There has been no shortage of great running backs to pass through the doors of Texas Tech's football program. From Elmer Tarbox to Bobby Cavazos to James Gray to Byron Hanspard, it seems there has always been an excellent runner on the high plains.
But with the evolution of the passing game to almost coequality with the running game, backs have become almost as important for their hands as for their feet. Nowadays it is critical that a running back also be a reliable receiver out of the backfield.
Texas Tech, it seems, has been blessed with great talent in this area too. And as we shall see from the list below, great pass-catching Red Raider running backs actually antedated Mike Leach by decades.
No. 5 Ervin Farris: Everybody in these parts knows all about James Gray, if only for his ultra-talented son Jonathan who recently signed to play running back at the University of Texas. The elder Gray, of course, was a supremely prolific runner himself for Texas Tech in the 1980s.
But what many people forget or do not know is that Gray was just one component of an excellent backfield tandem at Tech, and that his partner in the Red Raider backfield was also his caddy at Fort Worth Trimble Tech high school. This forgotten player was a fullback by the name of Ervin Farris.
Farris did not catch a huge number of balls at Tech, but that was because Spike Dykes' quarterbacks didn't throw it all that often to the backs. But when Billy Joe Tolliver did toss it to Farris, the bruiser invariably caught it. Indeed, Farris often made spectacular grabs that receivers would envy.
Farris signed a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 and reportedly was set to make the team until a confrontation with Jimmy Johnson precipitated his unceremonious dismissal from camp.
No.4 Baron Batch: Current Pittsburgh Steeler Baron Batch had an illness and injury-plagued career at Tech, but still managed to be very prolific. He was a good runner and a fine pass protector, but Batch was also an outstanding receiver.
Over the course of four seasons Batch snagged 140 passes for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns. Once he returns to full health, Batch should emerge as an outstanding third-down back for Ben Roethlisberger.
No.3 Shannon Woods: Baron Batch's predecessor was none other than Shannon Woods. And the McKinnery product had receiving statistics which laid a template that Batch would duplicate almost exactly. Woods caught 154 passes for 1,192 yards with seven TD receptions.
But Woods is probably best remembered for a block.
In the waning moments of a wild and wooly road battle against Nebraska in 2005, Woods' tenacious block of Cornhusker defensive end Wali Muhammad allowed Cody Hodges the time he needed to find Joel Filani cutting across the end zone for the winning touchdown.
No.2 Donny Anderson: The Golden Palomino was truly a do-it-all performer for Texas Tech in the mid-60s. He was, of course, a terrific runner. Perhaps the greatest in Tech history. But he was also a superb punter, and of particular interest here, a marvelous receiver.
In an era where the passing game was still in its infancy, Anderson caught an amazing 105 passes, only 35 short of Baron Batch during the pass-mad Air Raid years. What's more, Anderson averaged almost 13 yards per reception. That is an average typical for receivers in this day and age.
Anderson continued his pass-catching ways in the NFL where he caught 209 passes, averaged over 12 yards per catch, and tallied 14 touchdown receptions.
No.1 Taurean Henderson: Unfortunately, this running back from Gatesville never got to show what he could do in the NFL. After a stellar Texas Tech career, Taurean Henderson signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings, but did not make the club.
But you can bet it wasn't because of his hands.
Henderson set marks for receptions by a running back that will likely never be equaled. Over the course of his collegiate career Henderson caught an astounding 303 passes. That is second best in school history trailing only some guy named Welker.