The Scoop on Incoming JUCO Talent

Texas Tech is in the process of filling holes with junior college talent. The Red Raiders currently have five JUCO midterm signees and three more committed. writer Scott Eklund took time to answer questions about the group and give his evaluation.

Tech currently has eight JUCO commits.
How does this group stack up with some of the top JUCO hauls around the country?

Eklund: Honestly, I was just looking through before we talked and I think Texas Tech actually has the largest JUCO contingent coming in as far as guys already signed or committed. I couldn't find more than six anywhere else. Kansas State is the other one, who usually signs a lot and I think they have six or seven.

Of those eight, four are defensive linemen commits, including three defensive tackles. Which guy do you expect to make the biggest immediate impact?

Eklund: From a sheer animal standpoint, Rika Levi is a just a freak. He is all of 6-4 and about, the last time I saw him he was about 360 and was recently named the NorCal Defensive Player of the Year. That conference, you know there are some great JUCO conferences around the country; Mississippi has a great conference, the Jayhawk conference in Kansas, Texas has a pretty good one in the southwest, but boy, you'd be hard pressed to find a better conference from a talent standpoint than the NorCal. For him to be named the Defensive Player of the Year as a defensive lineman, and a two-gap, not a three-gap guy, is just freakish. You don't see that a lot.

I think Levi is primed, as long as he comes in under 350 pounds, I think his ideal weight is 345-350, right in that range, that guy can be a seriously dominant player. It might take him half a season, because he's not just going to be able to go in and dominate because it might take him half a season to get used to the speed of the D1 game and things like that, but that guy is an absolute beast.

Really, I love Brandon Thorpe. The one thing about Brandon Thorpe is his size at 6-5, 275. He's got that length you're looking for when you are trying to defend the spread option and the spread attacks that are going on nowadays. If you have a guy that can get separation because he has such long arms, can keep blockers at bay and really set the edge against the run and even on bubble screens and jailbreak screens that are going on, I think he will really help. That's something to keep in mind about Brandon.

With the other two guys, (Marcus) Smith has the body to be a nose tackle, but he still had 4.5 sacks and you don't see that out of a lot of nose tackles. And (Keeland) McElrath is 6-5, almost 305 pounds. He didn't put up big stats, but that guy is a pretty good athlete for a guy his size.

I think Tech is getting some pretty good players out of this JUCO defensive line haul.

Last Week Tech hired Darrin Chiaverini to be the special teams coach. He previously served as Riverside (Calif.) City College as special teams coach and recruiting coordinator at Riverside. What do you know of him and how good of an idea is it to have ties to Riverside?

Eklund: Well, Coach Chiaverini and I have worked together for the last four or five years once he got to Riverside. I was shocked when he took the Tech job, I wasn't shocked he took a D1 job, but I didn't know he was looking to leave Coach (Tom) Craft, because Craft is really working some magic down there.

Chiaverini really cares about his players, he works really hard and not just on the football field. He's a great behind the scenes guy as well. As far as him being a special teams coach, I can't really tell you because I haven't really worked with him in that respect but I know he's a very detail-oriented guy and was always very organized.

I would assume his ties there wouldn't hurt Tech in terms of recruiting in the future as well?

Eklund: I think that will definitely help. Especially with schools such as Mt. San Antonio, with Riverside, Cerritos College, with El Camino and some of these programs that always produce top guys. He's going to help, it can't hurt at the very least.

What about defensive back Josh Keys? He was a highly touted player. What's your evaluation of him and what can Texas Tech fans expect from him?

Eklund: Well he's about 6-2, 190 pounds and he fits into a free safety role. He was more of a ballhawk as a freshman. I think he missed some games this year, so I think he was probably dinged up a little bit. He's an instinctive guy, I don't know if he'll be able to cover sideline-to-sideline, but he'll be able to cover three quarters of the field.

So if you stick him back there as a single-high safety you're going to be able to get him out wide enough to help out with guys running go routes and stuff like that.

Do you want to talk about JaMarcus Howard?

Yes. He's a guy who committed after visiting for the Oklahoma State game in November. We've had some updates on him since then, but I think he's a player Tech fans are wondering about. What kind of guy are they getting in Howard and can he can challenge for a starting spot immediately?

Eklund: Being unfamiliar with Tech's depth chart and stuff like that I can't say for sure. However, he's 5-11, 190 and doesn't really care about the size of the guy he's facing off against because the Jayhawk conference is loaded with really good receivers. So he's had to face really good receivers every year, they have wide open attacks over there, so he's been prepared for these wide open attacks he'll see in the Big 12.

He's a guy who may not be able to challenge for a starting spot right away, but he'll be that nickel corner, dime guy his first year and then work his way into playing time as a senior.

Texas Tech has some uncertainty along the offensive line for next year. Assuming Dontae Levingston clears up his paperwork issues, what kind of impact can he have for the Red Raiders next season?

Eklund: Levingston is a four-two-four guy, meaning if you sign with a four-year school and then transfer to a junior college, you have to get your AA (Associate in Arts) degree. Even though you qualified right out of high school, you have to get your AA degree. A lot of these four-two-four guys think they are mid-year guys but they have like two classes left to take, so they can't enroll in January, they have to wait until May. That's probably why he's on a delay.

So he went to high school at L.A. Harbor and he signed with SMU when coach (Adrian) Klemm (offensive line coach from 2009-11) was there, then Klemm left and I think he just didn't want to be a part of SMU anymore. So he came home, took a year off I think, and then he played this year at Santa Monica.

He's 6-5, 300 pounds. I think he's an interior guy. A lot of people have him projected as a tackle, I think he's better suited for the interior, because he has a really good, strong lower body and he's got quick feet, but I don't think he has the long arms you want at left tackle.

It says he's 6-5, I think he's closer to 6-3.5 to 6-4, but that's just my opinion, I haven't stood there and measured him.

He looks more like a guard to me, but should be a guy who can go in there and challenge for playing time.

I wanted to ask you about A.J. Allen. He's expected to visit Tech. What is your take on him? I know he's flown all over visiting a bunch of schools.

Eklund: Yep out of Grossmont. He's a straight-up left tackle. The guy is a freak of nature athletically, with great feet. One guy that I work with calls him a dancing bear. He's huge, I mean he's about 320 pounds and he's very light on his feet. He looks like a wide receiver when he runs. That's something that schools are always looking for.

He has some different things he could work on. He's not the greatest run blocker in the world, but that can be fixed. His pass blocking is about as good as anyone you'll see out of a JUCO kid.

Great stuff. Is there anything else you would like to add about this group or the route Tech is going?

Eklund: The thing people need to realize is you are going to see more and more schools sign junior college players because the qualifications for high schoolers has increased. So, it's only getting harder to get in as a freshman, so you are going to see more and more junior colleges produce more and more of these All-American type players.

You're going to see a number of former junior college players playing in the Super Bowl, so there's some talent coming out of these junior colleges. Schools like Texas Tech, who have embraced this, are definitely going to be ahead of the curve. Some schools, such as the University of Washington, the school I cover, have trouble getting junior college players because they require extra credit.

The schools who embrace junior colleges, who try to work with the counselors, who try to work with admissions and stuff like that are going to be way ahead of schools who struggle to get them in.

The other thing is you don't want to just rely on junior college guys, because you're only looking at a two-year fix, you're going to constantly have holes. Junior college players should always be about filling holes and I think 3-5 a class is probably a good mix.

Obviously, Tech has had some issues along the defensive line and that is why they have had to go this route, but in the future the hope has to be that they can get these JUCO guys in here and redshirt some young high schoolers and bring them up that way.

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