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Welcome to 'Texada Island': Baylor's deep, experienced secondary looks ready for the Big 12

John Werner
Waco Tribune-Herald
Baylor cornerback Raleigh Texada, right, breaks up a pass intended for Rice wide receiver Austin Trammell during their 2019 game. Texada is entering his fourth season as a starter and his sixth in college football; he took advantage of the NCAA's one-year eligibility freeze to return for one more season.

WACO — Baylor’s defensive backs haven’t spent preseason workouts trying to get to know each other. They are so in sync that they can anticipate every move and nuance of each other’s game.

It’s a comforting feeling because they need to be at their cohesive best to defend elite Big 12 receivers.

“I’ve been with all these dudes for going on four years, so the communication is awesome,” Baylor safety JT Woods said. “The trust has grown so much over the years. Like even with Christian (Morgan), I can just look at Christian and point, and we both know exactly what we’re saying. So the communication aspect of it is really amazing.”

Few teams across the country can match Baylor’s experience in the secondary, as starting safeties Woods and Morgan and cornerbacks Raleigh Texada and Kalon Barnes are all seniors carrying a load of experience.

Texada is entering his fourth year as a starter and sixth season of college football. He’s already earned his bachelor’s degree in communications and plans to graduate with his master’s degree in sports pedagogy next spring.

Texada loves coming to practice every day as much as he did when he stepped on the Baylor campus as a freshman in 2016. Since the 2020 season didn’t count against player eligibility due to COVID-19, Texada decided to come back for his bonus year.

“It’s just coming to practice and working to get better every single day, just honing in on the details and working on my craft, working on my footwork, working on my speed,” Texada said. “That will continually help me make that jump.”

Texada flew under the radar last season for consideration for most all-Big 12 teams. But opposing offensive coordinators knew how good he was because quarterbacks avoided throwing his way.

Texada comes from a lineage of cornerbacks as older brother Ranthony played at TCU and younger brother Ridge currently plays for North Texas.

There’s a term floating around called “Texada Island.”

“Honestly, I think my dad started that a couple of years ago,” Texada said. “He would go out there and say ‘Texada Island, and it just kind of stuck. So it’s kind of what I’m going by now. It’s pretty cool.”

With Texada, Barnes and junior Mark Milton locking down receivers at cornerback, safeties Morgan, Woods and sixth-year senior Jairon McVea have more freedom to roam and make plays.

“It’s awesome,” Morgan said. “All the corners are really good at man. We can do a lot of stuff at safety, change the coverage. It just frees us up at the back end to make plays. It’s really good to have guys like that.”

And though the Big 12 features a lot of speedy receivers, Baylor’s cornerbacks have the wheels to match up.

“There are tremendous athletes in that corners room — Mark Milton, Boogie (Barnes), Raleigh,” Woods said. “We all ran track, so we all know they have a lot of speed. I don’t have to worry about if I have to leave them on an island. Texada Island, that’s a real thing out there. Just being able to trust those guys to use their athleticism to make plays and not always having to worry about protecting them over the top, it’s really relieving for me as a safety.”

Baylor counts on the safeties to be playmakers, and Morgan and Woods made plenty last year. Morgan ranked fourth on the squad with 54 tackles while Woods was sixth with 46. Morgan and Woods led the Bears with three interceptions apiece.

“It’s us buying in and owning the fundamentals and techniques we were coached to do in the back end with underneath coverage,” Morgan said. “It’s us buying in and film study. I came in with JT. We were in the same class. It’s just good to have a guy out there I can trust to make all the calls and all the checks.”

As a bonus, the Bears feature all-Big 12 senior Jalen Pitre playing a hybrid linebacker-safety position.

The veteran defensive backs know that if they do their jobs, Pitre can prowl all over the field to make game-changing plays like last season when he led the Bears with 60 tackles with 13 for loss while returning two interceptions for touchdowns.

“Talk about an athlete,” Woods said. “I’m right behind him, so I just get to see him make the craziest plays. He just brings so much energy to the room, honestly, the entire defense, the entire team. It’s really amazing just watching him be a complete athlete, ball hawk, all of that. Anything you want in a player, he has it.”

The Bears are also looking forward to playing with noseguard Siaki “Apu” Ika, a transfer from LSU who has shown signs of becoming a dominating defensive lineman.

“Apu is a game wrecker,” Morgan said. “Any time you have a guy like that at nose in our defense, it frees up guys like Terrel (Bernard), Pitre, Dillon (Doyle) to make plays. On the back end, it makes our job a lot easier because he’s getting pressure on the quarterback. It makes them make bad decisions and throw picks and do things they don’t want to do.”