WACO — When Trevor Clemons-Valdez was weighing his options over which college to attend and which team to play for, Baylor was right there.
At the time the Bears didn’t have the national prominence or winning résumé that it does now.
But it did have potential and a pipeline thanks to a budding superstar at quarterback.
Now the former Copperas Cove Bulldawg is helping the school enjoy its most successful season in history and transition into becoming one of the best programs not only in the state, but in the country.
“It’s crazy to think that three years ago I came here on a dream to win a Big 12 championship,” Clemons-Valdez said. “Just to sit back and think of how far the program’s come from the three years that I’ve been here. It’s a crazy thing to think about.”
Baylor (11-1) takes on the Central Florida Knights (11-1) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and kicks off at 7:30 p.m. from the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Clemons-Valdez and the Bears are going to conclude a historic 2013 season in which the team beat Texas 30-10 to win the Big 12 Conference title in the final game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
Baylor posted a Big 12 mark of 14-84 in the league’s first dozen year of existence. But the program began to turn around after Art Briles became coach in 2008 and led Baylor’s rapid rise to national prominence.
Former Copperas Cove star Robert Griffin III went to Waco and won the Heisman Trophy in 2011 and now the school will open a new $260 million stadium next season.
Clemons-Valdez has five total tackles in nine games this season for Baylor.
For him, one of the key moments didn’t come in home wins against conference powers Texas or Oklahoma. It came on a cold night in Stillwater, Okla., when Oklahoma State trounced Baylor 49-17 to give the Bears their only loss of the season.
“Everybody’s got to get humbled at some point and it was definitely the right time,” Clemons-Valdez said.
Clemons-Valdez came to Baylor after establishing himself as a force in the Bulldawgs defense.
He was named the District 12-5A Defensive Most Valuable Player as a senior in 2010 after totaling 37 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
Clemons-Valdez was ranked as the No. 32 and 45 defensive tackle prospect by the ESPN and Rivals.com football recruiting sites.
The defensive tackle said his decision to go to Baylor was facilitated by an offensive star.
“Robert (Griffin) definitely had an influence on it,” Clemons-Valdez said about his decision to play for Baylor.
“Whenever he was back home and working out in the annex, I always made sure to go talk to him. He told me that if I wanted to do something big and wanted to be a part of something big, Baylor was where it was at.”
Clemons-Valdez got to watch Griffin’s award-winning season from the sideline after dressing for three games and redshirting in 2011.
He began his rise up the depth chart by starting in four games at nose tackle and played in 11 of 12 games in 2012. For Clemons-Valdez, last season served as a humbling experience going from being an experienced senior on the Bulldawgs to being a wide-eyed freshman cub with the Bears.
“I went against a couple of guys that are playing on Sundays now and it was a big eye-opener coming from high school into a Division-I college, but I think it helped me grow as a player,” Clemons-Valdez said.