With the Baylor Bears in the midst of their preparations for Thursday night’s season opener against No. 23 Wake Forest, former Brownwood Lion Kirby Freeman still isn’t certain of his position on the depth chart.
Freeman, who transferred from the University of Miami for his senior season, is mired in a three-way battle for the starting quarterback job with 2007 starter Blake Szymanski and highly-touted freshman Robert Griffin of Copperas Cove.
As of late Saturday night, first-year Baylor head coach Art Briles, who formerly served as head coach at Stephenville, had not tipped his hand in regards to who would get the start.
“I’m assuming we’ll find out (Sunday), or I hope we do,” Freeman said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a distraction, but whoever is taking the first snaps needs to start getting their mind right and start thinking about Wake Forest, opposed to trying to distinguish himself from two other quarterbacks.
“This isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to this type of situation. I am just being patient and trusting that Coach Briles knows what he is doing and will make the best decision for what needs to take place Thursday.”
Freeman isn’t the lone local product vying for playing time on the Baylor roster. Senior running back Jacoby Jones of Bangs, a member of the Dragons’ 2002 and 2003 state finalist squads, is competing with Jay Finley and Ray Sims for time in the backfield.
Jones saw the most action of his college career last season when he rushed for 192 yards on 49 carries. All indications point to the Bears running the ball more in 2008 as under previous head coach Guy Morriss, the Baylor offense had adopted the nickname “Air Raid.”
“It’s just like gold for us,” said Jones in a recent interview with the Waco Tribune-Herald. “Last year we didn’t run the ball much, hardly at all. This year we’re running the ball, and when I see a wide-open hole, my eyes just get real big.
“We each have our own set plays. There’s a package for each one of us. It helps keep us fresh, so you can go full speed on different plays and not worry about (getting tired). I feel like we’ll all get our share of the carries.”
For Freeman, when it comes to trying to play his way onto the field, he is in familiar territory. At Miami last summer, he found himself in another quarterback battle, where he beat out Kyle Wright, only to see Wright reclaim the job midway through the second game of the season.
After admittedly struggling through spring ball, Freeman feels his performance in fall camp has put him in a position to lead the Bears’ offense.
“I feel like I’ve had a pretty good fall camp,” Freeman said. “I had a chance to reflect on the spring through the summer and go back and learn some things I didn’t necessarily know in the spring. It’s been nice going through camp feeling confident in what I’m doing, opposed to when I got here in the spring and was going 100 mph.
“I’ve had a good opportunity to prove what I’ve learned since I’ve been here, such as being smart with my decisions, keeping away from turnovers, those types of scenarios. I’ve also built some confidence in my guys, my offensive linemen and receivers, and that’s always important for success. Coach Briles has helped give me the confidence to feel like I can lead this team in the fall. It’s real fortunate for me to get this opportunity, and hopefully I can take advantage of it.”
Freeman also welcomes the chance to play closer to home, as family and friends would often rush to airports right after Brownwood Lions football games on Friday nights to fly to the east coast for games that sometimes started before noon on Saturday.
“When I went to Miami, I knew I was making the sacrifice of family and friends not being able to make it to games as much as they had in the past,” Freeman said. “It’s been nice knowing they were just a couple hours away. Thursday night at the scrimmage, I hadn’t talked to anybody and I didn’t know they even knew we had a scrimmage, but I completed a pass over to the sidelines and looked up and both my parents and my brother were there just watching. They didn’t think twice about it and just drove over, and I was able to have dinner with them afterwards.
“Keith Howey, who’s one of my good friends from home, is starting grad school in Lubbock and he told me he would be at most of my games this year. He’d only made it to one in the last four years, at Oklahoma last year. It’s real nice and comforting, and it gives me a confident feeling for my family and friends to be so close.”
Though Freeman will have only one season to leave his mark on Baylor football, he hopes his contributions help turn around the Bears’ fortunes in the Big 12. Since joining the conference in 1996, Baylor is 35-101 overall and 11-85 in league games. Baylor’s best seasons since leaving the Southwest Conference were in 2005 when it finished 5-6 overall, and 2006 when it had its best Big 12 conference record of 3-5. The Bears have not played in a bowl game since 1994, when they lost to Washington State in the Alamo Bowl, 10-3.
“I’m happy to be a part of this senior class that starts the foundation of this new era of Baylor football,” Freeman said. “Coach Briles and his staff have already done a great job of turning things around here, but at the same time we haven’t proven anything yet. It’d be nice to drastically change this thing around, and it’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of confidence and consistency with your attitude and work ethic to make a deep impact. But you’ve seen it with other programs in the past, and Coach Briles has already done it at Houston.”