Team preview: Texas Tech

Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2005 college football season, exclusively on Insider.

Originally Published: July 16, 2005
Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook
Editor's Note: ESPN Insider has teamed with Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook to provide a comprehensive look at all 119 Division I-A teams. To order the complete 2005 edition of Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, visit www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).

(All information as of July 1, 2005)

COACH AND PROGRAM

Mike Leach is the only coach in Texas Tech history to lead his first five teams to bowl appearances, and only Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Texas' Mack Brown can match that feat in the Big 12.

That's just one of the reasons Leach has gone from being one of the lowest-paid coaches in the league with just two years remaining on his contract to having one of the league's most secured positions in a span of just two seasons.

There are plenty others, including facts such as:

• Leach has established himself as one of the top offensive coaches in the nation, with the Red Raiders winning their third straight NCAA passing title and second straight NCAA total offense title in 2004.

• Leach guided last season's squad to an 8-4 record (the fewest losses in his tenure), which included a shocking 45-31 win over No. 4 California in the Holiday Bowl and a Top 25 national finish.

• Leach has had three consecutive teams finish with eight wins or more, a school record.

• Leach's five teams have combined to break more than 150 team and individual school records.

Texas Tech athletics director Gerald Myers, who announced Leach's second contract extension and pay increase in a little more than a year this past spring -- a deal that should keep him in Lubbock through the 2009 season -- has his reasons as well.

"Attendance is up. Revenues in football are up,'' Myers told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "So it's a situation that if you want to keep your coach and keep things going and have the continuity of a coach being there and his staff, I think you need to reward them with a good financial package as an incentive to stay. I think Mike's earned that.

"This salary increase, we think, will help him to be more in line with the market in the Big 12. That'll put him somewhere in the middle of the Big 12 coaches, which I think he has shown with past performance that we've been competitive."

Now the challenge for Leach is to keep a good thing going, one season after the school posted its best overall finish (tied for third) in Big 12 play.

"I hope he's going to be our coach for a long time," Myers told the Avalanche-Journal. "He's done a good job of building a program. & I think it's improved every year, his recruiting is good, and he's got a good nucleus coming back [this] year."

QUARTERBACKS

Entering the season with a new starter at quarterback is nothing new to Leach, who will be working with his fourth different starter in the last four years.

In 2003, Leach replaced quarterback Kliff Kingsbury, the holder of 17 NCAA career passing records, with fifth-year senior B.J. Symons. All Symons did was throw for an NCAA single-season record 5,833 yards in his only season as the starter.

Last year, Leach had fifth-year senior Sonny Cumbie make his debut as the starter. He responded by matching Kingsbury's and Symons' achievements as the NCAA leader in every passing category, including 4,742 passing yards (to rank sixth in NCAA single-season history). Cumbie capped his career with a personal-best 520-yard performance in the Holiday Bowl win over California.

Conventional wisdom suggests that current fifth-year senior Cody Hodges (6-1, 211) is the next in line. He has played in just seven games (all in a back-up role) over the course of his career, yet completed 20-of-26 passes for 237 yards in the spring game.

But Leach hasn't officially picked a starter, in part because of red-shirt freshman Graham Harrell (6-2, 190), who showcased his accurate arm for much of the spring. He did miss the last week of spring practice because of an off-the-field ankle injury, but he is expected to be at full strength in time for two-a-days.

"I think Cody Hodges looked good [in the spring], but there's several months between now and the season," Leach said in mid-April. "We'll look back and see how everyone is doing when we get to that point." Harrell had an incredible prep career, passing for an overall Texas high school record 12,532 yards and 167 touchdowns while playing for Ennis (Texas) High School. The EA Sports All-American was also tabbed the Gatorade Texas Player of the Year after throwing for 4,825 yards and an incredible 67 touchdowns as a senior.

Sophomore Phillip Daugherty (6-3, 222) was also in the mix early on in the spring but is likely to be the No. 3 quarterback for the second consecutive year. Like Harrell, Daugherty put up impressive prep numbers, throwing for 3,277 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior at Bridgeport (Texas) High School. The 2002 Class 3A Player of the Year set a state classification record with 10,136 passing yards over the course of his career.

RUNNING BACKS

The status of senior Taurean Henderson (5-10, 205) was in question in the spring, as the versatile running back needed to complete some academic work in order to be eligible.

