Texas Tech and Oklahoma State battle each other every other year in Lubbock and Stillwater.
More and more, the Red Raiders and the Cowboys might be squaring off in places like Lufkin and Tyler. Oklahoma State sees East Texas as a prime recruiting territory, and Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has made it a priority, too.
Does it have potential to be a battleground?
“I hope so,” Kingsbury said this week at Big 12 media days in Dallas. “We’ve got some really good players out of there — Reggie Davis (from Tenaha) and Gary Moore (Clarksville) and Patrick Mahomes (Whitehouse). We just love the way those kids compete. There’s no sense of entitlement there. They’re coached hard.
“We’re going to try get as many East Texas kids as we can, and they seem to love Lubbock. It’s a smaller-town feel, and it works for them.”
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy noted that his team has about 71 Texas players on the roster. In recent years, the Cowboys have had some East Texas products make big impacts, such as wide receiver Dez Bryant from Lufkin, running back Kendall Hunter from Tyler and cornerback Justin Gilbert from Huntsville.
Much like Kingsbury said about Lubbock and East Texas prospects, Gundy said Stillwater clicks for recruits from East Texas.
“We’ve always felt like Texas was in-state recruiting for us,” Gundy said, “and it’s easy for the players in East Texas to get to Stillwater. The high schools, the people in that region, are a lot like the people in Stillwater, so I think they’re very comfortable in our environment.
“Our coaches have done a good job identifying players that may be overlooked by some of the other schools, that we think have a good future. And we’ve been very fortunate to have success in East Texas.”
Tech has a half dozen players from the far side of the state.
Kingsbury showed he’s serious about ramping up East Texas recruiting by putting a June satellite camp in Longview.
“We always love going out, taking our camp there,” Kingsbury said. “Those coaches out there do a great job with their programs. Those kids are used to being coached hard when they get to college, and they’re hungry, too. They get out there, and they’re hungry to make something of themselves and get an opportunity.”
Finding his spot
Texas Tech’s starting duo at inside linebacker figures to shake out one of two ways: with senior Sam Eguavoen at middle linebacker and senior incoming transfer V.J. Fehoko at weak inside or with Eguavoen at weak inside and junior Micah Awe in the middle.
“It’s going to be a three-linebacker rotation regardless,” Eguavoen said. “I’m going to be playing both, circling around.”
In Tech’s scheme, the weak inside linebacker plays to the tight side of the field and the middle linebacker to the wide side, making speed and range more important from the latter.
Will Smith played the weak side last year, and made a team-high 120 tackles with 101/2 behind the line and 41/2 sacks. Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt said Eguavoen is faster and more athletic, whereas Smith made a lot of plays on effort and football savvy.
“I kind of like the (weak-side) position better, because it’s less ground to cover,” Eguavoen said. “You’re into the boundary. You get to blitz more. It’s really hard to make a mistake at that position. There’s no space. You don’t have to cover receivers as much.
“The (weak-side) position, that’s a glory position. Ask Will Smith. He knows. We always talk about it in the locker room.”
Playing the middle last season, Eguavoen was third on the team in tackles with 70 and made 61/2 stops behind the line.
Needing every one
Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said all four of the team’s new junior-college defensive linemen are on campus. And he’s greedy about the number he expects to deliver.
Asked how many of the four the Red Raiders need to hit on, Kingsbury said, “I’d say all four need to play. We found out last year playing in this league, we need to be able to rotate more bodies through with these fast-tempo offenses. We weren’t, and that hurt us in the run game a bunch.
“All four of these guys are going to have to play, and play right away.”
Keland McElrath (6-4, 312) from Coahoma (Miss.) Community College went through spring practice, albeit with a foot injury. The summer arrivals are Marcus Smith (6-3, 305) and Brandon Thorpe (6-5, 275), teammates from Highland (Kan.) Community College, and Rika Levi (6-2, 379) from College of San Mateo (Calif.).
Follow Don on Twitter