Whenever possible, I like to get the athlete's perspective on things. Nick Jean-Baptiste, nose tackle for the 2011 Alamo Bowl Champs took some time to swap emails with me covering a bunch of football-related topics.
Matt: Nick you had a pretty awesome career at Baylor, but what comes to mind first for me is the 2011 Alamo Bowl team.
That team in particular, at least to me, seemed like it started to birth the swag and confidence that we are seeing EXPLODE on the sidelines with current teams. What was the chemistry like on that '11 squad?
Nick: The chemistry was something special that year. You could see all of the pieces coming together in the offseason, especially the offense. Defensively, we were still picking up Coach Bennett's playbook and scheme, but we turned a corner in the OU game. After that, it was 11 guys playing as 1.
M: What was the attitude going into that Alamo Bowl? There had to be a bad taste in the team's collective mouth after the previous year.
How did you feel you were leaving the program after that game?
N: Bad taste from the Texas bowl? Oh yea. We had celebrated too early and were content on just being bowl eligible. We went out there and laid an egg. So we knew we couldn't repeat that at the Alamo bowl. We were excited that we got a chance to basically play another home game, but the team came in for bowl practices a lot more focused on the game itself compared to the year before.
After that game, I knew the team was heading for bigger and better things. The bar had been raised, and the guys that would return were more than ready to go back out there and take the next step for the program.
M: Something that has been talked about a lot lately is Baylor playing the role of the "second-chance" school.
With events like Josh Gordon's recent situation and Robbie Rhodes being dismissed from the team, how does Coach Briles approach discipline in this matter and secondly, how does he view second chances for outside players?
N: When it comes to second chance players, I've seen that he welcomes guys who have shown that they want to be better people and players if given that opportunity. Whether it was Big Phil, TG, Najvar, or Lache, they all came in and worked their tail off on and off the field.
When it comes to Coach Briles as a disciplinarian, it was the coaching staff as a whole who would lay down the law. That's including coach Kaz, who was like the enforcer of the staff. Yes, Coach Briles is considered a player's coach and will work with you if you had any problems, but at the end of the day, he and the rest of the coaching staff would hold you accountable for any transgressions
M: How has the journey been professionally for you? I know you've spent some time with Baltimore, Indy, and Cleveland. Now you are with the Rattlers of the AFL, yes? They seem to be one of the prime organizations in that league.
N: The journey so far has been pretty amazing. I know there have been the low points, like getting cut, but in the end I've been appreciative to even get the opportunity to make an NFL roster.
Yea, I've been with the Arizona Rattlers since February, and it's been an awesome experience. They are the 2-time defending champions so the organization holds everyone to a higher standard.
In both leagues, I've learned a lot from the veterans and coaches, whether it was techniques and schemes on the field or how to conduct yourself professionally off the field. It's been a long road so far, but I've been enjoying every minute of it.
M: Not sure how much time you have to keep up with the Big XII, but I'm curious on how you think the team will do this year. Is there a repeat championship in the works?
N: I'd like to think we are the favorites to win the conference this year, even though it won't be easy. Coming in as the defending champions, we'll have a target on our back, and every game we will be getting our opponent's best shot. OU finished last season strong beating Bama, so it'll be interesting to see if they can carry that momentum with Trevor Knight into next season. You can never take KState lightly either. They have quality players like Ryan Mueller and Tyler Lockett and can also make a run for the conference title. TCU and UT are also teams that could be trouble for us if they can get their QB situations under control.
Even though there was some roster turnover on the defensive side, there are a lot of guys who have some playing time under their belt. The secondary will be tested early, but when you have one of the best defensive lines in the Big 12, if not the country, you can get away with a few mistakes from the DBs. Offensively, we still have a lot of firepower coming from the WRs and RBs, so I don't think there will be a drop off scoring wise. I'm interested in see how much Petty has improved with his pocket presence. Our offensive line looks solid coming out of spring ball, so we should be fine with pass protection and run blocking. It'll be interesting to see how Spencer Drango and Bryce Hager look coming off their injuries. They were key pieces that were noticeably missing that latter half of the season.
Honestly, the only team that can beat Baylor is Baylor. What I mean by that is if both sides of the ball are clicking, there aren't too many teams in the country that can hang with BU. So if we can play sound football, we will repeat as conference champions. Simple as that.