Baylor Football

Development, leadership will define Ish Wainright's football success

April 20, 2017

With a wingspan over seven feet, a build of a something out of the Marvel Universe, and a team-first attitude, it’s easy to see why fans are fawning over the idea of Ish Wainright playing football. That idea seems more like a reality every day as he suited up and ran some impressive routes during practice this week.

Adding more attention are the successful basketball converts that are carved into the collective consciousness of American sports.

Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham all share the common thread: former college basketball players who turned to NFL to have illustrious careers at the tight end position. Together, they combine for 26 Pro Bowls in 38 seasons and Gonzalez and Gates are surefire Hall of Fame selections.

Then, of course, there are more anecdotes like Julius Thomas and Martellus Bennett. Closer to home, Baylor’s all-time leading rebounder Rico Gathers was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys last year despite no college football experience. Don’t forget, former Gonzaga basketball player Demetri Goodson transferred to play defensive back in Waco in 2011 before being drafted in 2014 but he already came from a football background.

This hype train is easy to board and it seemingly has an unlimited number of seats. It’s going to sell well. But there’s a false equivalency surrounding any towering basketball player moving to the football field.

Gonzalez, Gates, and Graham are anomalies. They weren’t pioneers that traded shorts for pads as the Cowboys were doing that during their 1970s dynasty with other non-football players like Bob Hayes. There have been plenty of copycat moves since then that have crashed -- Gathers could be among them but he still needs a chance to step out of Jason Witten’s eternal shadow.

Let the discussion of great likes Gonzalez be the aspiration, not the expectation. College football fans across the country have been let down by similar situations.

Oregon put basketball guard Johnny Lloyd at wide receiver only to get one touchdown on eight receptions from him while fighting for snaps against true football recruits. Syracuse courted Duke assist-leader Greg Paulus to go under center in 2009. It was a failed attempt to recreate Donovan McNabb’s success in the late 1990s as Paulus won just four games with 13 touchdowns to 14 interceptions.

But there’s hope for Wainright through the combination of an experienced coaching staff to tap into his natural talents and the moves being made at tight end already.

Along with the incredibly enthusiastic Joey McGuire coaching the tight ends including receiver convert Quan Jones, the staff includes three other former tight end coaches to help Wainright catch up to having not played football since 2009.

Coach Matt Rhule was a tight end coach at Temple in 2011. Offensive line coach George DeLeone coached the Miami Dolphins tight ends from 2008-10 followed by two years at UCONN. Lastly, receivers coach Bob Bicknell spent a couple years watching Gonzalez in Kansas City before he jetted for Atlanta in 2009.

Along with Jones moving over from receiver, senior Jordan Feuerbacher, sophomore Sam Tecklenburg, and junior Jayson Clements round out the depth chart before two freshmen tight ends join the squad.

Throughout practice, Feuerbacher and Tecklenburg have looked the best suited for the new offensive scheme using tight ends as blockers. Jones’ ability as a pass-catcher is a given considering his experience working downfield. At 6-foot-5, he’s the tallest of the bunch. Also at 6-foot-5 but with at 240 pounds 7-foot-2 wingspan, Wainright has the makings of one of the nation’s biggest catch radii- talk about a red zone target.

Though, as our Colt Barber discussed on ESPN Central Texas on Wednesday, this could be a move more about the leadership that Wainright brings as Rhule alluded to in his Tuesday interview.

Wainright was constantly heralded as a leader of Scott Drew’s teams on and off the court. He was that true “glue player.” Rallying a football team with dozen of players compared to a handful of basketball players certainly is different but a leader is needed all the same.

So while it may be hard to project Wainright’s production based on his rebounding and stealing averages (5.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals last season for what it’s worth), Wainright’s value could be as the silent protector he became known as the last couple years in the Ferrell Center.

As an added bonus, Wainright gets to chase a Big 12 title for a fifth time. It may be a pipe dream but it'd be a historic feat.
Discussion from...

Development, leadership will define Ish Wainright's football success

There are not any replies to this post yet.
Page 1 of 1
Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.