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Szymanski ready for Red Raiders

Nov. 2, 2006

Melea Burke/Lariat staff
Quarterback Shawn Bell walks off the field Saturday after hurting his knee. Bell would return to the game, only to be carried off the field a few plays later. Szymanski replaced Bell on Baylor's last drive of the game.

Sports editor

Through the Baylor football team's first nine games, experience at the quarterback position was a given.

As the starter in every game season, senior quarterback Shawn Bell has been the steady hand orchestrating a new offensive scheme that was beginning to click.

But after a play in the Bears' 31-21 loss to Texas A&M University left him with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a torn medial meniscus and two bone contusions, the Bears must turn to redshirt freshman Blake Szymanski to finish the season at quarterback.

While Szymanski put up huge numbers his senior season at Wichita Falls Rider High School, throwing for 4083 yards and 45 touchdowns, he's a relative unknown at the collegiate level.

In the Bears' summer drills, Szymanski bounced back and forth between second and third on the quarterback depth chart with sophomore walk-on Jason Lovvorn.

But since then, his improvement in the Bears' pass-happy offensive system has cemented his spot as the backup signal caller.

"Over the past five or six weeks, his development has been great," said first-year offensive coordinator Lee Hays. "He was at a point this summer when I was a little bit concerned. He's turned it up a couple of notches.He'll be fine."

Szymanski has seen limited action this season. He's only taken nine snaps in two games, completing two passes in five attempts with one touchdown and an interception.

Szymanski said he's excited about the challenge of starting a game, and he's concentrating his energy on beating Texas Tech University.

"I just have to step in this week and be the man," he said. "It is unfortunate what happened to Shawn, but I have to focus on getting the job done. I have to find a way to give us the best chance to win and find a way to come out of Lubbock with a victory."

The Bears haven't beaten the Red Raiders in quite a while, and a win in Lubbock is even rarer. The last time Baylor beat Tech was in 1995 and the Bears last knocked off the Red Raiders in on the road in 1990.

But a win on Saturday would make the Bears one victory away from a bowl berth. The Bears haven't been to a bowl game since 1994.

Head Coach Guy Morriss said he's not scared. He said he has faith in his team no matter who's taking the snaps.

"Am I confident?" he asked, "Absolutely. I am ready to play today.

"That's what we signed Blake Szymanski for.

"Everybody has to rally around him and support him, step our game up. I feel very confident we can go out there and win."

One thing that Szymanski offers the Bears that they haven't had in a while from the quarterback position is mobility.

Szymanski ran for 455 yards and 10 touchdowns his senior year of high school and had two rushes for 20 yards in relief of Bell against A&M.

Morriss said Szymanski's physical ability is probably superior to Bell's.

"He's got a tremendous arm, and he's got good foot speed," Morriss said. "There are some things we may see from him that we didn't see from Shawn: his ability to scramble and run. He can get himself out of trouble if protection breaks down."

Szymanski has taken criticism both for his inexperience and for his limited knowledge of the system.

He said he hopes to prove critics wrong on both counts Saturday. He said he's no stranger to the spread offense and that he can only address the inexperience by playing well.

"I have not done anything yet, so (critics) should not expect anything yet," he said. "At the same time, I have a job to do, and I am going to do everything I can to help this team win."

Bell said he will do the same. While he won't be on the field anymore, he'll continue to help the Bears from the sidelines.

Morriss said Bell will continue traveling with the team and will help coach Szymanski on the intricacies of the game.

"Shawn wants to be a coach anyway, so we're going to start him a little early," Morriss said. "I think it will be beneficial to Blake and all of us to take him with us.

"He's still on my nickel. I'm going to put him to work."