Critical 20: No. 15 Rika Levi

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 not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they absent for any reason.

Texas Tech has signed several hot JUCO prospects in the last several years that never panned out. Names like Ofa Mohetau, Sione Havili, Daniel Christian, Brandon Sesay, Marquis Johnson, Anton Paige, Marcus Kennard, Javon Bell and Myles Wade spring to mind. Then again, a few unheralded JUCO prospects have made significant marks in Texas Tech football lore. Brandon Sharpe, Daniel Howard, and Joselio Hansen are among them. So clearly, it is not impossible for junior college transfers to not only validate but to exceed their reputations.

Senior defensive tackle Rika Levi belongs to the category of prized JUCO recruits. He was rated one of the best junior college defensive line prospects in the nation last year, and chose Texas Tech over Oregon, among others. And given Tech’s seemingly perennial weakness at defensive line, Levi was expected to make a huge contribution last season.

Unfortunately, it has to be said, Levi did not make much of an impact. He started four games, recorded 18 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and half a sack. Needless to say, those are not the sorts of numbers that were expected from Rika Levi.

Part of Levi’s problem was doubtless that he was not in tip-top shape. When he first appeared in Lubbock, Levi was probably packing in excess of 360 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. Rare indeed is the football player at any level who can carry that sort of body mass and be effective for more than a couple of snaps at a time, if that.

But Levi seems to have gotten the message regarding his weight. He is now officially listed at 339 pounds and rare photographic evidence of Levi in camp suggests he may be lighter than that. What’s more, there are still over five months until the Red Raiders kick it off. Should Levi continue shedding poundage, it is not impossible that he could be down around 325 for the start of the season. If that transpires, Levi’s potential could be liberated. If nothing else, his stamina should be greatly improved, which would translate into him being a contributor for many more snaps.

As of the latest report, Levi is listed as a starter with Anthony Smith, Marcus Smith and Josh Outlaw in hot pursuit. Of those backups, Anthony Smith has shown little, Marcus Smith, in far less time on campus than Anthony, has also not made much of a splash, while Outlaw, a sophomore, moved from the offensive to the defensive line in the second half of the season. Nobody has seen enough of Outlaw to know whether his move will be a success.

What the depth chart says is that the position is Levi’s to lose. And if he does, we will file him away as yet another high-profile junior college prospect who was all sound and fury signifying precious little.

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