Here’s What You Missed: West Virginia @ Texas Tech

Most people think of South Florida as an area people “move to” rather than a place where they “are from.” Back in the day, you rarely met a true South Florida native.

That’s not the case with my family. My mother was born in Miami and lived there nearly her entire life. She left the area for a few years in her mid-20s but moved back when I was just 3 years old. My grandparents, aunts and uncles are all South Floridians, and I, myself, lived there for 20 years.

Because of that, I had no choice but to root for the hometown Dolphins. Dan Marino … Larry Csonka … Jason Taylor, the list of successful Miami players is lengthy, and most fans have a difficult time choosing one all-time favorite. Not me. My list is short. One name: Zack Thomas.

Representing.
Representing.

I have owned several Dolphins jerseys over the years, and while the color has altered between white and turquoise and most recently orange, the number on the jersey is always the same: 54. In fact, last year I found a Zach Thomas kid’s jersey on eBay and bought it for my son! I had to do it.

So last weekend was especially cool because for the first time in my career I would visit Thomas’s former college, Texas Tech, as the Red Raiders welcomed West Virginia to town. From 1993-1995, Thomas —a first-team, All-American — instilled fear in offenses, recording 390 tackles. Thomas played in the NFL for 13 years, retiring in 2001 after signing a one-day contract worth $1 to retire as a member of the Miami Dolphins. Next weekend, Thomas’ name will be added to the Texas Tech Football Ring of Honor at Jones AT&T stadium. I just might have to wear my #54 jersey to work next week!

So, here are a few stories you may have missed from West Virginia’s 48-17 win over Texas Tech on Saturday.

The most obvious storyline was the relationship between the head coaches. Kliff Kingsbury and Dana Holgorson are both from the Mike Leach coaching tree. Holgorson both played and coached under Leach while Kingsbury was Leach’s star quarterback at Texas Tech for four years. The Holgorson-Kingsbury ties however don’t stop there. In 2008, Kingsbury and Holgorsen shared an apartment while working on Kevin Sumlin’s University of Houston staff, and while both coaches admitted that their friendship has changed since they started playing each other in the Big 12, they still consider each other close friends. So, what did Mike Leach think about the matchup? What about the way Holgorson’s offensive attack has evolved from “air-raid” to the ground? Well, I reached out to Coach Leach and received the below response through Washington State’s sports information office.

Me: What is your interest in West Virginia-Texas Tech game?
Leach: “I’m strictly interested in the Washington State/ UCLA game.”
Me: How much do you see your influence in the offensive game plan for both teams?
Leach: “Just two really well-organized teams that were great assistants for me and do a really good job organizing the teams that they have.”
Me: What do you think about the way Holgorson has adapted his offense?
Leach: “I think some of it’s adapting to what his resources are there … Dana always did have a conservative streak about him, but I think he does a good job featuring the abilities of his team.”

Speaking of “featuring the abilities of your team,” we can all agree that the “air raid” doesn’t work without a quarterback who has the ability to “sling the rock,” right? Well, Texas Tech certainly has that in junior Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes with his dad.
Mahomes with his dad.

Kingsbury told us, “Pat is the most humble badass I’ve been around,” and that’s saying a lot for a guy who has coached and played with some high profile QBs.

Mahomes is the son of former MLB player Pat Mahomes, and has spent almost his entire life around professional athletes. He witnessed first hand the good and the bad that comes with having talent, money and a lot of fame.

Mahomes told me the person who influenced him the most, outside of his father, is his godfather, Latroy Hawkins! Hawkins, who spent 21 years in the major leagues playing for 11 different teams. The right-hander taught Patrick Mahomes that a long career requires taking care of both your body and those around you. Treat people right!

Mahomes has been nursing a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder since the team’s 55-19 win over Kansas two weeks ago. Despite throwing for more than 500 yards Oct. 8 in a 44-38 loss to Kansas State, athletic trainers told me he’s fighting through a great deal of pain. Mahomes has been limited in practice and has been receiving a steady dose of therapy, including dry needling, soft tissue and underwater treadmill training. After an unsuccessful first series on Saturday, and some inaccurate incomplete passes, athletic trainers surrounded Mahomes and created a curtain of towels around him while placing pads on his shoulder and hooking him up to electric stim. I was told this was a “precautionary” measure and was not something he would have to receive after every offensive series.

