Off-Season Showcase Delights Gridiron Fans

<p>For the second year in a row Texas Tech football fans had a chance to see what the players achieve in their off-season training program Monday night at the "Night of Champions" in the on-campus Athletic Training Center. Hosts Mike Smith and Dennis Simmons entertained scores of Tech supporters who turned out to see the team in action. Strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie graciously welcomed the fans as well as thanking them for their support.

In an atmosphere as thunderous as game-day, participants showed off power lifting skills, boxing ability, agility drill performances and sheer determination. Perhaps the most impressive single performance came from Manny Ramirez, as he set a new team record in the bench press at 550 pounds. Ramirez, a junior offensive lineman from Sugarland Willowridge, lifted 165% of his own roster weight to close out the showcase.

Autographed jerseys of past Red Raider greats such as B.J. Symons, Wes Welker, Kliff Kingsbury, Kevin Curtis, Ryan Aycock and Mike Smith highlighted the silent auction staged on the upstairs landing. Players and event staff pitched Texas Tech T-shirts into the crowd, delighting the younger fans present as they scrambled to catch their favorites' offerings. Throughout the proceedings fans were encouraged to come down on the practice floor for autographs and a chance to meet and visit with players and coaches.

Earlier in the evening Jarrett Hicks, a junior wide receiver from Houston Sharpstown, easily managed a 300-pound bench press to kick off a string of successes. Three hundred pounds proved no obstacle to Lovejoy, Georgia product Antonio Huffman, a junior cornerback; the weight increased to 365 for redshirt freshman Anthony Hines, a safety from Denison. Lubbock native Gabe Hall, a Coronado graduate and junior on the O-line, showed how to lift 375 pounds, as did junior Seth Nitschmann, a junior from Corpus Christi Calallen who yokes up at defensive end for the Red Raiders.

Several Techsans demonstrated an ability to shove four hundred pounds, or more, around at will: Rylan Reed, a true freshman, managed 405 and came back later to achieve a 425-lb. lift; Californian Dek Bake, a senior from Fresno City College who lines up at DE for Tech, handily achieved a 425 pound lift.

Other events included squat lifts and agility drills starring the backfield and linebackers, and power-clean attempts by Graham Harrell, the redshirt freshman quarterback from Ennis and Keith Toogood, Tech's junior place kicker from Rowlett by way of Dallas Christian.

The Night of Champions wraps up the Red Raiders' off-season drill program; spring football begins March 23 at Texas Tech. Times for practice remain undisclosed, but the dates announced are an initial practice Wednesday and 15 workouts through Monday, April 18. The annual Red vs. Black Game takes place at 1 p.m. April 16 in Jones SBC Stadium, right after the annual alumni game.

Head coach Mike Leach is set to begin his sixth year helming the football program for the Red Raiders, and Tech athletic director Gerald Myers recently said, "We are proud and pleased of the progress of our football program. Coach Leach and his staff have done an outstanding job. We are happy that he is our coach, and want to have him in that position for a long time."

Last year Tech ran its season to 8-4 and swatted then-4th-ranked California, 45-31, in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.

Tech's offense led the NCAA last year in passing for the third consecutive season; six starters return from that squad, whose total offense led the nation for the second straight year, including Taurean Henderson, who returns at running back after producing 16 touchdowns for Tech, the best rushing performance since 1993. Joining him will be Jarrett Hicks, a wide receiver who caught 76 passes last year for a school record 13 touchdowns in a single season; Ramirez, and his fellow offensive lineman E.J. Whitley.

Proceeds from the event are used to purchase additional equipment for Tech athletic programs

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