Photo By Steven Chapman

Critical 20: No. 9 Ondre Pipkins

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.

Going into the 2016 football season the general consensus has been that defensive line will be the strength of Texas Tech’s defense. And it had better be because the back seven, at least on paper, looks shakier than a bowl of strawberry Jell-O athwart the San Andreas Fault.

For the line to truly anchor the defense, however, certain things must happen. First, talented defensive ends Gary Moore and Kolin Hill must prove themselves. Both have flashed ability before—Moore for Tech and Hill for Notre Dame—but neither has played a complete college season in which they came close to dominating. 

Second, depth must be developed across the entire d-line. 

And third, somebody must play well enough inside to take some of the heat off sophomore defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko. That is where Ondre Pipkins enters the picture. 

Like Fehoko, the Michigan transfer was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. If Pipkins starts alongside Fehoko, that combination will be without question the most ballyhooed set of interior defensive linemen ever to start for Texas Tech.

Pipkins’ career in maize and blue didn’t work out as he had planned, however. While in Ann Arbor, Pipkins was constantly bedeviled by health issues of one sort or another. He suffered concussions, an ACL tear, and mild arthritis in a knee. 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh used the history of injury, and the borderline hysteria surrounding player health, as an excuse to eject Pipkins from the Michigan program, when the true reason for doing so was to give Pipkins’ scholarship to another player. Pipkins transferred to Texas Tech and has one year of eligibility remaining. 

If the stars align, Pipkins could finally have the sort of college season most predicted for him when he signed with Michigan. He, Broderick Washington and Fehoko are currently slated to see the bulk of the snaps inside, with JUCO transfer Mych Thomas expected to figure into the rotation as well. 

Pipkins, however, may just be the player most likely to give Fehoko much needed help inside. As a senior who experienced college football at its most prominent level while at Michigan, Pipkins truly is a grown man. And at 6-foot-3 and 325 pounds he has the perfect build to be able to compete physically with anybody. 

That was certainly the case in the Petro Scrimmage this past spring. In that scrimmage, Pipkins was a true presence. He was a disruptive force in the middle, frequently shooting gaps or running over offensive linemen en route to the ball carrier in the backfield. It was an impressive—if brief—performance. 

If the Pipkins we saw in Midland is the one who suits up for the Red Raiders this season, then the interior of Tech’s defensive line will make major noise in 2016.

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