I didn’t start watching Baylor football games (or any football games for that matter) until my sophomore year in high school when my dad took me to my first Homecoming weekend. Once I watched that game in 2012 (back at Floyd Casey!), I was instantly hooked. However, I didn’t start religiously following the Bears’ games until I was a senior in 2014. Dozens of players have cycled through the program over the past 5 seasons (2014-2019) of my fandom, and because at the start of May I wrote about my 5 favorite Baylor Athletics moments of 2019-20, I wanted to share my favorite Baylor football players since 2014. Choosing only five of my favorite Baylor football athletes was difficult because I am an avid fan of almost of all them ever, but this handful inched past the rest and reached the top of my list.
- QB Seth Russell (2012-2016): Baylor has had its fair share of fantastic QBs over the years, but Seth Russell is my favorite Baylor football player and QB of the last 5 years. Seth earned the starting role as a junior in 2015 (after former Baylor great Bryce Petty graduated) and was on track to take the Bears farther than they’ve ever been. He was a magnificent presence on the field; always calm and under control of whatever play was at hand. Under his leadership, the Bears earned a No. 2 ranking in the second month of the 2015 football season—the highest ranking in program history. At that moment, the offense ranked No. 1 in the country in points per game and yards per game, No. 2 in rushing yards per game, and No. 8 in passing yards per game. Seth himself led the country in five categories, which included passing touchdowns and passing efficiency. In the first seven games of the season, he broke the program’s single-season record with 10.06 total offense yards per play and completed 119 of 200 passing attempts for 2,104 yards with 29 TDs and 6 interceptions and 49 carries for 402 yards and 6 TDs. Unfortunately, Seth broke his neck in the seventh game against Iowa State (and it was Homecoming!!), which ended his season. Had he stayed healthy for the remainder of 2015, I firmly believe that the 2015 Baylor football squad would have been in the running for the National Championship. In 2016, Seth suffered another season-ending injury in the ninth game, but his stats were still above average. He completed 152 of 278 passing attempts for a career-high 2,126 yards with a career-best 8 TDs in nine games, as well as 94 carries for 506 yards and 8 more TDs. According to Baylor Athletics’ website, he “owns or shares seven school passing records, including single-game TD passes (six) and single-game TDs responsible for (six) [and is the] Baylor career leader in total offense yards/play (8.324).”
- WR Tyquan Thornton (2018-current): Tyquan Thornton doesn’t have the most flashy cumulative stats as he’s just entering his junior season, but he’s still one of my favorite Baylor football players to watch. Following in the footsteps of former Baylor greats in the receiving corps such as Terrance Williams, Antwan Goodley, and Corey Coleman, Tyquan is extremely fast (most DBs can’t stay in foot with him) and is one of the most dependable athletes whenever he’s in the lineup. During his freshman year in 2018, Tyquan recorded 20 catches for 354 yards (averaging 17.7 yards or at least one first down per catch) with 3 TDs including a career-long catch of 41 yards against Texas Tech, which was the longest TD of the year for Baylor. He started in 11 of 14 games for Baylor this past season, and finished with 45 catches for 782 yards and 5 TDs. During the Baylor vs. OSU game, Tyquan caught a career-long 78-yard pass, which, according to Baylor Athletics, was “the third-longest pass play in program history to not result in a touchdown.” Against Iowa State, he had his first career 100+ yard passing performance with 11 catches for 141 yards and 1 TD. Though his season stats didn’t match up to that of fellow WR Denzel Mims, Tyquan is extremely reliable and can always be found escaping DBs and catching any and every ball thrown in his direction. He’ll be a fantastic leader this season (should there be one) and in his final year in 2021.
