Like any football team, Texas Tech has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue experience, leadership, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially crucial. They may or not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they to be absent for any reason. In fact, that may be the best way to conceive of the critical players—they are the performers the team could least afford to lose.
With this series, we will take a reverse order look at the Red Raider football players we consider most invaluable.
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The modern recruiting era may be defined as the period in which the media and fans began taking a heightened and systematic interest in recruits. This period began, for all intents and purposes, when newspapers began publishing recruiting lists of the top players in the United States and in a given state, and when national recruiting gurus began selling their information and knowledge about the recruiting scene. Roughly speaking, the modern recruiting era commenced somewhere around 1980 and continues, with ever growing fervor, to the present.
It is only during the MRE that we can begin to really say with certainty which players were the mostly heavily recruited. During this period, Texas Tech has signed several, but not an inordinate amount of what used to be called blue chippers, and are now called four- and five-star prospects. These players include Brad Hastings, Lloyd Hill, Byron Hanspard, John Norman, Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree, McKinner Dixon, Montae Reagor and Timmy Smith.
But few if any of these prime prospects came in with gaudier credentials than current Red Raider Delvon Simmons. The McKeesport, Pennsylvania native was awarded five stars by Scout and was rated the third best defensive tackle prospect in the nation by that same service, and the No. 80 overall prospect in the nation by Rivals. Virtually every program in the nation would have welcomed Simmons with open arms.
Simmons, however, had a quiet first two seasons in Lubbock. He did start every game as a sophomore and was a solid contributor, but was hardly the devastating disruptor observers predicted he would be when he originally signed with Texas Tech. Kerry Hyder, an infinitely less ballyhooed player, filled that role.
Now, as an upperclassman, it is time for Simmons to live up to his billing. He has had more than ample time to adjust to the college game, and has been in a collegiate strength and conditioning program long enough to be physically on par with the players he faces in the Big 12. If Simmons is to avoid the dreaded "bust" label, he will have to pick up his game in 2013.
At this point it is not absolutely clear where Simmons will play most of his snaps. Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt has been shuffling most of his linemen—including Simmons—back and forth between nose tackle and defensive end. Simmons' physique is more suited to end, but if Wallerstedt regards him as one of Tech's three best defensive linemen, and the only way to keep him on the field is to play him at nose tackle, that is where he'll play.
Regardless of the position, if Simmons can realize his potential, he will team up with the aforementioned Hyder to give Tech a serious one-two punch on the line. Hyder already commands double-teams. A Simmons who plays like the third best defensive tackle in the country, would, too. And such a development would pose severe problems for any and all defensive coordinators scheming Tech in 2013.