Jared Kaster and Tony Morales have both traveled different paths to get there, but the two Texas Tech linemen are now meeting in the middle.
Kaster, a sophomore out of Class 2A Altair Rice, and Morales, a third-year sophomore out of Class 5A Arlington Sam Houston, have emerged as the top candidates to take over the starting center position for Tech.
The battle to replace Deveric Gallington could be one of the most important ones of spring camp for the Red Raiders. Gallington was one of three starters on the offensive line who graduated after last season, which makes that unit a question mark heading into the season.
Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said it’s still a bit too early to gauge the progress of the two young players.
“I haven’t seen enough yet after two days in pads,” Kingsbury said. “At this tempo, both of them are doing a good job recognizing coverages and getting our protections and run game called, which has been encouraging. Now we’ve just got to sharpen up their technique and go from there.”
Both players have entered the spring feeling they have something to prove, if not for the same reason.
Kaster arrived at Tech last January after graduating from high school a semester early and saw the field in brief glimpses as a true freshman. Coming from a tiny town in the gulf coast of Texas, Kaster was eager to get to Tech and start work early.
He knew he didn’t have any choice if he was going to compete for time against more heralded prospects from larger schools.
“In my experience the hardest workers come from 2A,” Kaster said. “We have a lot to prove. You are going against guys who won 5A state championships. But, hey, I came from a small school going both ways. I had to work. I busted my butt every day at practice.”
Morales, on the other hand, was one of those highly touted recruits from a big school Kaster referenced. Morales was a starting left guard in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in 2011 and arrived in Lubbock later that year with high expectations.
But injuries troubles — a shoulder in 2011; a knee last season — have prevented Morales from playing at all since he got to Tech.
“I feel like I have a lot to prove,” Morales said. “I came in with high hopes and I still have high hopes. If I can stay healthy, I feel like I’ll be fine.”
Morales conceded there has been some rust to shake off as he begins to grasp life in Tech’s up-tempo offense. He said he’s also confident it won’t take him long to get into proper shape.
Both players said adapting to Tech’s new scheme has gone well, even if it often feels like they are playing catch-up.
“Right now we’re just trying to get the techniques,” Kaster said. “It’s hauling butt to every play, pretty much. Knowing what we’re doing as a whole offensive line.”
Kaster and Morales made one other thing clear: Both believe they will benefit immediately from the tutelage of new offensive line coach Lee Hays.
“He’s going to make me a man, to be honest with you,” Kaster said. “The stuff that we do, the drills, he’s a very disciplined coach. He’s going to get you right, working after practice and during practice. He’s going to make our offensive line probably the nastiest line in the Big 12. That’s what we’re trying to be.”
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