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 Moore||DE||RS FR||Clarksville, TX||6-5||245||No. 20|
|Rodney Hall||RB||SR||Angleton, TX||5-10||240||No. 19|
|Donte Phillips||DL||JR||Milwaukee, WI||6-2||280||No. 18|
|DeAndre Washington||RB||JR||Missouri City, TX||5-8||190||No. 17|
|Bradley Marquez||WR||SR||Odessa, TX||5-11||200||No. 16|
|Baylen Brown||OL||SO||San Antonio, TX||6-4||305||No. 15|
|Micah Awe||LB||JR||Arlington, TX||6-0||200||No. 14|
|Ryan Bustin||K||SR||Kilgore, TX||5-11||180||No. 13|
|Rika Levi||NT||JR||San Francisco, CA||6-3||350||No. 12|
|Keenon Ward||S||SO||Snyder, TX||5-9||195||No. 11|
|Rashad Fortenberry||OT||SR||Tylertown, MS||6-5||285||No. 10|
|Justis Nelson||CB||SO||Mesquite, TX||6-2||170||No. 9|
|D.J. Polite-Bray||WR||SO||Lithonia, GA||6-1||175||No. 8|
|Sam Eguavoen||LB||SR||Garland TX||6-1||220||No. 7|
|Jakeem Grant||WR||SO||Mesquite, TX||5-6||160||No. 6|
Within recent memory, Texas Tech has produced two college football superstars most experts deemed too small to make it at the D1, let alone NFL level. They were 5-foot-2 130-pound receiver/punt returner Tyrone Thurman and 5-9 190-pound receiver/returner Wes Welker.
Thurman, who played high school football for Spike Dykes at Midland Lee and for the same coach at Texas Tech, earned All America honors as a punt returner, and was arguably the most electrifying Red Raider of them all.
Welker scarcely needs an introduction. His accomplishments with the Red Raiders, and then with the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos are the stuff of legend. It is entirely possible that he will one day be an NFL Hall of Famer.
It is also entirely possible that the tradition continues in the form of mighty mite Jakeem Grant. The junior from Mesquite has certainly given every indication that he could explode on the college football scene just as Thurman and Welker did as upperclassmen.
Like those two luminaries, Grant is a receiver and a return specialist. Through two complete seasons, he has caught 98 passes for 1,083 yards and 10 touchdowns, and has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Grant is also Tech's leading returning receiver. As a sophomore Grant snagged 65 passes for 796 yards and seven touchdowns.
But as well as Grant played a year ago, he was not the big—so to speak—gun in Tech's receiving arsenal. He played third fiddle to Eric Ward, statistically one of the best wideouts in school history, and Jace Amaro, quite possibly the greatest tight end ever to wear the scarlet and black.
Given that Ward and Amaro are now catching footballs for cash money, Grant now rises to the fore of the Tech receiving corps. Kliff Kingsbury has already gone on record as stating his belief that Grant will have a monster season in 2014, and there is no reason to doubt the head coach on this one.
Quarterback Davis Webb, who also appears poised to have a colossal season, will look to Grant as his number one option. To the extent Grant gets open—hitherto not a problem—Webb will find him, and it will then be up to Grant to prove he belongs in the same class as Thurman and Welker with yardage after the catch. Grant has similar quickness and elusiveness as Thurman and Welker, and better straight-ahead speed.
The stars are lined up for Grant. All the ingredients are in place for him to ledger himself among the true Tech greats. Now all he has to do is make it happen.