When Kliff Kingsbury was hired as Texas Tech’s new football coach two months ago, widespread euphoria in Lubbock immediately followed. One of the program’s own was coming home.
As others celebrated, though, the 33-year-old knew he was embarking on an eight-week stretch that afforded little time to bask in the accomplishment of becoming one of the youngest head coaches in major-college football. There was far too much work to be done.
“There’s been a lot (happening),” Kingsbury said Wednesday at a press conference announcing the 22 players who signed national letters of intent to play at Tech. “The biggest thing was recruiting a staff and players at the same time. But I can’t commend our staff enough for the effort they put in, the way they hustled and found guys. So our coaching staff really did an outstanding job of locating the players we need and getting that done.”
Tech’s new staff, which includes six former Tech players counting Kingsbury, took over with the recruiting class dwindling in the wake of former coach Tommy Tuberville’s abrupt departure in early December. The number of commitments for the 2013 class at one point dipped to single digits. With less than two months before national signing day, it left a new staff with little time to restock the proverbial cupboard.
Kingsbury said he wasn’t sweating the crunched time frame.
“We knew that it’s a process,” he said. “Once we finally got a staff put together in here, we really targeted immediate needs and went for those guys we feel like can play right away.”
After evaluating the current roster, the staff quickly discovered that the offensive line was one of those areas of need, as three starters from last year’s unit graduated and a number of others are recovering from injuries. So Tech inked five players at that position, including three who pledged to the program after Kingsbury’s hiring. The group includes Josh Outlaw, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound tackle from Lithonia, Ga., who chose Tech over offers from Oklahoma, Florida, West Virginia, Georgia, TCU and South Carolina, among others.
Baylen Brown, a 6-5, 295-pounder, spurned offers from Big 12 rivals Baylor and Oklahoma State in favor of Tech, and Poet Thomas, a defensive lineman during his prep career in Beverly Hills, Mich., was a late addition to the class who will switch over to the offensive side of the ball in college.
“We think it’s one of the best classes we’ve had around here probably in quite some time,” Kingsbury said of the linemen, “just based on size and stature, guys we expect to come in and play right away. That was a big need going into it.”
Tech also added as many as five athletes who will play receiver. Devin Lauderdale, a Houston Bellaire product, is widely considered the gem of that unit. The Avalanche-Journal Fabulous 44 prospect committed to Tech last February, then decided he would consider other options when Tuberville left for Cincinnati, with more than 30 of the country’s top schools pursuing his services. But Tech stayed after the speedy receiver, who eventually recommitted, then faxed his letter of intent Wednesday.
“I think he just wanted to see how it all shook out,” Kingsbury said. “(Co-offensive coordinator Eric) Morris did a great job building a great relationship with him and really making him feel like this was the best place for him. He’s one of those guys, with his speed, that’s at a national level. That’s something we really need here. We’re excited to get him on the field to see what he can do.”
The receiver group also includes speedster D.J. Polite-Bray, Outlaw’s high school teammate in Georgia, Dylan Cantrell (Whitehouse) and Carlos Thompson (Manvel). Kingsbury said Gary Moore, a tall wide receiver and linebacker at Class 2A Clarksville, will also start out as a receiver.
“No question there are some explosive guys,” Morris said. “At our position (of receiver) with D.J. Polite-Bray coming in, Carlos Thompson coming in, Devin Lauderdale and Dylan Cantrell, there’s four guys there that we’re super excited about. Their playmaking ability is electric, so it will be a lot of fun.”
Defensively, Tech added six projected defensive backs, including Munday’s Dee Paul, one of five A-J state Top 100 recruits to ink with the Red Raiders. The secondary is in need of reinforcements with four starters from last year’s team — Eugene Neboh, Cornelius Douglas, Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson — having graduated.
“With the tempo all of these Big 12 teams play at and as many receivers as they run at you,” Kingsbury said. “I don’t think you can have enough (defensive backs).”
Perhaps the most intriguing development for Tech on Wednesday was the addition of three players from Martin Luther King High in Georgia — Outlaw, Polite-Bray and linebacker Jacarthy Mack — athletes deep in the heart of Southeastern Conference territory who chose Tech on signing day. Tech safties coach Trey Haverty had previously built a relationship with the MLK coaching staff while recruiting a player from a past class, and that bond paid dividends during the final days of the recruiting period.
The class included one quarterback, Davis Webb of Prosper, who enrolled in January.
“I was very aware of him when I was at Texas A&M,” Kingsbury said. “Great kid. He’s gotten bigger. I saw him yesterday and he was 210 pounds. He loves football, can’t get enough of it, so we’re excited about what the future holds for him.”
Tech’s class by the end of national signing day was ranked between seventh and eighth in the Big 12 by most recruiting services, but given the short window the new staff had to work with, Kingsbury said he is satisfied with the players set to join the program.
“I think we filled immediate needs,” Kingsbury said. “That’s what we’re after. We knew we’re getting into it late and we better get the guys that can come in and play right away, and I think we did that.”
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