CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Tyner's Willie Stewart broke free for a long run on the opening drive of Rams' scrimmage against Baylor Tuesday night at Heywood Stadium.
On the opposite sideline, George Porter watched and waited for his turn. Patience is a virtue the senior running back has developed over the last four years, and one that's been frequently tested.
Porter broke out as a small, yet speedy freshman before missing most of his sophomore season with an ankle injury. He and the Baylor offense struggled to find consistency en route to an early playoff exit in 2012, then he found himself sidelined for most of spring camp with a nagging hamstring injury.
Now finally at full health, Porter enters his final season with eyes set on erasing the disappointment of last two years.
"You just have to stay mentally strong," Porter said. "Things like that happen and you can't control them. It was tough in the spring because I wanted to start my senior season off right, but you just have to focus on being mentally strong and the physical part will take care of itself."
Baylor used a heavy dose of Porter on its opening drive, starting with a 35-yard run that was called back by a hold. The powerful back bulldozed his way to at least three more double-digit gains over the next two series, showing the ability to carry the Red Raiders' offense if need be.
"We're excited about the season George can have if he can stay healthy. He worked extremely hard this summer and so far this preseason, and the offensive line in front of him is taking positive steps and continuing to grow," said head coach Phil Massey. "Any time you can put a four-year starter back there in the backfield, it's a huge plus for us. There's nothing he has not seen, so he'll help us while we grow and mature as a team.
"We can just put the ball in his hand and let him do his thing."
Baylor may need Porter and the ground game to control the tempo while an inexperienced defense finds its feet early in the year. However, he won't have to do it alone.
Nick Tiano split time at quarterback last year, but now has the starting job all to himself. He flashed a strong arm and some nice touch on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Gauge Upshaw in Tuesday's scrimmage, and has had little trouble settling into a leadership role.
"Nick has really matured, as well," Massey said. "Last year was great for him because the competition helped him grow, so now he's really matured. He had a great summer and is gaining a lot of confidence in his receivers.
"The biggest key for us offensively will be keeping both Nick and George healthy this year."
After back-to-back trips to the state championship game in 2010 and 2011, Baylor was bounced in the state quarterfinals a year ago.
Porter is on a mission to make it back to Cookeville, and will do whatever is necessary to make it happen.
"My main goal is just to get us back to state," Porter said. "I have my own goals, but the team goals are the only ones that matter. I'll help the team out and do whatever they need me to do as long as it helps us win each and every week."