Baylor's Spencer Drango glad he helped make Art Briles' vision a reality

Offensive tackle Spencer Drango will leave Baylor as a unanimous All-American, an Academic All-American and a finalist for the Outland Trophy and Campbell Trophy. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

A long, long time ago, Spencer Drango was a freshman. One of the kids standing on the sideline at Floyd Casey Stadium in 2011, a redshirting rookie fortunate enough to witness Robert Griffin III's heroics.

Back in that first year, it didn’t take long for Drango to feel validation about his decision to come to Baylor. Art Briles had sold him on a crazy dream that suddenly wasn’t so crazy after all. And when his time came, Drango helped make that dream come true.

As the All-American senior left tackle ponders playing his final game for Baylor, he sure is grateful he ended up at the right place at the exact right time.

"Oh, man, it’s been awesome," Drango said. "Just happy to get the opportunity to be here, you know? What we’ve been able to do is something a lot of people wish they could be a part of. I was lucky enough to be part of it."

If the Bears can defeat No. 10 North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Tuesday (4:30 p.m. CT, ESPN), they will have earned their 50th victory since the start of the 2011 season. That would place this five-year run among some elite company -- the list of Power 5 programs with 50 or more wins in that span includes Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon and Stanford.

Read that list again. When Briles and his assistants were recruiting Drango in 2010, the program they were pitching certainly hadn’t earned its place among those powerhouses. All Briles could offer, Drango said, was a vision.

A vision of playing in an exciting offense, playing for Big 12 titles and, someday, playing in a better stadium. Briles had a blueprint and an overwhelming amount of optimism. Drango's decision came down to Baylor, Texas and Stanford. In the end, there was just something too appealing about the vision.

"He sold me on being part of building a tradition instead of just jumping into one," Drango said. "Stanford and UT had won conference championships and been in the national spotlight. Baylor really hadn’t. I came here to build a tradition, and I think we did a pretty good job of that."

Drango will leave Waco as a unanimous All-American, an Academic All-American, a finalist for the Outland Trophy and Campbell Trophy, and with a reputation as one of the finest linemen to ever play at Baylor.

Back-to-back Big 12 championships, brand new McLane Stadium, the rise to national prominence -- Drango got to see it all. Going into his 48th and final start, he can’t help but admire how drastically the program has changed over the course of his five years in Waco.

"Once we got going, it was kind of like a snowball," he said. "Start out a little slow, get a little momentum, get a little bigger and keep rolling."

At the time he signed, Drango wasn’t just the highest-rated member of Baylor’s 2011 class. He was, according to ESPN’s recruiting ratings, its only four-star signee that year.

"Now we’re getting guys who are five-star," Drango said. "If they made a sixth star, I’m sure we’d have a few of those, too. It’s just been unbelievable to see the caliber of guys we’re bringing in."

They’re coming because guys like Drango helped set the new standard at Baylor. He doesn’t want the credit, though. Send that to Briles, he says. The man promised Drango an opportunity to play for conference titles, at a time when nobody thought Baylor could. Together, they made good on that promise.

"We won two, and we’ll probably win a lot more with him here," Drango said. "Everything he’s said has come to fruition. It’s been interesting to see how it’s all kind of manifested. And someday I can look back on it and say, 'Hey, I helped do that.'"