No. 23 Baylor trying to win, "keep everybody out of trouble"

WACO, Texas (AP) Baylor senior cornerback Ryan Reid sometimes texts teammates out of the blue to ask what they're doing.

After a fraught offseason when the 23rd-ranked Bears lost their head coach, the outreach is part of an effort to build chemistry - and prevent more missteps off the field.

''One thing we do, we try to keep everybody out of trouble,'' Reid said. ''I think we take the extra step to keep everybody on the right path. And I think that's just going to make us a better football player ... to see our leaders just taking the extra step to make this team better.''

Seth Russell, a senior quarterback who was the top-rated FBS passer before a season-ending neck injury last October, said the Bears are looking forward to talking football and winning games while trying to build a culture of high character.

''That's what we're doing right now,'' Russell said. ''We're sticking together each and every day. We're growing closer as a unit, as a team.''

It's been three months since the release of a 13-page report detailing an independent investigation that determined the school mishandled complaints of sexual assault against some players.

Art Briles was suddenly gone after eight seasons, a span in which the team went from routine Big 12 bottom dweller to two conference titles, six straight bowl games and the verge of the College Football Playoff.

Athletic director Ian McCaw resigned and school President Ken Starr was demoted. Starr last week severed his final tie with the school by resigning his post as a law school professor.

Russell was with other athletes from the private Baptist school on a mission trip in Brazil when the report was released and Briles was immediately removed as coach.

Russell faced plenty of uncertainty when he returned home the following week, and the team has different challenges than normal as it prepares for its opener Sept. 2 at home against Northwestern State.

''It's night and day I feel like,'' Russell said. ''We're going to get faced with adversity. But you have to come out and take advantage of every opportunity you have on the field, because you never know when that opportunity will be taken away.''

The Bears are down to about 70 scholarship players after some summertime departures, including backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Only half of their highly touted signing class from last spring is now on the team.

''Everybody just knows that the chemistry that we have, it has to be greater than ever before,'' Reid said.

Acting coach Jim Grobe was hired to replace Briles and kept all the assistant coaches even after being given authority to make changes, saying he wanted to keep as much continuity as possible for the players on the field. Briles was the only coach fired even though the report concluded multiple football ''coaches'' acted inappropriately in handling sexual assault allegations against some players.

Grobe has already had to deal with other off-field issues, too.

Offensive lineman Rami Hammad, an expected starter at right guard, was suspended earlier this month and is no longer listed on the roster after his arrest on a felony stalking charge in a case involving his ex-girlfriend this summer.

That was before video surfaced of sophomore receiver Ish Zamora beating a dog with a belt while training it this summer. Without being specific, Grobe has promised that Zamora is ''going to get disciplined by a bunch of people'' after his misdemeanor charge for molesting an animal. Zamora, expected to be one of the team's top receivers, has been practicing but could lose playing time.

''The only thing we can do is win games. Stay off the front page,'' Reid said. ''If it's the front page, it's the front page about football. That's all we can do.''

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.