Waddduuppp! My name is Deonte Epps and I am so grateful for the opportunity to join ODB to share my thoughts from time to time. Who am I, you ask? I’m a 2013 graduate of the Baylor University, lover of all things Baylor Athletics, Denver Broncos, and I also co-host a sports and entertainment podcast (The Duo: Sports and Stuff Podcast) if you’d like to take a listen. I’m thankful to Evan, Dex, and of course “Mattisboss” for helping me get on at Our Daily Bears to let me write about the things I love.
Speaking of things that I love, three things come to mind: (1) My beautiful wife and fellow Baylor alum, Carina, who would be highly displeased if I didn’t mention her in this list (2) Baylor football – this team has my heart forever, and (3) The Marvel Cinematic Universe and also the President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, who has blessed my nerdy life exponentially. With Spider-Man: No Way Home premiering in theaters this week, I thought it was no better time to get you MCU nerds like me prepared to have your minds blown. And so I thought for my very first article on Our Daily Bears that I’d combine my love for the latter two things (sorry, Carina). Behold: Baylor Football staff and players as MCU characters*.
*Disclosure: for any comic book gurus out there, these are the MCU counterparts. There are a number of players (and staff) for the choosing here, but I narrowed it down to seven.
Mack Rhoades as Nick Fury
Nick Fury “had an idea...to bring together a group of remarkable people…” you know the rest. At a time when the world saw more dangerous threats, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. knew he needed a team of extraordinary heroes to fight those threats and thus the Avengers Initiative began. Bringing together Iron Man, Captain America, among others to lead the fight against extraterrestrial threats was essential in the safety of the universe.
Mack Rhoades is the architect of what is widely considered the most historic turnaround in collegiate sports history. Rhoades was hired as Baylor University’s Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics in 2016. Coming off of the Art Briles scandal, the Baylor football program desperately needed a solid figure to right the ship. In comes Rhoades with his first head coaching hire, Matt Rhule– a not-so-big-name coach from Temple University. Despite what some may feel about his eventual departure to the NFL, Rhule changed the culture of the program and led the team to their first-ever New Year’s Six Bowl in just three seasons. After Rhule’s exit in early 2020, Rhoades set out to find the right man to lead the Bears and continue restoring their national reputation. Dave Aranda has led the Bears to another Big 12 championship, and the entire Baylor athletic program has had continued success over the last five years.
Fun fact:— Kevin Goll (@KGatBU) December 8, 2021
36 Athletic Directors have hired a football coach who’ve led that program to a New Years Six Bowl in the CFP Era
29 of those ADs hired 1 such coach
6 ADs hired 2 such coaches
Only 1 AD has hired 3 coaches who have led their programs to NY6 bowls-Mack Rhoades#SicEm https://t.co/28nVb4KcDG
Mack Rhoades was the right man for the job. Mack Rhoades is the Nick Fury of Baylor Athletics.
Dave Aranda as Doctor Strange
This one is weird but stay with me here. Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange was released in 2016. If you’re not a super fan of the comics like me, then you likely had no idea how essential Doctor Strange would be in the future of the MCU. Without Strange’s use of the time stone in Avengers: Infinity War that allowed him to view the 14,000,065 outcomes of the impending conflict, the Avengers would’ve never followed the correct path to defeat Thanos in Endgame. Now, with upcoming films Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness, it seems as though Strange will continue to be a crucial part of the MCU for years to come.
Baylor’s hire of Coach Aranda after the untimely departure of Matt Rhule to the NFL in 2020 was seen as “strange” to some. Even though he was coming off a national championship win at LSU as their defensive coordinator, both Virginia Tech’s (now fired) Justin Fuente and Louisiana’s (now Florida) Billy Napier were the names most speculated to take over in Waco. His calm and quiet demeanor was a far cry from the rah-rah of Rhule. Aranda’s quirkiness is something that has made him a standout among coaches across the country:
In his postgame press conference, Dave Aranda answered a question about shutting down big plays by referencing the famous football book "Old Hat, New Hat" from the Berenstein (?) Bears.— Jack Allen (@JackAllenKXXV) October 30, 2021
You hear something new every day... #Baylor #SicEm pic.twitter.com/rWOtR30QAE
Here is my conversation with Dave Aranda this week...He and the @BUFootball bears have had a tremendous season so far...However, his reference to the Velveteen Rabbit may be even better!pic.twitter.com/6TZqS1phYk— Joel Klatt (@joelklatt) November 25, 2021
Along with his unexpected quotes and even-keeled attitude, Aranda has proven to have been the perfect hire for a then-unsettled Baylor. From a 2 win season to possibly 12 is beyond remarkable on its own. Now, he has led Baylor football to a third Big 12 championship and a possible top 5 ranking with a win against the Rebels, Dave Aranda has led us to the most unlikely scenario– just like Doctor Strange.
Jalen Pitre as Captain America
Captain Steve Rogers’ “I can do this all day” attitude was a sight to witness in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since his initial appearance in The First Avenger, Captain America has been a tough, gritty, and undisputed leader of The Avengers (sorry, Tony Stark fans). Despite all of that, in the Endgame final battle, he stood alone. Thanos from 2012 and his army had traveled to the future and completely ran through what was left of the “post-snap” Avengers. All hope was lost and Steve Rogers had no help. The portals then opened and the entire MCU kicked Team Thanos’ asses and Iron Man snapped to save the universe.