This is a story about a boy and his football. The boy is Shelton Gibson and his football is Vicky. Yes, I said Vicky. Prior to the 2015 season, in an attempt to reduce his wide receiver drops, West Virginia quarteback Skylar Howard threw Gibson a football and told him to “never put it down.”

Gibson with 'Vanessa'
Gibson with ‘Vanessa’

Gibson listened, and for the next year, he carried the football everywhere. Class, dinner and while he slept, “Vicky” was always cradled tight. The only time he would leave her alone was during practice and games, when she would sit in his locker waiting for his return. I reached out to Gibson to find out if he still has Vicky and was told, “She disappeared at the end of the season.” Gibson believes his former teammate, Wendell Smallwood, who was a fifth-round selection by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL Draft, brought her along when he moved to Philadelphia. I reached out to Smallwood to ask about the location of Vicky, and he told me “Yes, it is true. Vicky has a new home!” While Gibson is without his dear Vicky in 2016, he does have a new football, Vicky’s sister, Vanessa; however, he leaves her at home most of the time so she won’t go missing as well. (*It seems as if ‘Vicky’ worked for Smallwood over the weekend as he returned a kick 86 yards for a touchdown against the Washington Redskins.)

And finally, I have to admit I am a sucker for stories about student-athletes who find success after overcoming obstacles, especially when the obstacle is so difficult you could easily use it as an excuse for not succeeding. I have a personal attachment to these stories because when I was 9 years old I was diagnosed with scoliosis. I was forced to stop all physical activity, and ultimately, I had corrective surgery. Two rods were placed on either side of my spine, and doctors told me I would most likely have limitations, especially when it came to strenuous activities. That was 30 years ago, and since, I have run two marathons, completed 10 triathlons (including a half Ironman) and given birth to twin boys. What limitations? I can imagine that West Virginia running back Justin Crawford has asked himself the same question. Crawford, according to the West Virginia coaches, “lays it all on the line,” and that’s no surprise when you hear his personal story. He is a husband and two-time dad. While playing at the junior college, he supported his family by working at fast-food restaurants.

When the rest of his teammates were resting their bodies, he would be standing on his feet serving food. When he arrived in Morgantown, prior to the start of pre-season camp, he was working at Taco Bell until his coaches told him he wouldn’t be able to juggle both. The physical demand was too much. “You do what you have to do for your family,” Jackson has said, and now he is using that same work ethic to impress his football family on Saturdays.

This weekend we’re off to Los Angeles! I love being in LA and can’t wait to see Utah play the Bruins on Saturday! See you then.

Here’s What You Missed: Red River Showdown

Every team has a rival, and every sport has a rivalry game. These games are defined by history, hate and respect, and in my opinion, all three of those elements must exist in order for it to be a true rivalry.

I have been covering sports for 15 years, and in that time, I’ve been fortunate to sit on the sidelines for several intense rivalry games: Duke-Carolina, Kentucky-Louisville, UCLA-USC … When these teams take the field or court, they don’t care about current records, past games or star players. For a few hours, all that matters is the name on the front of the jersey, and that name creates an invisible line of division and disdain. This weekend, I was able to add another rivalry game to my resume: The Red River Showdown at the historic Cotton Bowl.

One intriguing element to this game is that the players understand the history of Oklahoma versus Texas. The majority of them grew up on “either side of the river.” They watched linebacker Brian Bosworth spew venom towards the “burnt orange,” and they watched running back Ricky Williams demolish the Oklahoma defensive line. Oftentimes, rivalry games become internally diluted within athletic programs because of cross-country recruiting, but that’s not the case with the Red River matchup. They get it. They really get it, and after this weekend, I get it, too!

