Unlike local celebrities, Texas Tech's secondary coaches divide their responsibilities with precision. Dave Brown, a former member of the Seattle Seahawks – as a player and on the NFL coaching staff -- specializes in the cornerbacks.
"As I look at, you know, the corners, we are very blessed and fortunate to have two guys," Coach Brown said. "in Khalid Naziruddin and Antonio Huffman, who played all last year and finished the season strong, and they're our two starters right now."
Brown's secondary has stolen 41 interceptions from opposing teams and returned five for touchdowns since he began coaching Red Raider defensive backs. Himself an All-Pro defensive back with the Seahawks, Brown played pro ball for 16 years. He started with the Pittsburg Steelers in 1975, after graduating from the University of Michigan where, twice, he was an All-American defensive back and earned a spot on the school's All-Century Team; thrice named All-Big 10 first team, he also played as a senior in the Hula Bowl, College All Star Game, East-West Shrine Game, and All-American Bowl. One of the original members of the Seahawk team taken in the expansion draft, he played in Seattle from 1976-1986. His all-time record of 50 interceptions still stands; he moved to the Green Bay Packers for 1987 and completed his pro career there in 1990.
Coach Brown, then, knows a blessing when he sees one – or in the case of Tech's returning cornerbacks, two.
"Khalid and Antonio have been great leaders for us," he said. "That's something we're really expecting them to step up this year. Khalid will be a senior, and Antonio will be a redshirt junior. They really make plays for us – they're physical, they make tackles, they run to the football. I mean, they do what you expect from the corners."
Huffman, a six-foot 180-pound transfer from Garden City Community College, is a Lovejoy, Georgia native who played in all 13 games as a sophomore and collected 20 solo tackles. His twin brother, Antoine, plays football for Kentucky; he chose Tech, via the community college option, over Kentucky himself – as well as Minnesota, Auburn, Arkansas, and Marshall. During his Garden City career he earned a 3.8 GPA and became a member of Phi Beta Kappa as well as serving as freshman class president of the Student Government Association.
Naziruddin, who came to Tech from Howard Payne University, is a Spring native who graduated from Westfield High School. A compact 5-10 180-pound defensive back, he's sometimes described as a "weight room junkie" for his dedication to conditioning and strength training. The strongman of the secondary, he is a business major.
"They're great guys to have around, and they have an attitude about them," Brown said. "They want to be the best there is. So I'm very pleased with those two young men, and one of the things about them is they're not satisfied where they are. They like to get compliments, you know, but if they don't they're going to keep working hard to be the best they can. That's the admirable quality about both those guys.
"Plus," Brown said, "they're excellent students. They're both very good students. So I'm very excited about that."
While depth in the cornerback position isn't a problem, many of the players don't have the experience of Naziruddin and Huffman.
One example is redshirt freshman Darcel McBath. He's from Gainesville, and at six feet even, 176 pounds, has an impressive pedigree: the Dallas Morning News named him MVP of District 9-3A as a senior; he was the Texas Sports Writers Association's Second-team All State Class 3A Defensive Back and Honorable Mention Receiver who may yet shave his 4.5 seconds in the 40. He came to Tech over A&M, Oklahoma State, and Notre Dame.
Then there's former walk-on Clifton Eddington, who has earned favorable mention from several members of the coaching staff this spring, including Red Raider head coach Mike Leach.
"Clifton is a guy who walked on last year, who ran track here," Brown noted. "He decided he wanted to play football. He's a red shirt junior, so we have two more years with him. Right now he's just starting to progress and do some things to get himself noticed. That's a very important thing as a walk-on – you want to get yourself noticed, and not make any mistakes, and make some plays when the opportunity comes to you.
Eddington, a Dallas native who graduated from Skyline High School, stands six feet tall and packs a 195-pound wallop into his stops. So why don't Tech football fans know a lot about him? Maybe because he's a former track athlete whose specialty literally came with flying through the air: Eddington competed in long jump and triple jump for Tech in 2004 in outdoor meets, as well as on the 4x100 meter relay team.
As a high school senior he earned the state championship in the triple jump. Various recruiting sites listed him as an undecided wide receiver following his senior season in football. Eddington chose to come to Tech on a track scholarship.
Twice, Eddington has been an all-conference performer in the triple jump for the Red Raiders, finishing seventh in the Big 12 Championships during the 2003 Indoor season. During the 2004 indoor season Eddington finished 11th in the long jump and 8th in the triple jump. In the 2003 outdoor season he finished 9th in both events in the Big 12 Championships.
He shares his speed with SirDon Lewis, also a member of the track squad. A probable backup at right corner, Lewis earned 22 tackles by himself in the 2003 season. He has good hands but, at 5-9 and 173 pounds, lacks the bulk common at cornerback. A high school all-academic and all-district honoree, Lewis chose to major in human development and family studies at Tech.
"I feel like we have a great group of guys," Brown continued, "who can make a lot of plays this year, and are really looking forward to the challenge. They're not willing to accept where they've been. They really want to excel. They're just a great group of guys who work hard."
"We have some guys who don't have as much experience, you know," he said Friday after practice. "We have Chris Parker, who's a redshirt sophomore, and Darcel McBath, who's a redshirt freshman, and a senior in SirDon Lewis. We have another guy who's come over to us from the offense, Marcus Bunton."
Bunton is a redshirt freshman from Taylor; at 5-7, 184 pounds, he runs a 4.4 40 who chose Tech over Iowa, Vanderbilt and SMU. A high school quarterback, Bunton has worked in several positions as a Red Raider; his last three years at Taylor he was all-district quarterback. His career totals of 1,000 yards passing, 962 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on 157 carries earned him MVP in District 17-4A.
Sophomore Parker, a Dallas Sunset product, stands 5-11 and tips the scales at 178. He redshirted during the 2003 season. Parker runs a 4.4 40 and can bench 245 pounds; he lifts a 325-pound bar in the squat. Born in San Diego, California, he is the youngest of three sons; as a high school wide receiver, Parker was named to the Dallas Morning News' 10-5A All-District team his senior year. He was an all-district athlete as a junior and earned his team's MVP award. In his last three years he picked off 20 interceptions, with eight coming in his sophomore and in his junior year – the same year he snagged 29 passes and collected 702 yards. As a senior Parker rushed for 737 yards and 11 touchdowns; the honor roll student was also recruited by Houston and Kansas State .
Parker and Bunton have drawn favorable comments from defensive coach Lyle Setencich and from coach Leach following spring practices and the team's first full-contact scrimmage. Although Friday's practice was a lighter-duty day, bereft of pads and heavy on putting the scout defense in front of the offense while the defense faced a scout offense run largely by newcomer quarterback Ryan Rowland, spring ball's intensity is apt to ramp up in the days to come.