Thierry Nguema says he was always the smallest guy on the team growing up, yet his stature didn’t stop him from being a successful player.
Maybe it won’t at Texas Tech either. During the first half of spring practice, he’s been given first crack at replacing Bruce Jones, the former Tech cornerback on whom he tries to pattern his game.
“Right now, I’m pretty much getting a lot of reps,” Nguema said this week. “I’m not thinking about it. Just keep doing what I’m doing on the field, and obviously during fall camp, if I’ve still got the number one spot, I’m going to try to keep that spot.”
Tech will put on an intrasquad scrimmage for fans Saturday in Midland. The scrimmage is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Grande Communications Stadium.
Today is the eighth of 15 sessions of spring football practice.
Tech defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt said Nguema — a 5-foot-10, 170-pound sophomore — earned the right to start spring paired with sophomore Justis Nelson as the first-team corners. Though Nguema was a bit player last season, getting into nine games, he impressed Wallerstedt with a serious approach.
Wallerstedt said Nguema “shadowed Bruce Jones every single practice,” adding with an approving tone, “He’s into it.”
“He keeps training and working hard,” Wallerstedt said. “He just has to learn, at the point of contact, on the finish, when the ball’s in the air. He’s getting smarter within the system.”
Nguema was born in France and moved to the United States at age 13. He went to seventh and eighth grade in Philadelphia, and then spent his high school years in California. His French name is pronounced “TEER-dee n-GEE-ma.”
The fact Nguema shadowed Jones, the Red Raiders’ best cornerback last season, traces to their pre-Tech days. The two went to neighboring high schools — Nguema at Corona Santiago and Jones at Eastvale Roosevelt, about 15 minutes apart.
“Me and Bruce have been pretty close,” Nguema said, “because actually we used to play in high school together. We went to camps and stuff, and I’ve always looked up to Bruce. When I found out Bruce was coming here, I started working more with Bruce to get my technique right, just to get better in all the stuff.”
Former Tech assistant coach Robert Prunty spotted Nguema at a prospects camp in Las Vegas, Nev., a couple of months after the 2011 national signing day and placed a quick follow-up call to offer him a visit. Nguema took a scholarship offer on the spot at the end of his visit.
“I didn’t really care who I was playing for,” he said. “I just wanted to play for a team.”
Then the waiting began.
The Red Raiders grayshirted Nguema to begin with, asking the late addition to the 2011 class to join the program in January 2012. He redshirted during the 2012 season and played for the first time in 2013.
“I just kept my head up and waited for my time, and my time came,” he said. “This is my time. I’m going to prove (to) people that didn’t believe me out there, I can play. Size doesn’t matter, so I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Nguema’s realistic about the situation. He’s not the biggest guy or the fastest. He’s eating four meals a day, trying to reach Wallerstedt’s target weight for him of 175 to 180. And there are multiple candidates for Jones’ old job.
Wallerstedt views Nguema, converted running back Tyler Middleton and La’Darius Newbold as boundary corners, who patrol the tight side of the field, and Nelson and Dee Paul as field corners, who work the wide side.
And that’s not to mention the February signing class, which has a top cornerback prospect in Nigel Bethel II from Miami, Fla.
“It’s all about competition,” Nguema said. “There’s some new guys coming in. They’re going to get their opportunity. If I keep doing what I’m doing, then I really don’t have to worry about much.”
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■ What: Texas Tech scrimmage
■ When: 1 p.m. Saturday
■ Where: Grande Communications Stadium, Midland
■ Admission: Free