Let’s start with the quarterbacks. Both Baker Mayfield and Shane Buechele grew up in the shadow of the Red River. Mayfield, who now calls Norman his home, went to Lake Travis High School in Austin, Tx.

Mayfield's jersey hanging in his high school.
Mayfield’s jersey hanging in his high school.
His jersey hangs in his high school coach’s office just 20 miles from the University of Texas campus. Mayfield’s former Coach Hank Carter told me Mayfield stops by the school from time to time to chat with current players (his last visit was just a few weeks ago prior to the TCU game).
I asked Carter, “How many kids at the school would be rooting for Mayfield, and how many would be rooting for Texas?” He said, “We have a few kids whose parents work at UT so they’re definitely pulling for the ‘Horns. But, there’s also a large group of Baker fans.” Good to know some folks in Austin were celebrating after Saturday’s game!

For Shane Buechele, the intensity of the rivalry hits closer to home … literally. Buechele has four siblings, and all of them are Oklahoma fans.

The Buechele Christmas card.
The Buechele Christmas card.
Yup, his brother Tanner is an OU fan, his sister Amber is a junior at Oklahoma, brother Jordan is a graduate and Garrett was a star baseball player who helped lead the Sooners to the College World Series.
Take a look at the family’s Christmas card … talk about being outnumbered!

Speaking of numbers, how about Dede Westbrook and his five touchdowns in the last two weeks? Bob Stoops has said, “Westbrook has finally recovered from a nagging injury” and you have to imagine there is a sense of relief amongst Sooner fans, who spent the first few weeks of the season wondering who would replace Sterling Shepard now that he’s playing on Sundays with the New York Giants. Why not Westbrook? After all, he was mentored by Shepherd and still refers to him as “a brother.” Westbrook told me (through the Oklahoma SID) that he spends holidays with Shepherd and his family and talks to him every week before his games. Shepherd even sends word of encouragement to the rest of the receiver group though Westbrook. This week’s message was simple: “Go out and get a win.” The respect between the players is mutual as Shepard tweeted after the game, “Tried to tell y’all Dede is the truth!”

Here are some sideline observations from Oklahoma’s 45-40 victory:
In most stadiums, teams have separate entrances to the locker room, which allows separation from the players while entering and exiting the field. This eliminates emotions from spilling over into the tunnels.

Texas making their way into locker room after warm-ups.
Texas making their way into locker room after warm-ups.
This isn’t the case with the Cotton Bowl. The Texas players had to wait for Oklahoma to vacate the field before they could leave.I was standing a few feet away as they corralled the Texas players after warm-ups. The coaches and security guards literally had to hold the players back. The player’s energy reminded me of a shaken can of soda … just waiting to explode. The players were yelling, and the fans above were responding. It was electric.

A few weeks ago, Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews looked as if he was poised to have a breakout season; however, the last few weeks he has struggled and his frustration is obvious. On Saturday, after consecutive dropped balls, a handful of his offensive teammates walked over to Andrews and offered words of encouragement. Joe Mixon, Westbrook and Samaje Perine were just a few. I wasn’t able to pick up on all the conversations but did hear Mayfield telling him, “You are here for a reason, and you are on that field for a reason. Shake it off and go show everyone what you can do.” It was a great display of leadership by Mayfield.

And finally, for me the weekend really started Friday evening when I joined my analyst Joel Klatt for his Facebook Live “Breaking The Huddle” broadcast.

Breaking the Huddle with Klatt.
Breaking the Huddle with Klatt.
We were live from the Texas State Fair surrounded by fans, fried food and livestock, but the best part of the show were the guests that joined us — Bosworth and former Texas quarterback Vince Young. Listening to the two talk about this game and their experiences playing in it was a sports fan’s dream and certainly a highlight of my career.

We are back in the state of Texas next week in Lubbock! It will be my first trip to Texas Tech as West Virginia comes to town. Both head coaches – Kliff Kinbsury and Dana Holgorsen — come from the Mike Leach coaching/player tree so there’s sure to be a lot of exciting offensive plays!

See you then.