"I'm concerned. You're always concerned," Leach told the Avalanche-Journal in late March. "If he works hard there won't be any problem." Initially, Henderson would have had to pass 12 hours in summer school to complete his bachelor's degree, the previous requirement for initial academic partial qualifiers seeking a fourth season of competition. However, the NCAA approved immediate legislation in May that made it a bit easier on Henderson, making him eligible to play if he completes summer school with at least 80 percent of the work toward his degree completed.

The talented multi-purpose back concentrated on his studies and practiced just five times in the spring, including the Red-Black Game, and is a big key to Tech's plans. He's the only player in the history of any Big 12 school to rush for more than 2,000 yards (2,369) and collect more than 1,500 receiving yards (1,530) in a career. With 236 career catches, he is also on pace to shatter Wes Welker's school career receptions record of 259 and the NCAA's record for receptions by a running back. He needs just 26 receptions to match the career best held by former Long Beach State standout Mark Templeton.

Last season, Henderson earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors after averaging 5.2 yards per rush (840 yards on 162 attempts) and catching 60 passes for 286 yards out of the backfield. His 18 touchdowns, 16 of which came on the ground, ranked second to only Cedric Benson (20) in the Big 12 and established a Tech junior scoring record of 108 points. He now needs just 30 points to become the Red Raiders' all-time leading scorer.

While Henderson was working on his academics, red-shirt freshman Shannon Woods (5-10, 193) took advantage of an increased workload. He's a physical back with 4.4 speed and a 34-inch vertical leap and should be a solid contributor this fall.

Sophomore Taurance Rawls (5-10, 203), who had just three carries for 24 yards in limited action last year, will battle Woods for time in August after missing much of the spring recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS

While a large portion of the credit goes to Leach's pass-first offense, junior Jarrett Hicks (6-4, 209) has proven he would be a star on any team in the nation.

Last season, the second-team All-Big 12 performer lead the conference with 98.1 receiving yards per game and ranked third with 6.33 catches per contest. His 1,177 receiving yards set a Tech sophomore record and his 13 touchdowns established an overall school single-season best.

Hicks began his record-breaking sophomore campaign with four consecutive 100-yard receiving efforts, including eight catches for 211 yards and a score against TCU. He capped the year with back-to-back two-touchdown efforts against Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale and California in the Holiday Bowl. The latter was part of a career-high tying nine receptions for 69 yards.

Fellow classmate Joel Filani (6-3, 214) was a part-time starter at the other outside receiver, or the "Z" in Red Raider terminology, last season. The rangy wide-out had just 12 catches all of last year, but had a breakout game in the Holiday Bowl. Filani set career-highs in receptions (five), receiving yards (144) and longest scoring reception (60 yards) in the win over Cal.

The Red Raiders do have to replace departed seniors Trey Haverty and Nehemiah Glover, a pair of honorable mention All-Big 12 standouts who ranked second and third respectively (behind Hicks) in receiving yards per game. Haverty caught 77 passes for 1,019 yards (84.9 yards per game) and six scores, while Glover overcame injuries to manage 62 receptions for 660 yards (73.3 yards per game) and a touchdown.

Sophomore special teams ace Danny Amendola (5-11, 174) will likely take over at one of the inside receiver positions, most likely at H-back. He was the only true freshman to play for Tech last season, earning a start against Oklahoma State, and he finished with 13 receptions for 119 yards and a score overall.

Leach is counting on a pair of red-shirts from last season, freshman L.A. Reed (6-2, 189) and junior Robert Johnson (6-2, 207), to fill the slot at Y receiver.

Reed is extremely athletic and could turn out to be one of the league's most dangerous receivers, but his development was slowed because of an ankle injury that caused him to miss nearly half of spring drills.

Johnson is a speedy talent who looks to have made a successful transition to receiver in the spring. He arrived in Lubbock as the nation's No. 1 JUCO quarterback (Rivals.com, JCFootball.com, CollegeFootballNews.com) after leading Reedley (Calif.) College to a 21-2 record and a national championship in his two seasons there.

Senior Slade Hodges (6-1, 213) -- Cody's younger brother -- also turned heads in the spring with his performance at the Y position, while junior Marquis Johnson (6-2, 225) and red-shirt freshman Anthony Jenkins (5-11, 183) were locked in a tight battle to back-up Filani at Z. Jenkins caught six passes for 80 yards in the spring game, including a 40-yard reception.

The tight end position isn't a regular part of the offense, although senior Bristol Olomua (6-6, 236) is a big, dependable target when needed. Last season, the native of Laie, Hawaii caught 27 passes for 259 yards and five touchdowns in just seven games played after transferring from BYU.

