Zach Smith reflects on his coverage of the Baylor Bears – 1 year in Waco

As I was driving around Waco on Wednesday afternoon, picking up some Fourth of July supplies, I couldn’t help but smile as I turned right from Waco Drive onto Valley Mills Drive.

It was in this very parking lot that John Werner and I had tried—and failed—to fix a flat tire on his pickup truck exactly one year earlier. Eventually, Trib editor Steve Boggs came to our aid in a car with four working wheels.

It’s safe to say it was an unforgettable first day at work.

Wednesday marked my one-year anniversary covering Baylor football, women’s basketball, softball and a number of other sports for the Tribune-Herald. It’s been a year of learning, appreciation and adventure.

And I drive a lot, since I commute between Georgetown and Waco most of the time. Trust me: There’s no such thing as too much Buc-ee’s.

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Don’t worry, I won’t be recounting every year I spent with the Trib. But that first year was unforgettable both personally and professionally. And as we begin a new season for Baylor sports, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the highlights, even if it wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard for the Bears.

Now that I live in the heart of Waco and am even closer to the action, I have some big plans for this football season and beyond. But we’ll get to that later, especially next week with the Big 12 Media Days in Las Vegas.

Until then, a brief review:

Media Days and Texas State

The football season is subject to a certain rhythm.

When Trib sports editor Brice Cherry, sportswriter DJ Ramirez and I went to AT&T Stadium for Big 12 Media Days last year, I had been there before and knew what to expect. I came out the other side largely unscathed.

Then the fire brigade was called.

Monday is for Dave Aranda, Tuesday is for the players, Wednesday is for writing and research, Thursday is for polishing, Friday is for traveling (and maybe a high school game), Saturday is for playing, and Sunday is for sleeping.

That first week was chaotic, and the outcome of the game, a 41-32 loss to Texas State, made it even more unforgettable.

Long Island Baylor Football

Baylor linebacker Byron Vaughns celebrates after sacking Long Island quarterback Ethan Greenwood in the first half.

Rod Aydelotte, Tribune-Herald

From Longhorns to Knights

During the week in Texas I really got going.

It started with two podcast appearances by Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden of the Austin American-Statesman and ended with one of my favorite stories of the year about linebacker Byron Vaughn’s journey from Texas to Baylor.

The Bears got beat by the Longhorns, but the week of work showed me that despite my self-doubt, I could do this job and do it well.

The next week, Brice and I flew to Orlando for the first away game. Between rounds of disc golf and hectic parking issues on game day, Baylor was making the biggest comeback in school history and trying to turn the season around.

Of course that wasn’t the case, but it was a good time to show my optimistic attitude.

A REAL PODCAST: Our guest is Kirk Bohls, a high-profile representative of the Austin American-Statesman (@kbohls) and Cedric Golden (@CedGolden), along with Trib sportswriter Zach Smith (@byzachsmith) and Trib sports editor Brice Cherry (@BriceCherry), ready to delve into some conversation about BU and Big 12 football when the Bears host the Horns on Saturday at McLane Stadium for the final time in the Big 12 era. | SUBSCRIBE to One True Podcast wherever you get your podcasts. | Music:

Learning on the streets of Chicago

I am an extreme loner.

The more people I know in a room, the more comfortable I feel. As the year went on, my radio appearances got better, the One True Podcast episodes got more conversational, and the atmosphere in the press box at McLane Stadium was better.

Every journalist has an ego (come on, you’re reading a column about my personal highlights), but I learned early on in my time at the Trib that we can’t do this job alone.

When I took the job, I made it very clear to Brice that I had no plans to back out of covering the Chicago Marathon on October 6. John Werner was brought out of the bullpen to cover the Texas Tech game, and DJ showed up to help cover another game.

Even in the last two weeks, when I was fully focused on moving from Georgetown to Waco, DJ took over the work and had my back without fail.

I am eternally grateful to Brice, DJ and everyone at the Trib for welcoming me to the team over the last year and helping me become a part of the crew.

On the road with Nicki Collen

Have you ever driven from Waco to Kansas City? And what would it be like to be alone in the middle of a tornado?

The Baylor women’s basketball team last year was so much fun to watch. They had so many different personalities and weren’t afraid to express themselves. Plus, they were really, really good for most of the season.

Luckily, I was able to cover a few games at the Ferrell Center, which made the opening of the Foster Pavilion even more spectacular.

Another highlight was welcoming Brittney Griner back to Waco. Seeing how much Collen and the other Bears love and understand her gave me some hope that we will be OK as a society.

NCAA Baylor Virginia Tech Basketball

Jada Walker (11) of Baylor passes Cayla King of Virginia Tech during the second half of a second round college basketball game of the women’s NCAA tournament in Blacksburg, Virginia, on Sunday.

Robert Simmons, Associated Press

When they flew to Kansas City, they were at their best on the pitch at exactly the right time.

My drive to Kansas City was much more stressful, as I was afraid that the two funnel clouds I saw through the windshield of my Kia Soul would suck me in before I reached the T-Mobile Center.

On the way home, I took it easy and played disc golf in Emporia, Kansas before staying overnight and watching a Thunder game in OKC.

Except perhaps for a U.S. soccer game against Mexico that I attended in college, the second-round game between Baylor and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg was one of the loudest atmospheres I’ve ever witnessed. The Bears silencing the crowd was a sight to behold.

There is nothing outdated about this program.

A trip to Acadiana

If you ever need restaurant recommendations for Lafayette, Louisiana, ask DJ. She is a treasure trove of restaurant recommendations that made my very first trip to Louisiana an absolutely epic experience.

When we got to town, Baylor Bear Insider Jerry Hill and I ate red beans and rice just before we got caught in a tornado (what is it with me and funnel clouds?). Then I tried crawfish enchiladas and finished with crab cake Benedict. My waist grew two sizes on that trip.

Oh yeah, Baylor softball played some of its best games of the year, beating the host Ragin’ Cajuns to advance to the Super Regionals.

Softball is one of those sports that my Michigan-centric brain never really understood, we just don’t take it very seriously up there. How wrong I was.

This senior year for Baylor softball has been something special, and with returning players and some new additions, it’s pretty clear that head coach Glenn Moore has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

Maybe I’ll get to try Oklahoma City cuisine next.

Baylor Louisiana Softball

Shaylon Govan celebrates after hitting a double as Baylor takes on Louisiana in the second game of the Lafayette Regional on Saturday afternoon at Lampson Field in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Zach Smith, Tribune-Herald