While the recent win over fourth-ranked Cal Berkeley in the Holiday Bowl is still fresh in the minds of many Red Raider fans, spring football is just a few weeks away. The Texas Tech secondary was instrumental in shutting down Aaron Rodgers' passing game in San Diego, but the crew claims to have put the game behind them and are gearing up for another season.
"It did feel good to shut down their passing game. I don't think a lot of people expected us to do that, but it wasn't a surprise to us at all," said senior cornerback Antonio Huffman. "We had a good win and it ended well, but now we're focused on next year," he added.
The strong outing in Southern California wasn't a surprise to fans sporting Red and Black all fall. Coach Dave Brown's secondary unit finished the season ranked 15th in the nation, allowing 13 total touchdowns and an average of 181.3 yards per game. The unit also chipped in 11 interceptions. Brown will have both Huffman and Khalid Naziruddin back for another season to torment opposing route runners, and seasoned free safety Vincent Meeks will likely be joined by senior Dwayne Slay. "It's nice having two corners back, but we haven't arrived. That's the point I want them to understand, and I think they know that and they've been in here working hard and continuing to improve," said Brown.
If Naziruddin continues to improve at the pace he set when he stepped foot on campus last year, Brown should be encouraged. The senior corner entered the 2004 spring roster as a walk-on from Division III Howard Payne and worked his way through the ranks to become one of the most talented corners in the Big 12. He finished the season with a team leading 53 solo tackles and tied senior linebacker Mike Smith with 83 overall, good enough for a conference ranking of 13.
"Khalid has the best story- walking on, earning a scholarship. That's tremendous," said Huffman.
Brown claims Naziruddin's success is due in part to his work ethic in the weight room, conditioning, and time spent in the film room. Then, of course, there's the raw talent aspect.
"Khalid is a student of the game. He's continuing to grow and mature. He needs to do that along with all of our other corners- Antonio Huffman, Chris Parker, Darcell McBath, SirDon Lewis, and Marcus Bunton. All of those guys are going to continue to get better not only on the field, but in the classroom," Brown added.
Regardless of player talent, good coaching is always vital. Brown is entering his fifth season at Tech, and brings a wealth of experience with him. The former NFL veteran and All-Pro defensive back with the Seattle Seahawks also served as Seattle's cornerback coach from 1992-98.
"Coach Brown is a former player- he still thinks he's a player," Huffman added with a laugh.
"He thinks he can still get out there, and he probably could. With 17 years in the league, Coach Brown teaches us a lot about how to approach the game, how to have the right attitude going out there, how to stay poised in certain situations and to basically be humble. He's not the type of guy that likes showboating," he said.
Brown will be looking for improvement in secondary communication this spring- notably down and distance awareness, noti
ng where the ball is on the hash mark, and recognizing receiver splits and pre-snap reads.
Safeties coach Carlos Mainord is also looking forward to a productive spring. He has veteran free safety Meeks around for another season, but will be looking to fill the strong safety spot left vacant by senior Josh Rangel. Junior transfer Slay spent this past fall learning the system and is expected to earn that slot.
"He got some playing time and did well when he was in there. He's a tall guy that can run, so we're looking forward to him having a good spring," said Mainord. Mainord is also looking to seeing strong outings from sophomore Joe Garcia, junior Greg Aycock, and a few freshmen. "We have a couple of freshman we would like to get a good look at this spring, but Meeks and Slay are the oldest and most seasoned players- Meeks especially. The way we play our safeties, there's not a lot of difference between free safety and strong safety so the guys could play either one and not miss a beat," he added.
Meeks had a great year, finishing the season ranked fifth in the Big 12 with 10 passes defended, two interceptions, and a lot of hits.
"I'm expecting us to continue to do the same things we did last year and to improve. We want to do everything we can to help our football team win a football game. Every football game we believe that we can win," Brown summed up.
The Red Raiders begin preparing for another winning season when spring drills commence on Wed. March 23. The annual Red-Black Game is scheduled for April 16 at 1 p.m. at Jones SBC Stadium.