Critical 20: No. 8 Nigel Bethel

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.

Nigel Bethel, one of the crown jewels of Texas Tech’s 2014 recruiting class, certainly had an eventful—and rough—initial season on the High Plains. Before the season ever began, Bethel was involved in an altercation with Lady Raider basketball player Amber Battle, and was suspended for the first three games of the season.

But once Bethel rejoined the team, he largely lived up to advanced billing, starting seven of eight possible games, recording 41 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, six pass breakups and six passes defended. What’s more, he added a physical dimension to the Tech secondary, showing every willingness to mix it up in the running game. Like all of Tech’s defensive backs, he got torched a few times, but on the whole, his coverage was pretty good for a true freshman, let alone one who missed three critical games worth of experience.

Now the hope and the expectation is that Bethel’s bad days—both on and off the field—are behind him, and that he will become a force on the retooled Red Raider defense.

There’s certainly nothing holding him back now. He’s penciled in as a starter opposite Justis Nelson, and if his performance in the Petro scrimmage is any indication, may be ready to emerge as a lock-down cornerback. He was, without doubt, the outstanding defensive back on the field in that outing.

It is obviously too early to grant Bethel the title of Mr. Lock Down, but the potential is there. As a senior in high school he was the premiere male track athlete in the speed-rich Miami/Dade County area, and perhaps the fastest sprinter in the state of Florida. Combine that speed, which Bethel is also utilizing on the track for the Red Raider coach Wes Kittley and Co., with physical toughness, and technique that is already fairly advanced, and it’s easy to be excited about his future.

One has to go all the way back to Joselio Hansen, or even Lemuel Stinson, to find a true shut-down corner in Tech football history, and Bethel already looks to be a better tackler than those two Red Raiders who went on to success in the NFL. And the value of such a cornerback is only magnified in the Big 12 where potent passing attacks and elite receivers are abundant.

At any rate, right cornerback looks to be in capable hands during 2015, because, aside from Bethel, D.J. Polite-Bray is on hand, and he looks like a sleeper who may be too good not to see the field in one capacity or another. Things are certainly looking up for Texas Tech at the cornerback position.

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