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Williams: For jucos, a big, new world

Big crowds, media attention a new playing field for recruits

Posted: August 25, 2014 - 8:21pm  |  Updated: August 26, 2014 - 12:10am
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Texas Tech's Devin Lauderdale is among a group of transfer players that will see a major college football crowd for the first time on Saturday against Central Arkansas. (Zach Long)
Texas Tech's Devin Lauderdale is among a group of transfer players that will see a major college football crowd for the first time on Saturday against Central Arkansas. (Zach Long)
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I was wrapping up an interview with Devin Lauderdale a few weeks ago when I offered an afterthought question that made the new Texas Tech wide receiver brighten.

What’ll your first night at Jones Stadium be like?

Lauderdale perked up. His eyes widened.

“It’s going to be amazing,” he said. “I’ve never played in front of a crowd like this, so I’m going to be really excited. Be really excited and try to show out.”

Junior-college recruits that come to the Big 12 Conference usually do so with a degree of name recognition — in some cases, dating to their high-school days. Lauderdale picked Tech over Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio State coming out of Houston Bellaire, then took a one-season detour to Navarro College, during which time Oregon chased him.

It’s easy to forget then that junior-college is a level above high school, but it’s not the Big 12.

That goes for crowd sizes, too. And the influence big crowds can have.

That’s another unpredictable factor that coaches such as Tech defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt have to take into account.

“I think Keland McElrath, in the spring going down to Midland, playing in front of whatever we had there — 12,000 or so — that was the biggest crowd he’s ever played (in front of),” Wallerstedt said Monday. “Rika (Levi) mentioned the other day 400 is the biggest crowd he’s ever played (before).

“So when you come out of the tunnel and you go between the lines and the cameras are on, how are you going to play?”

Again and again this August, Tech coaches said the Red Raiders’ junior-college newcomers struggled to keep up with the pace set by the Red Raiders’ offense. Maybe they thought they were good before. This called for a whole new level of conditioning and thinking on the run.

That goes for offensive and defensive first-timers alike.

Offensive line coach Lee Hays said as much about big lineman Dominique Robertson. Defensive line coach John Scott Jr. said about it Marcus Smith and Brandon Thorpe. Safeties coach Trey Haverty said Josh Keys wrestled with getting into better shape than he’d needed to in the past — then watching Jakeem Grant shoot toward him when he was tired.

Tech fans, like those everywhere, think you can drop a high-profile JC signee into the mix and get results right off the bat.

It doesn’t work that way, not for all of them anyway.

Even for the speediest skill guys, it’s a challenge.

“At Navarro, we did no-huddle, but it wasn’t as fast as this,” Lauderdale said. “And at Texas Tech, there’s way more plays.”

At some point soon, Wallerstedt and Scott and Haverty expect their jucos to crack some heads. Kliff Kingsbury and Eric Morris feel sure Lauderdale will make it onto the highlight tape.

When they do, you’ll cheer.

And they’ll hear it, maybe more so than the other Red Raiders.

Seeing 60,000 people all in one place is something new to these guys.

 

don.williams@lubbockonline.com

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