The Texas Tech football team added a Big 12 champion and an all-American first team to the defensive line Saturday, the second day of preseason practices.
There’s a catch: The highly decorated Gabriel Oladipo earned those accolades with the Red Raiders track and field team. But when he exhausted his eligibility in his main sport in June, Oladipo decided to try football.
It’s not like Tech hurts for someone to play defensive tackle with Jaylon Hutchings, Tony Bradford and Philip Blidi all being key players. But Oladipo is 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, has a 440-pound bench and an 875 squat deadlift. And he’s spent five college seasons perfecting his footwork and outburst.
“You’re talking about a great human being who is really, really strong and really athletic,” said technical coach Joey McGuire. “It just adds another person, whatever (their role). Whether it’s in the field goal block or the field goal or how many snaps he gets in the game, to any time you can add great people who can really, really run. . . . “
Oladipo hasn’t played football since high school in Fort Bend Hightower. He was also a baseball pitcher.
He received an NCAA waiver to play Friday, got dressed Saturday and spent time doing one-on-one work with graduate assistant coach Kirby Ennis.
Since transferring to Tech from Texas A&M ahead of the 2020 indoor season, Oladipo has been a runner-up in the shot put and then champion each of the past two years at the Big 12 indoor championships. He has finished 12th and third, respectively, in that event. past two years at NCAA Championships, good for second-team and then first-team All-America status. Outdoors, he won the Big 12 discus title in 2021 and was first team All-Big 12 in discus, shot put and hammer throw each of the past two years.
McGuire said Oladipo expressed interest in the spring to join the football team at the end of the track season. It was about receiving a waiver; the fact that he was already a Tech Athlete simplified the process.
McGuire said Oladipo’s conditioning wouldn’t be a problem “because he’s in great shape.”
“He’s an athlete. He’s a Division I athlete,” McGuire said. “With him it will just be technique. He has the best technician in the game in (technical defensive line coach) Zarnell Fitch. I think he’s an elite coach. He’s a great teacher , so it’s good for him to be in that room with someone like that to keep him going.”
In addition to Hutchings, Bradford and Blidi, the other main players in the Red Raiders pool at defensive tackle are new transfers Myles Cole from Louisiana-Monroe and Vidal Scott from Arkansas State.
■ With Oladipo joining the defensive line, third-year sophomore Larry Moore returned to the offensive line and changed jerseys from No. 94 to No. 78. Moore spent his first two seasons as a offensive line before training as a defensive lineman in spring training. .
■ McGuire recently expected newcomer Cole Spencer to start at left guard, but the January transfer from Western Kentucky has yet to be on the pitch as he continues rehabilitation after knee surgery which prevented him from training in the spring.
Spencer continues to spend most of her time under the supervision of head athletic trainer Drew Krueger. He will be re-evaluated in two weeks, McGuire said, to see if he can move on to individual drills. That makes his availability for the start of the season questionable, McGuire acknowledged, given he’ll need full-contact work and offensive reps to prepare.
Technical coaches expected Spencer to be an immediate starter: He started 44 games at WKU, including the entire 2021 season with the same offensive coordinator (Zach Kittley) and offensive line coach (Stephen Hamby) as it now has to Tech. Pro Football Focus gave him the highest pass blocking rating of any Conference USA offensive lineman last season.
McGuire said the circumstances come as no surprise. Krueger told him how long Spencer’s rehabilitation would take and they knew he wouldn’t be ready for the start of pre-season training.
With Spencer unavailable, returning right guard starter Weston Wright moved to left guard and top backup Landon Peterson gets the first-team job at right guard.
■ Marquis “Muddy” Waters has been ill since Thursday’s local team media day. He’s the star of the first team, a safety/outside linebacker/slot corner, so Wyoming transfer Keyon Blankenbaker is the first string while Waters is out.
Weak side linebackers Derrick Lewis and Tavares “BJ” Elston and safety Jett Whitfield also worked there on Saturday. McGuire said Lewis will return to linebacker, but he wants to give Elston a longer look at Star. The true 5-10, 200-pound freshman can handle the increased passing coverage, McGuire believes, and being a smaller linebacker, the positional switch kicks him out of the box.
“We’ll keep it there,” McGuire said, “and I think it’s going to end up being a good move, because you’ve got two really old guys (Waters and Blankenbaker) in there. So you’re always looking ahead. as a coach. … Muddy has much better man skills (cover), but they’re both very explosive.
■ Among the players who caught McGuire’s attention during Friday’s first practice was first-year defensive lineman Syncere Massey – so much so that McGuire texted Mesquite’s new coach Saturday morning By Marcus Harris. McGuire said he was impressed with how the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Massey moved.
Harris was the defensive coordinator at Cedar Hill, where Massey was a senior last season and where McGuire was head coach from 2003 to 2016.
■ Saturday was McGuire’s 51st birthday. At the end of morning practice, he climbed atop a dunk tank, allowing players and family members to throw at the target. McGuire fell in the water twice.
“(His wife) Debbie went up there and pressed the button because she missed,” McGuire said. “but TK is the one that hit the target and knocked me out, (receiver) Tyler King.”
Given that his early August birthday always falls at the start of preseason training, McGuire was asked about his favorite experience of birthdays spent around his team.
“Honestly, probably that one,” he said, “as far as I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a dunk tank. Debbie is really good at making sure we have cupcakes for team and it’s always been a good deal, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a dunk on my birthday, so that was fun.”
Several current and former Tech coaches have birthdays in early August. Gerald Myers turned 86 on Friday, Sonny Cumbie turns 41 on Monday, Kliff Kingsbury turns 43 on Tuesday and Matt Wells turns 49 on Wednesday.