Patrons of Lubbock restaurants and entertainment venues might have done a double take this summer when they looked up and in walked a herd of 20 or so young men, each weighing somewhere between 250 and 320 pounds.
Never fear. They weren’t there to do damage. That’s for Saturdays in the fall.
Texas Tech defensive linemen decided some bonding was in order. Bowling and laser tag one week. Hearty dinner the next.
“We went to Main Event with coach (Terrence) Jamison our D-line coach,” defensive lineman Mych Thomas said. “Went to Main Event as a group. It was great. We’ve been to Texas Roadhouse. We’ve been to Buffalo Wild Wings. We’ve been to each other’s houses. We’ve just been as a group, having fun and good times.”
The idea: Boost camaraderie off the field and perhaps you can boost the level of play on the field. Anything to help transform a defense that ranked last in the Big 12 in rush defense, pass defense, scoring defense and sacks.
Thomas and Broderick Washington, the Red Raiders’ first-team defensive tackles, put their heads together after spring football and decided one way to attack their problems was with more team building — specifically among the defensive linemen.
“It’s been a great experience,” Washington said. “It’s given us more time to bond with each other and gain trust with each other. I feel like if you trust a guy that’s next to you and the guys around you, y’all will play better together.”
The Red Raiders lost both starting defensive tackles from 2016 — Ondre Pipkins, who was a senior, and Breiden Fehoko, who transferred — as well as sacks leader Kris Williams, also a senior. But they return seven defensive linemen who played last season and have a slew of first-timers such as transfers Eli Howard and Tony Jones, redshirt freshmen Nick McCann, Houston Miller and Noah Jones and true freshman Nelson Mbanasor.
“We’re ready to show the world what we can do, what are our standards and how we can attain them,” sophomore rush end Lonzell Gilmore said. “We kind of instilled having this competitive mentality. Now we have more depth as a defense, so we use that to compete. It’s always somebody pushing somebody else to become the best player we can be and apply that to on-field situations.”
Thomas also senses more esprit de corps in the defensive line room, partly as a result of those nights out this summer.
“It was way different last year,” he said. “Last year, everybody wasn’t in the group. We had people who were hanging out with other people. This year, we took more control, as in we need to come as a group and work together as team on what we need to do and accomplish.”
Washington and Thomas took the lead in making sure it’s more than idle talk. Washington was one of the team’s eight captains in off-season conditioning — one of only two in those roles who wasn’t a senior or a junior. Strength and conditioning coach Rusty Whitt lauds few, if any, players more than he does the 6-foot-3, 300-pound sophomore from Longview.
Thomas, a 6-2 senior from Dallas Skyline, began preseason practice weighing 320 pounds, which is 25 pounds lighter than when he first arrived on campus in the summer of 2016. That was his goal weight, and he’s been maintaining it.
“I’ve felt great with this weight,” he said. “This summer, I’ve been working my butt off in everything.
“I know I’ve been most improved. I’ve been winning stuff like lifter of the week and stuff like that. So I’ve been working. He (Whitt) has been getting me right.”
The line can help the Red Raiders get better in just about every area. Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said Gilmore was one of the team’s most improved players in the spring. The 6-3, 260-pound sophomore from Spring could split time with 2016 starter Kolin Hill as the Red Raiders look for them to pressure the passer.
The Red Raiders are hoping for a signficant contribution, too, from Howard on the other end. The 6-4, 265-pound transfer from North Texas missed the first scrimmage Saturday, but made a favorable impression in the spring.
“He’s definitely stepped up and helped lead the team,” Gilmore said. “He always comes with that mentality that ‘I’m going to always work.’ You never see him down or depressed. He’s always up cheering, uplifting, helping everybody else around him, no matter what the situation may be.”
The linemen hope to put it all together and express optimism they can.
“We’e going to be successful,” Thomas said. “I think everybody’s on one page. We’ve all got a mindset of, ‘We need to go get it.’”