Turn the No. 8 on its side, and you get the infinity symbol — an expression of total perpetuity. It’s no coincidence that No. 8 is also the mark of Baylor’s Jalen Pitre, a player who exudes perpetual energy on the football field. We’ve seen him blitz the C-gap like a meteor and soar around the box heading toward the NFL Draft. But even off the field, when no one’s watching, Pitre is all ball, all the time.
Jalen Pitre was a student of the game from an early age
Jalen Pitre started playing football when he was around five or six. Having an older brother helped fan his competitive mindset, and when he found football, the wheels only turned faster. But despite his early love for the game, Pitre didn’t truly start to understand the sport until sixth grade. Once Pitre began to study football’s complexities, that was when his journey began to take shape.
“I first found out about Cover 2 and the details of it, and I thought it was the most interesting thing ever,” Pitre said. “It was crazy to me that 11 guys had to be in the right spot. At first, I thought [football] was just running around trying to make plays. But once I started to dive a little bit deeper, my love for the game definitely grew from there.”
High school and the recruiting process
Pitre quickly earned a reputation as a playmaker in his early years. Especially on the defensive side of the ball, he began to make his mark. His versatility can be traced back to his high school days. Already, his ability to crash the flats and traverse the field was being put to use.
“I always played a lot of positions growing up,” Pitre said. “I played both deep safety positions as well as the STAR position. Just understanding all of those positions, seeing things from a different lens, helped me play a lot faster. I’ve also played offensive positions, so I understand what they’re trying to do as well. I’m a big student of the game, and I love learning as much as I can, and I continue to evolve my knowledge when it comes to the game of football.”
Pitre would be a three-star recruit in the 2017 recruiting class, but he committed to Baylor in July of 2015, one month after receiving an offer. Not long after his commitment, Baylor’s football program would be a subject of scandal. Signees departed left and right, but Pitre stayed loyal to the Bears, even through turmoil. For Pitre, simply playing at Baylor was enough.
“I’ve always tried to be a leader. And I always try to stick to my word. So once I committed, I felt like I had the opportunity to do what I needed to do. Coaches change, players come in and out. But I was very confident in my ability and my development there. So I was happy that I could play in the Big 12. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t change anything.”
Progress and production at Baylor
An opportunity at Baylor was enough to satisfy Pitre. And once he arrived in Waco, he wasted no time capitalizing on that opportunity. Pitre played in 12 games and started eight in his true freshman season. Few players adjust as quickly as Pitre did, and it all stems from Pitre’s knowledge of the game — something he strengthens with his work off the field.
“For a lot of guys, it’s very hard to stay focused and hone in on the details your coaches give you on a day-to-day basis,” Pitre explained. “But you know, I’ve always been a great note-taker, and I take pride in doing everything to the best of my ability.
“So I’ve always tried to make sure that I’m writing the notes that I hear in these meetings. And when I go home, I try to rewrite them, kind of flip them in my mind, to help me understand it. I think that helps me the most. It is different for a lot of people, but those are one of the things that helped me excel faster early on.”
Staying the course through adversity
Pitre’s laser focus is difficult to emulate — even more so when you realize what he’s had to fight through. Pitre tore his ACL in high school and was also forced to redshirt in 2019 due to a nagging shoulder injury. Injuries have been all too familiar for Pitre. Through that adversity, it can be hard to keep that focus. But Pitre says relying on his faith and his family helped him persevere. Particularly in college, he needed both to stay the course.
“When I came to college, I was alone, so I had to figure out things on my own. My dad kind of navigated me to go to Jesus Christ. And, you know, that’s when I started to put my trust in him, and that’s when I stopped worrying as much. And that’s when I started to work a lot harder. You know, focus on the things that I need to focus on to get better. So I give a lot of credit to him. He’s the reason why I’m the player I am today and the reason why I have the confidence in myself when I’m out there on the field.”
A fitting end to an illustrious career
In Pitre’s first season, the Bears went 1-11, still reeling from turmoil from previous years. But nothing could stop Pitre from willing himself into becoming one of the best players in the Big 12. Not the turmoil, not his size, and not his injuries. Pitre had always been a steady contributor, but in 2020 and 2021, he exploded as a premier playmaker.
In the two seasons combined, Pitre amassed 135 tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 4 interceptions, 9 pass deflections, 4 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries. He earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in both seasons and was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2021. It was validating for Pitre, but his favorite part of the 2021 campaign was winning Baylor’s first Big 12 Conference Championship with his teammates.
“Seeing us finish on top was great. It showed me that the work you put in isn’t for no reason. If you continue to stay persistent, you’re going to come out on top at the end. It was great to get that Big 12 Championship, to finish our legacy. We also wanted to show the young guys how to build off of that. We were tired of losing. We always had the talent. It was just about owning our one-eleventh. And I think, for the most part, we did that. It was a great year and probably one of the finest football years of my life.”
An environment at Baylor that breeds success
As Pitre kept the faith early in his career, the pieces came together around him at Baylor. He had the opportunity to learn under now-Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and current Baylor coach Dave Aranda — both highly respected figures at the collegiate level.
Pitre mentions Rhule by name, as well as position coaches like Coach Siravo and Coach Powledge. But for Pitre, it’s hard to understate the impact of Aranda in transforming his play — on and off the field. Aranda has a mind for X’s and O’s, but Pitre says his conceptual knowledge is even more valuable.
“He understands things that a lot of people don’t seem to care about,” Pitre said of Aranda. “And I think that’s what separates him. He’s big on focusing on who you are as a player off the field. And in turn, that changes the way you play on the field. Him helping me develop as a person helped me a lot more than anything he did with me on the field. A lot of people don’t see how patient he is, how thoughtful he is about his actions. Just watching him, seeing the way that he moves throughout his life, inspires me to act like that on a day-to-day basis.”
Teamwork and talent paramount for the Bears
Pitre was the primary catalyst for the Bears’ defense in 2021, but he was far from the only contributor — and he’s the first to let you know. Fellow 2022 NFL Draft prospects JT Woods and Kalon Barnes also bolstered the unit, but Pitre says there’s plenty of talent left to watch in 2023.
“Obviously, ‘Apu’, Siaki Ika, he’s a great player. He has great energy and he has a great motor, and he moves like a smaller guy. Also Dillon Doyle. I like to call him the glue of the defense. He’s going to make sure everything’s in the right spot, and that his teammates are all level-headed in order to execute.”
Pitre made a point to circle back and mention Christian Morgan as a budding star and also gave praise for Lorando Johnson, a two-year player whom he refers to as “Snacks.”
“[Lorando] was playing behind me this year. But he’s second to none when it comes to making plays. In practice, he’s wired, and he cares about the game of football. He’s always trying to learn, and he’s always texting me, trying to pick my brain on things that I’ve done. When you find a guy that wants to learn and cares about the game of football, you’re going to continue to see him get better.”
Pitre knows this well; it’s a process he went through himself. And while he might be moving on, he’s confident that the new-age Baylor Bears aren’t going anywhere.