Critical 20: No. 7 Sam Eguavoen

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 of experience, leadership, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially crucial. They may or may not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they absent for any reason.

Perhaps the best way to conceive of the critical players is to determine if 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.

Texas Tech Critical Twenty
Gary MooreDERS FRClarksville, TX6-5245No. 20
Rodney HallRBSRAngleton, TX5-10240No. 19
Donte PhillipsDLJRMilwaukee, WI6-2280No. 18
DeAndre WashingtonRBJRMissouri City, TX5-8190No. 17
Bradley MarquezWRSROdessa, TX5-11200No. 16
Baylen BrownOLSOSan Antonio, TX6-4305No. 15
Micah AweLBJRArlington, TX6-0200No. 14
Ryan BustinKSRKilgore, TX5-11180No. 13
Rika LeviNTJRSan Francisco, CA6-3350No. 12
Keenon WardSSOSnyder, TX5-9195No. 11
Rashad FortenberryOTSRTylertown, MS6-5285No. 10
Justis NelsonCBSOMesquite, TX6-2170No. 9
D.J. Polite-BrayWRSOLithonia, GA6-1175No. 8
Sam EguavoenLBSRGarland TX6-1220No. 7

As the Texas Tech Red Raiders filed off of the field at Qualcomm Stadium, having just disposed of Arizona State, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt turned to linebacker Sam Eguavoen with a message. Said Wallerstedt, "This is your group now! We're turning it over to you next year."

Eguavoen didn't need a codebook to figure out what his coach was saying. Wallerstedt, in no uncertain terms, was bestowing the mantle of leadership for the 2014 defense on Eguavoen.

There are at least a few reasons why this will be Eguavoen's defense.

First, it is entirely possible that he will be the only senior who starts the majority of the games. Seniors Kenny Williams, Jackson Richards and V.J. Fehoko may also start from time to time, but their starting status is anything but secure. That decidedly is not the case for Eguavoen who will start every game at either MIKE or WILL.

Second, Eguavoen plays a position that, literally, is central to the defense. Wallerstedt's scheme doesn't have a true middle linebacker the way a 4-3 base does, but the MIKE position is the equivalent of middle linebacker, and is largely responsible for making the on-field calls and getting everybody lined up in the right place. Eguavoen will be the defense's quarterback.

And third, Eguavoen is the most experienced player on the defense. He was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman (frankly before he was ready; Eguavoen never played football before his junior year in high school), started five games that year, nine as a sophomore, and every game last season. If nothing else, Wallerstedt will rest easy knowing that one of the most experienced players in the Big 12 will be captaining his defense in 2014.

Contrary to most leaders in sports, Eguavoen is not a vocal, rah-rah, get-in-your-grill kind of a guy. And Wallerstedt informed Eguavoen that he will need to enhance his vocal presence on the field. According to the defensive coordinator, Eguavoen has done just that.

Aside from his critical role of leading the defense, Eguavoen will provide very sound, steady play from his inside linebacker position. He is a "glue" guy who makes the defense better by quietly doing his job, tackling well and making few mistakes. In 2014 Eguavoen was third on the team in stops with 70. He also had 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hurries and a pair of pass breakups. Look for those numbers to improve in 2014 as Eguavoen makes a run at All Big 12 honors.

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