This season alone, Texas Tech has seen how valuable walk-ons can be in building a successful football program. The Red Raiders have started true freshmen walk-ons in quarterback Baker Mayfield and safety Tanner Jacobson, both of whom have made big plays.
Over the years, many other walk-ons have made their mark for the Red Raiders, perhaps never more so than in 1989 when six former walk-ons started for a Tech team that went 9-3.
One of those was Anthony Manyweather, who a few years before learned about Texas Tech through an uncle and decided to move to Lubbock from Gardena, Calif., to pursue an electrical engineering degree. At that point, playing college football wasn’t even part of the plan.
“I had thoughts of playing college ball, but I really wasn’t fully dedicated to it,” Manyweather said. “When I got there, I had that football itch and I heard that Tech was a good program to walk on to.
“When I first got around the team, there was a group of receivers known as ‘The Smurf Squad.’ Everybody was 5-foot-9 or shorter: Wayne Walker (5-8, 165), Eddy Anderson (5-9, 168) and Tyrone Thurman (5-3, 135). It kind of inspired me. Tyrone inspired me to come out and give it a try, and the rest is history.”
Manyweather, who was listed at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, made the squad and saw his first playing time as a freshman in 1987, making one catch for 40 yards. As a sophomore, he added three catches for 21 yards.
“I remember the first catch that I ever made,” Manyweather said. “That was against Tulsa. It was a pretty long catch on a streak. They put me in, late in the game when we were winning.”
His junior year, Manyweather started to factor into the Red Raiders offense even more. He finished the ’89 season with 13 catches for 194 yards and three touchdowns, but he sealed his place in Tech lore with one catch.
On Nov. 4, 1989 in Austin, Tech trailed Texas Longhorns 17-14 with 4:26 left in the game, in front of a crowd of 81,826 fans – the second largest ever at Memorial Stadium at that time.
Tech was facing a 3rd-and-26 when quarterback Jamie Gill rolled out to his left and found his walk-on wingback, Manyweather, wide open for a 65-yard go-ahead touchdown.
“It was against cover two man coverage,” Manyweather said. “I had previously told my offensive coordinator (Dick Winder) that my guy was really jumping the out route, so we ran a play that let me do an out-and-up.
“I did my out and the cornerback bit on the out, then I took it up on him. When he bit, I already knew the ball was going to come to me. When he threw it, the rest was history.”
A 51-yard field goal by Lin Elliott with 1:20 remaining extended the Red Raiders’ lead and they went on to win 24-17, knocking off No. 22 Texas and picking up their first win in Austin since 1967.
Manyweather capped off his career in the scarlet and black with 25 catches for 355 yards and one touchdown his senior year — a career that he felt went by too fast.
“I want to tell the current football players, ‘Don’t take your days for granted. They go by too fast. Live it like it’s your last chance. Just enjoy it,’” Manyweather said. “That’s my advice to every athlete at the college level. One day it’s going to be over and it’s kind of tough, so have fun while you’re doing it.
“My biggest highlight was the game against Texas. It was the most fascinating. But just being around the guys and all of my teammates, the camaraderie we had and the things we would do together, that’s what I miss the most.”
The Smurfs had been rated as the best set of receivers in the country by The Sporting News. Still, the Tech receivers in the late 1980s didn’t get to catch as many passes as wideouts in the modern day Air Raid offense, which Manyweather wishes he had the chance to play in.
“Heck, yeah,” he said. “Basically when I was playing, we were a run team. During my early years we had the best set of wide receivers in the nation. I look back and if we had played in the offensive scheme they are running nowadays, all of us would have probably been in the NFL. All of us would have had high stats. I would have loved playing in this type of scheme.”
Nowadays, Manyweather’s job requires him to stay in shape, as a deputy sheriff in Los Angeles, but even that field has changed over the years.
“I’m still active chasing down bad guys and giving back to my community,” Manyweather said. “It’s a challenging career and I enjoy it. It’s fun.”
“I can still go get ’em if I have to. We don’t use our feet much anymore. We use the radio, but I can still hang with the youngsters, unless I catch one that’s been working out and running. That’s a different story.”
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