right guard Jarell Broxton and right tackle Pat Colbert are all seniors while center Fuller is a junior.
While highly visible players like quarterback Seth Russell, running back Shock Linwood and wide receiver Corey Coleman grab most of the headlines, the big bodies up front pave the way for those outrageous offensive numbers.
“They’re the best O-line in the nation by far,” Russell said. “They have a lot of experience, a lot of size and can move people. They’re smart and that adds to it. I wouldn’t want to be behind anybody else.”
The No. 3 Bears lead the nation with 745.2 yards and 63.8 points per game through the first four games. Those would be eye popping numbers on anybody’s resume, and the offensive linemen know they’ve made them possible.
“I think without us there wouldn’t be any yards at all,” Fuller said. “We definitely take a lot of pride in it. We always want to make sure we’re at the top of the rankings in the league.”
With the offensive line providing great protection, Baylor’s quarterbacks have only been sacked four times. Since the Bears run an up-tempo spread offense, they have a reputation as a passing team. But in reality they’ve produced near perfect offensive balance as they average 368.5 yards passing and 376.8 yards rushing.
The Bears rank second nationally in rushing yards per game, but Drango wants opponents to keep thinking they’re a pass at all costs team.
“I definitely enjoy it when they think we’re just pass happy,” Drango said. “It gives us an opportunity to prove them wrong and hit them in the mouth. If they are expecting us to throw for 700 yards, we can do it. But we can also run for 400 or 500.”
Though the Bears often score in a matter of seconds, the Baylor offensive linemen like having the ability to peel time off the clock with the running game if the situation calls for it.
“You can impose your will regardless of anything that’s happening, whatever play it is,” Drango said. “It’s kind of disheartening for the other team. We’ve had a lot of success in the past running the ball, so we know we can do it.”
Doing the dirty work
Baylor coach Art Briles believes it’s important to have a dominant offensive line that can impose its will when the offense needs tough yardage.
“That’s something that we always kind of hang our hat on is if we need to get dirty, we can get dirty,” Briles said. “If it’s third-and-1, we’d like to think we can make one and a half. And that’s something we’ve always talked to our players about, and they take a lot of personal pride in being able to produce in critical situations running the football.”
Briles knows he’s fortunate to have such an experienced offensive line. All five are returning starters from last season and Drango is a fourth-year starter who made consensus All-America last year and is an Outland Trophy candidate.
“It’s safe to say that it’s the most experienced offensive line that we’ve been around,” Briles said. “These guys have all played a lot of football, a lot of good football. They’ve helped us win a bunch of big games and they still have a lot of hunger and desire. We don’t treat them like a kid, we treat them like men and they’ve responded this way.”
The starting offensive line features a mix of veterans who have been with the program a long time and transfers. Drango and Colbert along with backup guard Desmine Hilliard are fifth-year seniors who signed with Baylor out of high school.
Muir is a native of Australia who started at the University of Hawaii in 2012 before transferring to Baylor in 2013. After redshirting due to NCAA transfer rules, Muir moved into the starting lineup at left guard last season. Broxton moved into the starting lineup at right guard during the middle of last season after transferring from Lackawanna (Pa.) College.
They all have their distinct personalities but blend into the group quite well.
“Spencer is the smart guy, he always has the answer to everything,” Fuller said. “Blake is the quiet one but he’s dangerous. Jarell is laid back and chilled. Pat is crazy, he’s a good guy but mean on the field. I’m just kind of in the middle, I don’t have a big personality.”
Chemistry on and off the field
Though football is demanding, they like to hang out together and enjoy each other’s company when their work is done. They believe they’re as close as any unit on the team.
“We’re a big family, a little dysfunctional at times,” Drango said. “Over the summer we were meeting at people’s apartments, and one guy would cook for all the guys. It’s just building camaraderie, we’re all like brothers. We all mess with each other and have a good relationship going.”
They can all share each other’s pain. Playing in such a fast paced attack, it’s harder on the offensive linemen than anybody to keep the torrid pace. They understand how important it is to get into great shape during the summer before fall practice begins.
“It’s all about conditioning,” Drango said. “But the first few weeks of fall camp are terrible. It’s really hot and we’re running. One time we ran 107 plays in 17 minutes, so that’s the pace we run on offense. But we have to keep going.”
Though preseason conditioning is vital, games are another adjustment because Baylor ramps up its offensive pace even faster. But the rewards are great for the linemen when they open the field for big chunks of yardage and keep the scoreboard busy.
“You can do all the conditioning you like, but when that first game comes game speed is different,” Muir said. “Even practice can’t prepare you completely for the game speed. But once you get a few games under your belt you start feeling a lot better. We play fast and physical and I’m enjoying it.”
Since they’ve been around each other so long, they’ve developed a sixth sense for how each other moves and thinks. That high level of communication makes it easier to function efficiently in such a fast moving attack.
“As far as communication, we know what each other is thinking on the field because we’ve been doing it for a while,” Muir said. “You can point out the linebacker or point out what kind of blitz is coming. It’s all about who you’re working with.”
After arriving at Baylor, many of the offensive linemen end up playing different positions. Fuller came in as a tackle before switching to center while Muir has played guard, tackle and center. Versatility is important.
“The only difference between a center and a guard is the snap,” Drango said. “And you can be taught to snap. The best will play regardless where they’re at.”
Wherever they play, Briles wants the big guys on his side.
“If somebody’s talking ugly about me, and I feel threatened, I’m not going to run and go grab a QB or receiver,” Briles said. “I’m going to grab me an O-lineman or D-lineman because I like winning. And those are the guys that run your locker room and they’re the guys that have to be men for you on your field.”