OFFENSIVE LINE

There are plenty of question marks up front with the Red Raiders having to replace honorable mention All-Big 12 selections Cody Campbell, Dylan Gandy and Daniel Loper.

Thus, Tech was already thin in terms of depth when spring practice began, and the loss of senior reserve tackle Daniel Christian (6-5, 306) to a shoulder injury midway through didn't help.

Senior E.J. Whitley (6-6, 293), who experimented at center in the spring, and junior right guard Manuel Ramirez (6-4, 333) are entrenched as starters, although Whitley could move back to right tackle if junior Brandon Jones (6-4, 290) can handle the snaps. Jones can also play both guard positions.

Another option at right tackle is former tight end Gabe Hall (6-4, 287), a junior who ran with the first team in the spring when Whitley played center. The left side of the line is the biggest unknown with left guard Campbell and left tackle Loper having moved on to the NFL (along with center Gandy). Veteran special teams performers Bryan Kegans (6-5, 290), a junior, and Glenn January (6-7, 296), a senior, are expected to replace Campbell and Loper respectively.

Others who will challenge for time in the line rotation include sophomore Josh Morris (6-3, 287) at left guard, red-shirt freshman Josh Aleman (6-3, 285) at center, and sophomore Ben Griffin (6-4, 303) at right guard.

KICKERS

Both place-kickers from a year ago return, with sophomore Alex Trlica (5-11, 175) expected to hold on to his starting role after becoming just the fifth player in school history to complete every extra point (55-of-55) he attempted.

Trlica made just 7-of-13 field goal attempts (53.8) last season, but his short-game accuracy (he made all seven attempts inside of 40 yards last season) was a major reason he was able to hold off incumbent starter Keith Toogood (6-2, 195) upon the latter's return from an injury suffered in last year's opener.

However, Toogood, a junior, is healthy heading into the fall and will try to earn his spot back in August. He has displayed a bit of a stronger leg, making a 47-yard field goal against Iowa State in 2003, while making 8-of-14 field goals (57.1) and 66-of-70 PATs over the course of his career.

Toogood, who kicked off 57 times last fall and recorded 23 touchbacks, will likely hold down that role full-time this fall, but Trlica has experience in that area as well.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The goal again is to improve a rush defense that ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 after allowing an average of 176.2 yards per contest last season. Only league cellar-dweller Baylor allowed more (205.8 yards per game).

The pass rush is also a concern after the Red Raiders finished last in the Big 12 with just 17 sacks all of last season, and the loss of first-team All-Big 12 performer Adell Duckett to the NFL (San Diego) doesn't help. Duckett was the team's starting rush end and collected 36 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks as a senior. He finished his career with 28 career sacks to rank second on the school's all-time list.

Fortunately for Leach, three starters do return up front and Duckett's vacated position should be held down by up-and-coming rush end Keyunta Dawson (6-2, 259). The junior is tied for second among Big 12 sack artists returning after collecting a team-leading 6.5 as a sophomore. He also contributed 26 total tackles and a team-high nine tackles for loss.

Junior Seth Nitschmann (6-4, 257) returns to his starting role at left end after making 44 total tackles and earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors a year ago. However, he spent the summer rehabbing a knee injury that required surgery at the end of spring drills.

Fellow classmate Chris Hudler (6-3, 285), the returning starter at nose tackle, was also banged up in the spring and held out of contact. Senior Fred Thrweatt (6-3, 330) enters the fall as his backup.

Senior Dek Bake (6-6, 260) and junior Ken Scott (6-3, 315) are back to compete for the starting role at right defensive tackle. Scott, who squatted a school-record 700 pounds at the school's annual "Night of Champions" weightlifting competition in 2004, has seen time as the starter there each of the last two years. Last fall he made 16 total tackles in 12 appearances, while Bake had 27 tackles and made two starts.

Other returnees who figure to be in the line rotation include senior Charles Glover (6-4, 268) at left defensive end, senior right defensive tackle Randall Cherry (6-3, 292) and senior rush end Brett Bischofberger (6-3, 283).

LINEBACKERS

Junior Fletcher Session (6-0, 226) has the task of replacing honorable mention All-Big 12 standout Mike Smith, who tied for the team lead with 83 tackles (7.5 tackles for loss) before being selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens.

Session finished last fall with 35 tackles (5.5 for loss), mostly off the bench. He did make two starts, and closed the season with a career-high nine tackles (one for loss) and a pass breakup in the Holiday Bowl win over California.

