MARSHALL -- The defending Big 12 champions played aggressive and put their final of three major football off-campus camps Saturday in Marshall.

It was a haul for guys like Lindale's Kolton Pierce -- the Bears wanted to be within striking distance of players from West Louisiana and Southern Arkansas as well as East Texas -- but the reward could be sweet.

"Even when I was the head coach at Houston, we were coming to East Texas," Baylor head coach Art Briles said. "We were going to Kilgore and a few other places back then. I think we've been here for five years in a row and I can just rip off a list of studs that we've had from East Texas and have gone on to play good for us at Houston and Baylor.

"Terrance Ganaway, Kendall Wright, K.D. Cannon, Davian Hall, Shock Linwood. The list goes on and on. Those are just a few that pop out for me because all of those guys are phenomenal."

players. We've had a lot of success and had a lot of good talent here today."

Pierce left Marshall optimistic about his chance to be a Bear.

That should come as great news for the entire East Texas fan base. The 6-foot-1, 183-pound athlete's junior year ended with a broken leg in the second game of the 2013 season.

He has barely any film from what should have been the single most important year of his high school career in terms of college recruiting. And he had to rehabilitate feverishly to get back into shape for this major opportunity.

"It's been hard," Pierce said. "I don't expect to come into a camp and gets offers straight out of the camp, but coaches know that I'm going to put on next year and that I'm going to try my best. I pray every night and God is helping me out a lot and my friends keep me up. My speed and my quickness aren't where I need them to be at right now, but my hands are where I need them to be. I felt real good today."

The Lindale senior worked out as a receiver and drew praise from the Baylor coaching staff, including Briles.

Per NCAA rules, college coaches are not allowed to discuss specific prospects to the media.

Pierce said Briles pulled him aside.

"I was a little nervous today," Pierce said. "By the end of it though I had Coach Art Briles tell me to keep my options open. I had the receivers coaches tell me I got better as the day went on. I'm really excited Coach Briles talked to me today. That excites me a lot."

No one can question Briles' track record of success.

Baylor's head coach got his job as the leading man at the age of 28 with Hamlin High School in West Texas. He finished his two seasons there with a 27-1-1 record.

He gained college coaching attention by turning a bad Stephenville High School program into a Texas power with two sets of back-to-back championships in the 1990s.

Texas Tech hired Briles to be its running backs coach prior to the 2000 football season as part of Mike Leach's first Red Raider staff. He became the head coach at Houston in 2003 and moved to Waco in 2008, pulling Houston verbal commit and future Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III with him.

The coach has changed the Bears' perception as the bottom feeder of the Big 12 into a consensus top 10 program. Baylor is projected to defend its 2013 conference title.

The university has performed well enough that its previously poor post-Southwest Conference reputation is completely lost on the Class of 2015 and 2016.

"I really don't remember Baylor very well," Carthage senior linebacker James Marshall said. "We had a linebacker from Carthage go there, Rodney Chadwick. I saw him playing up there and it kind of got me to want to go to Baylor. Being a younger guy, you look up to the old guys who played the same position as you. It really turns you around.

"Then I see that Baylor is getting all these new facilities, their new stadium and they almost went undefeated last year. The Bears are on top, really."

Pierce can't remember the shape of the program Briles inherited in 2008. It went 3-9 with no Big 12 wins in 2007, made a bowl game in 2010 and has not missed since.

"Since I've been starting to pay attention to college football more, Baylor has been a top program," he said. "Especially with their new stadium, it makes a lot of people want to go there. And the atmosphere is great."

Getting a nod from Briles might as well have been from Bear Bryant.

"He was asking for my name and where I went to school," Pierce said. "He asked me if Coach (Mike) Meador was still there. I said, 'Yes sir.' He was like, 'Well, Pierce, I want you to keep your options open.' I feel good about that."

The Lindale player received a hand written letter from UTSA on Friday while Texas State and Oklahoma State also have been sending messages recently.

Pierce will play quarterback for the Eagles this season in addition to reps at the more natural receiver position. He'll play some defensive back as well.

"We were hit with our quarterback not playing this year," he said. "That really hit us, so I've decided to play quarterback. I'll be playing receiver also, but playing quarterback will give me an opportunity to show coaches what I can do with my hands already."


A No-Frills Camp

Baylor broke the standard mold prospective players are used to.

Most colleges take heights and weights and then time players' speed through various tests. Briles' staff threw the athletes right into drills and quickly transitioned to one-on-one competition.

Pierce said that pulling out testing score infatuations allowed him to compare directly to faster players. He claims a 4.48 40-yard dash time as his best, but the broken leg and muscular atrophy have him running slower.

The Lindale player ran a 4.69 laser-timed 40-yard dash Sunday at the Recruiting Combine.

"I was expecting to run a 40, so when I heard that I knew my chances of getting looked at were going to go up," Pierce said. "Not because I'm slow, but when kid runs a 4.4 you know the people are going to look at him opposed to someone running a 4.6, 4.7."


Carthage's James Marshall tackles La Grange's Rodney Filmore (3) during Carthage's 51-22 Class 3A Division I state semifinal win Dec. 13 at Mansfield's Vernon Newsom Stadium. (Bud Worley,

Carthage's James Marshall + Lufkin's Erik McCoy Have Nice Days

Baylor paired its camp with Abilene Christian University, a school that has just completed its migration to the Southland Conference on the FCS level from Division II.

The Wildcats staff pounced on Carthage's Marshall (6-0, 200). He's been on their radar for a while.

"It really gave me a good outlook on the camp," Marshall said. "I knew coming in that there were going to be some eyes on me. I knew I had to give it my best performance and not be slacking on anything."

A college-caliber performance also drew attention from the Bears.

On a day that featured drill after drill, the linebacker remembers only allowing two caught balls in head-to-head competition and slipping once on a drill which required him to repeat the drill.

Repeating is a nice sign. Players that coaches don't view favorably on the next level usually get a free pass.

"ACU said that their head coach is really interested in me and I'll be hearing from them in the next few days," Marshall said. "Then Coach (Jim) Gush (from Baylor) told me that I did pretty good and he'll be getting at me."

The linebacker won a Class 3A Division I state championship in December. The coaches were interested in seeing pictures on his phone of the championship ring.

"I think that helps," Marshall said. "A lot of players look good at a camp. But once the film comes on, you can really tell who the good players are. The feedback after the game has been good. I've got seven or eight schools that are interested. They haven't offered, but they're close. I take my ACT on June 14 and after that I think I'll get some offers if I score high enough."

Baylor's camp was a cruise for Lufkin offensive lineman Erik McCoy.

The 6-foot-4, 297-pound player didn't need much of an introduction with offers from Big 12 foes in Kansas and Oklahoma State.

The Bears spent a lot of time trying to insert their own coaching pointers, something schools do when they're trying to figure out if a particular player fits their specific system.

"Coach (Jeff) Lebby really was trying to help me focus on my power foot," McCoy said. "That's what I need a lot of work on. I liked that we didn't have to do the 40s and stuff that takes up time before one-on-ones. That's one of my strengths, but I enjoyed that. There wasn't anything I really disliked here."

Lufkin OT Erik McCoy. (Christopher R. Vinn,