KD Cannon was caught off guard.
“KD!” said Baylor coach Art Briles.
“What?” came the response from the freshman receiver.
Seconds later, Cannon was on the field in the first game of his collegiate career.
What happened next wasn’t even a dream come true, as Cannon streaked past the SMU defense for a 46-yard touchdown on his first catch in a Baylor uniform.
“I wasn’t expecting to get the ball,” Cannon said. “I thought I’d work my way in, but he was like, ‘High-low go.’ I was like, ‘That’s me!’
“It’s something I couldn’t even have dreamed of. It felt great scoring on your first play.”
Welcome to Baylor, where Briles runs a program that consistently takes the approach, “Why do something later when we can do it now?” It applies to the Bears' use of freshmen and their approach to every season, and it can be found at the foundation of the mindset that has helped the program rise to prominence in the Big 12.
The sequence that led to Cannon’s first college touchdown catch is a perfect example. Injuries during the Bears' first two games have thrust Cannon and fellow freshman Davion Hall among the team's leading receivers.
With All-Big 12 receiver Antwan Goodley, Clay Fuller and Levi Norwood on the shelf with various injuries, Briles and Baylor didn't hesitate to turn to their true freshmen to help fill the void. The future became the present and they’ve performed like savvy veterans, not newcomers suiting up for the first time. Cannon has eight receptions for a Big 12-best 282 yards and four touchdowns, while Hall has a team-high 11 receptions for 164 yards and a score of his own.
“It just affirmed what we felt like we knew coming in -- both those guys are really good football players that are ready for prime time,” Briles said of his freshman receiving duo. “A lot of time it transfers from high school to college, college to the NFL. A great player in high school is going to be a great player in college, and eventually the NFL.”
Since last year's deep threat, four-year standout Tevin Reese, no longer calls Waco, Texas, home, Cannon has been an exceptional deep threat while averaging 35.3 yards per reception. He gives defenders fits with his acceleration and top-end speed.
“We're always going to have a guy that can stretch the field, or try to,” Briles said. “And when you get more than one, which is what we're on the verge of developing right now, that's when you really have a chance. Because if you've got one guy, they'll put a guy over the top of him. If you've got more than one, then they can't do that.”
Hall hasn’t proven to be the consistent deep threat that Cannon is but has shown signs he could become a dependable third-down target, with six of his 11 receptions coming on third down. He’s also shown he can be a deep threat when called upon, with his lone touchdown coming on a 57-yard bomb from Seth Russell against Northwestern State last weekend.
The thought of Briles adding more speed, versatility and youth to his receiving corps should make Big 12 defensive coordinators shudder. Yet it isn't these traits that Briles likes most about his freshman receiving duo.
“They’re serious about being good football players,” Briles said. “That’s what I like about them; they want to be good.
“All they’ve done is come out and made plays. First in practice, now in games.”