Senior John Saldi (6-5, 239) and junior Brock Stratton (5-11, 231) are slated to return to their starting positions at "Sam" and "Mike" respectively. But both were bothered with bad backs during spring drills. Saldi was held out of all contact drills.

Stratton ranked third on the team with 62 total tackles in 11 games played last fall, while Saldi finished seventh with 52 total stops (five tackles for loss) in the same number of games as his cohort.

There's not much experience behind the starting three, although senior Sam linebacker Sylvester Brinkley (6-3, 234) did play in all 12 games last season after transferring from Reedley (Calif.) College. The other top reserves are a pair of sophomores, Paul Williams (6-1, 231) at the Mike and Chad Hill (6-1, 221) at the Will.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

The Red Raiders allowed opponents a 51.2 percent completion rate (a league-best) and 13 touchdowns while picking off 11 passes last season. Senior Khalid Naziruddin (5-10, 180), who walked on at Tech in the spring of 2004 after playing two years at Howard Payne University, is already one of the group's best. The right cornerback pulled down a team-high-tying 83 opposing ball carriers last season, including a career-high 11 tackles and two pass breakups in the Holiday Bowl.

The left corner will again be manned effectively by junior Antonio Huffman (6-0, 180), who ranked sixth on the team with 59 total tackles, had eight pass breakups, and also contributed an interception. One of those pass breakups came in the bowl win, as he batted down a third-down Aaron Rodgers pass that forced the Bears to kick a third-quarter field goal. He also tied his career-high of nine tackles against Cal.

Red-shirt freshmen Darcel McBath (6-0, 176) and Marcus Bunton (5-8, 184) saw plenty of action in the spring with Huffman nursing a stress fracture.

Sophomore Chris Parker (5-11, 178) and senior SirDon Lewis (5-9, 173) are capable of playing Naziruddin's spot on the right side.

Strong Safety Vincent Meeks (6-0, 206), Tech's only defensive back to receive at least honorable mention All-Big 12 honors by the coaches last season, is also back for his senior year. A former running back, he has made a steady contribution throughout his career and capped off his junior year by earning defensive MVP honors at the Holiday Bowl.

It was Meeks' second-quarter interception of a Rodgers pass that turned the momentum in favor of the Red Raiders, who trailed 14-10 at the time. Tech responded with three consecutive touchdowns from that point, with Meeks finishing the game with eight tackles and a pass breakup as well.

Sophomore Joe Garcia (6-2, 203) and red-shirt freshman Anthony Hines (6-1, 223) serve as Meeks' understudies.

Senior Dwayne Slay (6-3, 215) looks to take over at free safety after coming on down the stretch last season. He has great closing speed and is the program's biggest free safety since former standout Kevin Curtis.

Junior Greg Aycock (5-9, 201), whose spring was limited because of a broken hand, and red-shirt freshman Lance Fuller (6-0, 215) are options if Slay doesn't start.

PUNTERS

Alex Reyes (6-1, 226) enters his junior season as a solid candidate for the Ray Guy Award, given annually to the nation's top punter.

Reyes has been a mainstay the last two seasons, putting up the fourth-best single-season average (43.0 yards per punt) as a true freshman in 2003 and following with the eighth-best single-season average (42.2) last year. The latter mark also ranked fifth-best in the Big 12 in 2004.

Besides being consistent, Reyes has also displayed a strong leg over the years. Last year, he set the school single-game punt average record of 57.0 yards per punt against Baylor, driving three punts for 171 yards. He had punts of 62 and 63 yards in that game, and holds a career-long of 67 yards against Oklahoma in 2003.

A total of 15 of Reyes' 67 career punts have landed inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Heading into last season, Leach was a bit concerned about his special teams because of the loss of all-time NCAA punt return record holder Wes Welker to the NFL.

But the Red Raiders didn't skip a beat, thanks to Amendola. The reserve wide receiver earned first-team All-Big 12 honors after returning 29 punts for 371 yards and a touchdown. His 12.8 yards per return average led the Big 12 and ranked 22nd nationally, while it also bested Welker's freshman average of 12.6 yards per return.

Amendola will also return kickoffs this season, along with running back Woods, as Tech attempts to replace departed senior Johnnie Mack in that role. Mack ranked seventh in the Big 12 with 19.5 yards per return last year. Wide Receiver Johnson and red-shirt freshman Marcus Bunton (5-7, 184) could also see time returning kicks this season.

Senior Ian Smetona (6-6, 233) is back to handle the deep snaps once again, with junior Chris Hudler providing reserve duty. Punter Reyes will serve as the team's holder for the second straight season.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 119 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college football, the 2005 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).