Jalen Pitre committed to the Bears in 2015. Then of course came the scandal that shook Baylor and the college football landscape. Baylor lost its entire recruiting class that year, except Pitre, who signed in 2017. He is the one who stayed. Pitre’s commitment to the Bears echoed throughout his entire college career. His freshman year, the team went 1-11. Two years later in 2019, we saw the Bears make it the Big 12 title game and a Sugar Bowl appearance. Enter another major coaching change and subsequently a depressing 2-7 COVID-affected season. He could have left after last season but instead decided to return and prove his worth and he did just that. He has accounted for an impressive stat line, (70 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and two interceptions) and his impact on the best defense in the Big 12 has not gone unnoticed. He is the 2021 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Jim Thorpe Award finalist, and has added a number of All-American honors to his resume. Jalen Pitre is without a doubt the Captain America of the Baylor Football Universe.
Terrel Bernard as Thor
The “God of Thunder” has been the muscle behind The Avengers since the very beginning. His character arc has been a tough one, though. We’ve seen him duped by his brother Loki with a fake death, losing his mother and father in Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok, and then the loss of his most prized and powerful possession in his hammer, Mjolnir. He was then blamed for “not going for the head” fighting Thanos, leading to half the population being dusted away. Thor had an incredible amount of loss and overcame it with his heroic efforts in Endgame.
Terrel Bernard has had to overcome a plethora of injuries to “bring the hammer down” on opposing offenses and become the anchor of the Bears defense. Bernard was an all-state linebacker out of LaPorte High School and signed to the Bears in 2017. He played in two games as a freshman before being redshirted and sidelined with a foot injury. In his sophomore and junior seasons, Bernard finished 2nd team All-Big 12 with last season once again ending early with a shoulder injury only five games in. This season, the Iowa State game ended with Bernard in crutches, and Baylor Nation gasped at what everyone thought was another promising season for Bernard cut short. The senior battled back to rejoin the squad, and set his career high in sacks with 5.5, and continued to cause havoc game in and game out (86 tackles). First team All-Big 12 linebacker Terrel Bernard as Thor.
Abram Smith as Iron Man
Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist. Iron Man. Tony Stark’s lasting impact on the MCU will never go unnoticed, but to say Tony Stark was selfish in his early years in the MCU is a complete understatement. Truly understanding what it meant to be Iron Man, was having to sacrifice his self-centered attitude for the greater good. Of course, his ultimate sacrifice, snapping away Thanos and his army at the cost of his life.
Let me be clear here; I’m not calling Abram Smith selfish by any means. He was the opposite. In football jargon, being an “iron man” refers to a player playing both offense and defense. During his time at Baylor, Smith made huge contributions to both sides of the ball. Before stepping on campus, Smith was a two-time all state running back from Abilene High School before signing with the Bears in 2017. Both 2018 and 2019 saw Smith mostly on special teams duty, but he stepped up in a very important way in 2020. The Bears were thin at linebacker due to injuries and Smith stepped in and started four games for the Bears defense, and he wasn’t just taking up space. He finished with 48 tackles and recorded a sack, and was a bright spot in a not so good year for the Bears. His switch back to the running back this season has not been a disappointment. He is 7th in the nation in rushing yards (1,429 with 12 Touchdowns) and has been the brightest light in Jeff Grimes “RVO” scheme. Smith’s toughness and willingness to carry the team to victory is similar to Tony Stark helping lead the Avengers to the defeat of Thanos in Endgame. Abram Smith as Iron Man.
Trestan Ebner as Rocket
Rocket Racoon is a genetically enhanced raccoon who loves chaos and explosions, and his attitude can be seen as the same. His quick comebacks and smart remarks have provided sporadic and much-needed humor throughout his appearances in the MCU.
Trestan Ebner is just as explosive; rushing, receiving, special teams. Ever since Ebner set foot on campus in 2017, he has been Baylor’s “he-can-do-it-all” player. He has nearly 4,500 all-purpose yards and 24 touchdowns, and if Ole Miss decides to kick to him (they will) he could very well add more explosive plays to his storied career. Ebner had a rough outing in Arlington, but I’m willing to bet he’s ready to avenge his mishaps on Janurary 1, 2022 in NOLA. Trestan Ebner as Rocket.
Gerry Bohanon as Falcon (Becoming Captain America)
The end of Endgame showed an elderly Steve Rogers coming back to present-day and handing off his shield for Sam Wilson to become the next Captain America. Is he the right man for the job? Even he doubted if he could do it. Most of the Falcon and the Winter Soldier series showed Sam dealing with the pressure of stepping up to fill the shoes when he was needed. The same could’ve been said about Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon. Could he lead this team to the promised land? This season he answered the call. His numbers might not be the flashiest, but his toughness and ability to keep Baylor ahead in most games this season is why Baylor is the Big 12 Champion for the third time ever and headed to the Sugar Bowl (again). Gerry Bohanon as Falcon (becoming Captain America).
As we wait anxiously for our Big 12 Champions to face Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl, take a moment to acknowledge these key individuals who helped shape the Baylor Football Initiative. Until next time. Avengers….