No sooner did the strange and tortuous recruiting odyssey of Delvon Simmons come to a close than pundits began declaring him the most highly rated football recruit ever to sign with Texas Tech. And when one looks at Simmons' creds, it is easy to see why the commentary was so effusive.
Simmons earned Superprep and U.S. Army All American honors during his senior year at McKeesport High in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. He is also rated a five-star recruit by Scout.com and is considered the nation's third best defensive tackle prospect, and the No.27 overall prospect by that service. It obviously doesn't get much better than that.
But it is human nature to vaunt the latest thing as the greatest thing. Jack Dempsey was the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time until Joe Louis came along. Louis was then supplanted by Rocky Marciano who subsequently got knocked off his perch by Muhammad Ali who then succumbed—at least for a while—to Mike Tyson.
One could substitute Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to the same effect.
The fact is that Texas Tech has signed quite a few splendidly bespangled football players over the course of the last four decades or so.
Jim Carlin, who coached the Red Raiders during the early 70s, enjoyed a reputation for being a marvelous recruiter, and it was a reputation he richly deserved. During 1970, his very first season in Lubbock, Carlin pulled in a pair of quarterbacks named Joe Barnes and Jimmy Carmichael. Barnes, from Big Lake, and Carmichael, from Brownwood, were not merely the top two signal-callers in the state of Texas, they were widely regarded as the state's top two players at any position. Then as now, if you're the best in Texas, that makes you one of the best in the United States.
Carlin followed up that double coup by copping what was regarded as Tech's best recruiting class ever in 1971. The headliner for that group was Corsicana wideout Jeff Jobe. Not many people recall Jobe, but he was considered the best receiver to come out of the Texas high school ranks in the last 25 years. He was also recruited by more than 50 schools. Jobe did not quite live up to his billing as a football player, but he's done pretty well off the field: Jobe is currently a vascular surgeon.
One massively touted recruit who did measure up to his clippings was Spring Branch's Harold Buell, who signed with Carlin and the Red Raiders in 1972. Buell, who came to Tech as a running back but made his mark on the defensive line, was courted by every Southwest Conference school plus LSU, Oklahoma and Notre Dame. Buell ultimately earned All SWC honors.
The next true blue chip Tech signed is the player to whom Delvon Simmons is now being compared. I speak of none other than Gabe "Senior Sack" Rivera. The San Antonio Jefferson product earned Parade All America honors at a time when Parade AA status was the undisputed gold standard for high school recruits. Rivera proved every bit as good as his laurels, earning All America honors and developing into far and away the most dominant defensive lineman in modern Tech football history.
Rivera, who was a first round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers, caused jaws to drop at the Steeler preseason camp. Unfortunately, his promising career was terminated by a car crash that left him a quadriplegic. Ironically, Rivera's accident occurred approximately 20 miles from where Delvon Simmons played his high school football.
Jerry Moore landed Tech's next monumental recruit in the person of running back Timmy Smith in 1982. The hot-footed flier from Hobbs, New Mexico was rated one of the nation's top 100 recruits, and was recruited by Notre Dame, among others. Smith put on perhaps the single greatest performance in the history of Lowry Field when he rushed for over 300 yards against Lubbock Monterey. He followed up that feat by rushing for a record 204 yards in the 1987 Super Bowl. That record still stands.
Moore reeled in another high school phenom the very next year when he got Arlington Bowie linebacker Brad Hastings to sign on the dotted line. Hastings was a Parade All American who could have gone anywhere he wanted. He went on to become one of the greatest linebackers in Tech history.
Tech's next Parade All American was Odessa Permian wide receiver Lloyd Hill, who signed with Spike Dykes and the Red Raiders in 1990. Hill, who was also a ferocious safety in the high school ranks, had an excellent, although injury-plagued career in scarlet and black. Without the injuries, chances are good he would have excelled in the NFL as well.
Dykes—with an assist from God—garnered yet another Parade All American in 1994 with the signing of Desoto running back Byron Hanspard. The Tony Dorsett look-alike appeared headed to Notre Dame before a shower of divine wisdom convinced him that Raider Red trumped Touchdown Jesus. Hanspard earned the Doak Walker award following his junior season, which saw him rush for over 2,000 yards.
Dykes' final Parade All American was Midland Lee defensive back John Norman, who signed with the Red Raiders in 1997. Norman never developed into a dominant defensive back, but did grow into a linebacker, and a solid one at that.
And finally, let us not forget one Jace Amaro. Simmons' classmate is rated the nation's No.52 overall prospect by Rivals.com, some 28 spots ahead of Simmons. Together they go along way toward making this quite possibly the greatest recruiting class in Texas Tech history. Or at least the best since 1971. Let us not shortchange those who have gone before.