This is a fable, the story of the ant and the grasshopper. Two years ago the Red Raiders fell on times as hard as the flat cap rock of west Texas. Their coach, Rex Dockery, had hopped to Memphis State following a 5-6 season in 1980, and he hadn't left his successor, Jerry Moore, much to work with. "We had one quarterback, and some other bodies behind him." recalls Moore.
That year, 1981, wasn't the best for Texas Tech's image. Alumnus John Hinckley Jr. tried to assassinate President Reagan, and The Washington Post described the campus as a place where students often bring their guns to class. The football team wound up with a 1-9-1 record, its worst finish in 19 years. The Red Raiders were giving away territory to the opposition in chunks. Tech surrendered 586 yards on punt returns alone, about three times the conference average. It also allowed 30 touchdowns, 12 on gains of at least 20 yards and five on longies of 70 or more. Meanwhile, the offense was in full retreat. Between them Texas Tech's two quarterbacks lost 434 yards on the ground. And, adding injury to insult, the Red Raiders were so hobbled over the course of the season that 45 different players had to start.
But this wasn't just a matter of less for Moore. He was purposely stashing away talent for the coming seasons. He redshirted 19 players that first year and 32 in 1982, when the Red Raiders were 4-7 and lost heart-breakers to Washington and SMU, ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, at the time of their games with Tech. He also built a formidable walk-on program, patterned after the one at Nebraska, where he'd been an assistant from 1973 to '78. This year Moore has promotional posters plastered all over the state that show a toddler in a Red Raiders jersey lugging a helmet about half his size. The caption reads: SOME PEOPLE JUST CAN'T WAIT TO WALK ON AT TEXAS TECH!
Certainly Ricky Gann couldn't. Gann, the Red Raiders' walk-on placekicker, had wanted to play for Texas Tech ever since he attended a summer football camp at the school's Jones Stadium when he was 11. Gann was the Southwest Conference's leading kicker last season, making 13 of 16 field-goal attempts, including 13 of his final 14. He has booted a 69-yarder on the practice field, and he has kept Panhandle glaziers busy by knocking out half a dozen windows in the third-story coaching offices 25 yards beyond the end zone. But his two most shattering kicks last season broke Rice (23-21) and TCU (16-14) in the closing seconds.
Five former redshirts are competing at quarterback, but the edge goes to the incumbent, Jim Hart, who has had a bounce-around career at Tech. A backup quarterback his freshman year, he played cornerback and returned punts as a sophomore, sat out 1981 and was back calling signals—somewhat erratically—last season. After tossing three TDs in the third quarter to beat Texas A & M, Hart was asked if people thought of him as a passing or a running quarterback. "Heck," he said. "I didn't know I had a reputation at all."
Until Moore, who was born in Bonham, Texas, came to Lubbock, the Red Raiders hadn't had a native Texan for a coach since J.T King retired from coaching in 1969. His three successors were regarded as carpetbaggers. They all were raised in the Southeast, longed to return there, and did. "Recruiters tried to use it against Texas Tech," says Moore. "I know I did."
The conservative Dockery was notorious for his Tango Offense—one-two-three-kick, one-two-three-kick. Moore, on the other hand, knows a few more steps. Look for him to call a lot of quarterback bootlegs and sprint-outs. But I Back Robert Lewis will have the ball most of all; his predecessor, Anthony Hutchison, had a conference-record 43 carries in a game last season.
The most glaring shortcoming of last year's team was the offensive line. To shore up the forward wall, Moore recruited linemen. Lots of them. The most prized prospects are Guard Mike McBride and 6'6", 310-pound Tackle Artis Jackson, the top schoolboy heavyweight wrestler in the state in 1982. Because of Moore's pack-'em-away-for-another-day philosophy, the defense, like the offense, is now two-deep at every position. But even Moore concedes that no one quite comes up to All-America Noseguard Gabriel Rivera, who led Tech's interior line in tackles the past four years, swatted down four passes in the Washington game last season and sacked everything except Gaul.
The Red Raiders will be tested early. Texas Tech opens on the road against Air Force, which made the Hall of Fame Bowl last season. The Raiders' other two nonconference opponents will be New Mexico and Tulsa, both of which went 10-1 in 1982. Nonetheless, Tech should be no worse than 7-4 on the season.
As always, the Masked Rider will circle the field during home games. And this year, for only the third time, the Rider in the scarlet and black cape and Zorro hat will be a woman. Tech fans hope—in fact, they can be almost certain—that her name isn't an omen. It's Jennifer Aufill.