BAYLOR FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK – Baylor University Athletics

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

Jaxon Player spent the last four years in Tulsa, Okla., starting 29 games at defensive tackle for the University of Tulsa and twice earning all-conference honors.
But, Waco is home.
“Once the community loves you, they love you forever,” said Player, who transferred to Baylor back in the spring. “When I came back, they embraced me with open arms. . . . For me, coming home has been nothing but great.”
A first-team Super Centex pick as a senior, when he was part of Midway High School’s 15-1 team that lost in the state championship game, Player had nine sacks and 23 stops behind the line among his 136 total tackles that year.
Over his last two seasons at Tulsa, he had seven sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss, earning first-team All-AAC honors as a junior and second-team last year. Now, he’s eight minutes away from home instead of six hours.
“It makes life a whole lot easier,” he said, “because I’m a big family guy. I come from a big family. And with my family being just eight minutes down the road, all my friends and family can come to the games. When I’m done with football for the day, I can go relax with them. It’s way better than being six hours away like I was.”
Player, who’s splitting time at end and nose tackle, is now playing for the team he grew up watching and idolizing.
“It’s crazy, just because I’ve been a Baylor fan my whole life, and now I finally get to be on this side of it,” he said. “I have a picture from 2004, when I was at Floyd Casey (Stadium) watching the Baylor Bears play Texas State. And I’m like ‘Man, I’ve been loving Baylor since I was a kid, and now I get to grab the green and gold.”
BYU ROOTS RUN DEEP: Conversely, fourth-year junior Siaki Ika is 20 hours away from his hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Growing up 45 minutes away from BYU’s campus in Provo, Utah, “Apu” grew up around the BYU program and was committed to the Cougars initially before signing with LSU in December 2018.
“Deep down, I’ll always be a Cougar,” said Ika, the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season, when he had four sacks and 6.0 tackles for loss. “That’s something I was born into. My family is deep, deep BYU fans. So, that game (on Sept. 10, in Provo) is bittersweet for me.”
BYU head Coach Kalani Sitake and the entire coaching staff “watched me grow up in church since I was a little kid,” Ika said.
“I went to games a lot when I was young,” he said. “It brings out a different kind of competitiveness in me, for sure.”
VERSATILITY EXPANDS DEPTH: As if the Bears weren’t deep enough in the defensive line already, Player and sixth-year senior Chidi Ogbonnaya are capable of playing any of the three spots in the line to provide even more depth.
“I consider myself a versatile guy, so I feel like I can play anywhere,” said the 6-5, 302-pound Ogbonnaya. “Coach wants to experience with me outside and inside. At the end of the day, it’s just football. It’s a new technique, but with time and repetition, you master the technique and go from there.”
The 6-foot, 290-pound player said that kind of versatility to play end or nose “works out in my favor.”
“I can (pass rush) on third down and stop the run on first down. I can do a little bit of both,” he said. “It’s different techniques, but it’s the same game, it’s still football. You hit them, they hit you and you just try to win.”
Also available to play inside at the nose are true freshmen Tre Emory from Mt. Pleasant and Devonte Tezino from Killeen Ellison.
CHIDI’S PLAYERS TO WATCH: One of the most experienced players on the roster with 46 games under his belt, Ogbonnaya picked out a player to watch on both the offensive and defensive line.
On the Offensive side is a fellow sixth-year senior Grant Miller at guard: “Grant Miller, to me, has made the biggest jump. Every time I’m lined up against him, I have to really make sure that I’m honed in on my technique. Otherwise, he’ll make you pay for it.”
Defensively, he gives the nod to fourth-year junior end Gabe Hall: “I could say the entire D-line,” Chidi said, “but I’m just going to say the one guy that’s been standing out has been Gabe Hall. I think he’s going to have a crazy year. He’s just been doing some crazy stuff all around.”
PRACTICE SCHEDULE: On Day 6, the Bears will go through their first practice in pads under the lights at McLane Stadium with a 9:15 pm workout on Wednesday. That coincides with the CDT kickoff time for the Week 2 game Sept. 10 at BYU that will be televised by ESPN.
Wrapping up the first full week, the Bears will take off Thursday and come back with a 4 pm practice on Friday and a scrimmage Saturday morning at McLane Stadium.
Single-game tickets for the 2022 season are now available to the public. In the first of six home games, Baylor will kick it off against the University of Albany at 6 pm Sept. 3 at McLane Stadium.

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