- LB Taylor Young (2013-2017): Is there anything better than watching a Baylor football player absolutely demolish former Oklahoma QB (and forever shit person) Baker Mayfield on the field? No, there isn’t (hence the photo choice). Taylor Young was a menace on Baylor’s defense during the four years he spent as a Bear—and specifically attacked Mayfield hardest. As a redshirt freshman in 2014, Taylor was named Associated Press’ Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of Year and Scout’s Big 12 Defensive Freshman of Year, as well as being 2015 Cotton Bowl Defensive MVP (though we don’t talk about this haunted game). He totaled 92 tackles with 8.5 for a loss of 45 yards, 4 sacks for a loss of 38 yards, 3 pass breakups, 2 QB hurries, 2 forced fumbles and 1 interception. Taylor’s stats decreased slightly in his sophomore year, but he still recorded 80 tackles with 13.5 for a loss of 38 yards, 4 sacks for a loss of 19 yards, 2 QB hurries, 1 pass breakup and 1 fumble recovery. He made the watch lists for Bednarik, Butkus and Rotary Lombardi awards in 2016 while having 93 tackles with 9 for a loss of 44 yards, 4.5 sacks for a loss of 23 yards, and 1 pass breakup. In his final season at Baylor, Taylor collected 60 tackles with 8 for a loss of 34 yards, 3 sacks for a loss of 19 yards, and 1 pass breakup. In total, Taylor was second all-time at Baylor in career sacks with 15.5 and third in career tackles for loss with 39.
- DT James Lynch (2017-2019): James Lynch is undoubtedly one of the greatest Baylor football players in program history following his extraordinary junior season in 2019, leading to his leaving school early and being drafted in the NFL Draft fourth round to the Minnesota Vikings. James had a decent freshman season premier, amassing 20 tackles with 5 for a loss of 21 yards, 3 sacks for a loss of 18 yards, and 1 fumble recovery. In his sophomore year, James doubled nearly all of his stats as he had 40 tackles with 9 for a loss of 58 yards, 5.5 sacks for a loss of 45 yards, 2 pass breakups, and 1 blocked kick. Leading the team in sacks and tackles for loss, he was an AP and Waco Tribune-Herald All-Big 12 first team selection and Coaches’ Poll All-Big 12 second team selection in 2018. His final record-breaking season at Baylor saw James’ stats dramatically increase to 41 tackles with 19.5 for a loss of 98 yards, 13.5 sacks for a loss of 82 yards, 5 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 blocked kicks. Because of his outrageous performances every week, James was a Consensus All-American, being named a 2019 First Team All-American by Football Writers Association, Walter Camp Football Foundation, ESPN, AP, Sporting News, AFCA, and The Athletic, and a Sports Illustrated 2019 Second Team All-American. James was also named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (by Coaches, AP, and Waco Tribune-Herald) and Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year (by Coaches). Coaches, AP, and Waco Tribune-Herald named him First Team All-Big 12 and Dave Campbell’s Texas Football gave him the Texas College Player of the Year title and a spot on the Postseason All-Texas Team. Baylor Athletics’ website says his “career totals of 33.5 TFL and 23.0 sacks lead the Baylor roster,”, his career sacks (22) are the most career sacks in program history, and his 13.5 sacks in 2019 are the most in a single season at Baylor. It’s no wonder James wanted to enter the NFL as soon as possible!
- DT Andrew Billings (2013-2015): Before there was James Lynch, there was Andrew Billings—a mammoth of an athlete who ran with the speed of a gazelle (may we never forget the time he chased down a Kansas RB)—and one of my first favorite Baylor football players. Andrew’s 2013 freshman season debut showed 29 tackles with 3.5 for a loss of 8 yards and 3 QB hurries. As a sophomore though, Andrew was fully prepared. He totaled 37 tackles with 11.5 for a loss of 38 yards, 2 sacks, 9 QB hurries, and 1 forced fumble—leading the team in hurries. During postseason awards, Andrew was named Consensus First Team All-Big 12 for his 2014 performance. Just like James would follow, Andrew broke out in his junior year, collecting recognition unlike any other defensive player on the team at the time. He had 40 tackles with 15 tackles for a loss of 66 yards, 5.5 sacks for a loss of 40 yards, 3 QB hurries, and 1 forced fumble. Andrew was named Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of Year (Coaches, Athlon and 247Sports) and Big 12 Defensive Lineman of Year (Coaches), earned a place as a First Team All-American by AP, ESPN, Athlon and SportsOnEarth, had a Second Team spot by FWAA, Sporting News, USA Today, CBS Sports, and Phil Steele, and was unanimously named to the First Team All-Big 12. NFL.com labeled Andrew as “College Football’s Strongest Player” as he’s a former record-breaking weightlifter, and he ran a 4.94 in the NFL Combine’s 40-yard dash. Formerly a DT with the Cincinnati Bengals (who picked him in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft), Andrew most recently inked a deal with the Cleveland Browns where he will join several of his former Baylor teammates.