Before 16th-ranked Baylor took on Oklahoma State, two players were expected to pop out on the stat sheet. OSU had James Washington coming off a near-300 yard receiving performance against Pittsburgh. Baylor had K.D. Cannon, who was wearing No. 1 to honor former teammate Corey Coleman, who broke his hand last week with the Cleveland Browns.
Both Cannon and Washington were preseason first-team All-Big 12 selections and have mostly proven worthy of the distinction. However, another preseason headliner surfaced Saturday night in the Bears’ 35-24 win over the Cowboys.
Baylor redshirt sophomore Ish Zamora was suspended for the non-conference slate after a video of him beating his dog surfaced in August. He made his debut against the Pokes and flourished, reeling in eight receptions for 175 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think honestly, we knew Ish had potential,” head coach Jim Grobe said. “The coaches saw in spring practice, and then I could see in our summer practices that he had talent.”
The former three-star recruit was expected to break out last season, but Coleman was a target magnet. Without Coleman — despite Cannon moonlighting as him on Saturday — Zamora showed why his return was highly anticipated despite an average recruitment process. His track star mobility proved prototypical for Baylor, but his 6-foot-4 frame made him an even more dangerous target, even if he’s a bit raw.
“He probably had some issues getting lined up split-wise,” Grobe said. “But from a big play standpoint, he was huge tonight.”
The first sign came early in the second quarter when he scored his first 38-yard touchdown of the night. It could be written off as a fluke, because the pass was originally intended for Lynx Hawthorne on a screen. Yet, Hawthorne tipped the pass only for Zamora to turn on the jets, save it from being intercepted, snag the ball, and then show NFL scouts he can run the 40-yard dash with the best. The play represented one of many plot twists in a game filled with abrupt reversals and wild sequences, but Zamora was the best finisher of plays — and drives — on the field.
Zamora’s next touchdown makes him such an intriguing prospect. He showed a rare brand of physicality on a 38-yard fade route (yes, Baylor does that) under tight coverage. Unlike Cannon or Coleman in the past, his frame and strength allowed him to jump up to make a contested catch with relative ease.
Most astoundingly, the sophomore caught six of Seth Russell’s 12 completions in the first half. Only one of his targets fell incomplete. Compare that to Cannon’s three receptions on eight targets through his healthy two quarters. Cannon missed the rest of the game with a re-irritated groin; Zamora promptly delivered two receptions over 30 yards to spark Baylor’s stake-driving 98-yard touchdown drive, which pushed a 28-24 lead to a safe 11-point cushion late in the fourth quarter.
“I knew he was going to step up,” Russell said. “He’s another weapon to put in the offense and he’s a great guy […] When he was suspended, he never griped one day. He came out to work and it showed tonight.”
One could even draw a comparison of Zamora to TCU’s Josh Doctson, who was drafted in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft. It’s just one game, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in hyperbole, but Zamora seems to be destined for big things based on this debut after waiting in the stables for so long.