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Saturday's Game A Battle Of The Running Backs

By Garrett McKinnon

LUBBOCK, Texas - Out of the frying pan ...

The Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-2, 2-1) won the first game of a five-game stretch that will probably determine whether or not the team earns a bowl bid, as the Tech offense recorded 624 total yards against Baylor in a 45-24 annihilation. The offensive total was the third-highest output in school history.

Of course, that may have been the only "easy" game.

The Red Raiders face the Kansas Jayhawks (3-1, 1-0) Saturday at 50,250-seat Memorial Stadium in Lawrence in a crucial game that will feature two of the nation's top running backs.

Tech's Byron Hanspard, a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, is currently ranked second in the country in rushing with a 222.4-yard-per-game average. Hanspard strolled to a school-record 287 yards against Baylor, and was the first running back in the country to top the 1,000 yard mark. He currently has 1,112 yards rushing for the year.

Kansas' June Henley, meanwhile, is ranked third in the nation in rushing, averaging 166.75 yards per contest. Henley is also tied for the national lead in scoring, having crossed the end zone 12 times in four games.

Kansas defeated Oklahoma 52-24 in Norman last week, scoring the most points ever allowed by a Sooner team at home. The Jayhawks rank third in the country in scoring offense, lighting up the scoreboard for an average of 45.3 points per game.

The game will mark the fifth installment in a series that Tech leads 4-0. One footnote to the series: the 1965 game in Lubbock won 26-7 by the Raiders was called with 14:04 left in the fourth quarter because of tornadic thunderstorms on the South Plains. It is believed to be the first collegiate football game called because of inclement weather.

The Kansas game marks the second game of a series in which the Red Raiders play Baylor, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Texas.

The Jayhawks enter the game ranked 22nd in the country in total offense, while the Red Raiders are 14th. Defensively, Kansas is ranked 87th and Tech 38th.

Keyed by the 6-0, 193-pound Hanspard, Tech ranks second in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 336.2 yards per contest. Hanspard has topped the 100-yard rushing mark in 11 consecutive games dating to last season, and has topped the 200-yard mark in six of the last seven games.

"When Byron steps on the field, there are no limits. We know there is no telling what he can do. I know he makes my job easier," said Tech quarterback Zebbie Lethridge.

Kansas' rushing defense is yielding 142 yards per game, which should make for an interesting matchup. Another point of interestĄTech punter Jeremy Hernandez is ranked eighth in the country in punting with a 46.2-yard average while the Jayhawks are ranked first in the nation in punt returns at 39.7 yards per runback.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. CST.

Hanspard Heeds A Higher Calling

By Curt Langford

He may very well be the finest football player to ever set foot on the Texas Tech campus. But aside from his remarkable ability as a running back, it's his outspoken faith that has touched so many people.

With celebrated sports figures wrestling with drug use, self-serving attitudes and inappropriate behavior, Tech's Byron Hanspard is among college football's finest ambassadors. He arrived at Tech two years ago to the surprise of recruiting forecasters, after spurning offers from Colorado, Texas A&M and Notre Dame. Having been so highly recruited, his decision to become a Red Raider came as a shock to many -- but as a blessing for Tech faithful.

"I thank God for sending me here," Byron said of his decision to attend Tech. "I am surrounded with excellent coaches and excellent teammates and I feel privileged to be here in Lubbock and to be around such good people."

The gridiron is Byron's platform for proclaiming what he so strongly believes. He's eager to share his faith with anyone who will listen -- and many do. In fact, after returning from Tech's game against Georgia, Byron preached the next day at a local Baptist church. As a licensed minister, he never gives up the opportunity to be a messenger for his maker.

Many Red Raider team members, and even players from opposing squads, join Byron out on the field following games to participate in post-game devotionals. "There's a lot of spirituality on this team," Byron said. "I may be the most vocal among the players, but there's certainly many who are just as devoted to the Lord as I am." As a business marketing major, Byron hopes to eventually manage day care or recreation centers in order to give something back to young people. It's Byron's opinion that many of today's youth are being led astray, and he wants to be able to assist youth and anyone else who's interested in positive direction.

Many members of the media have expressed frustration when interviewing Byron because of his continual references to his faith. In media circles, he's even been referred to cynically as "Lord Byron." However, what appears excessive to some is affirmation to Byron. "Just as long as they know I'm all about Jesus that's all that matters to me," he said. "All I'm doing is planting seeds, allowing the word of God to grow within others." According to Byron, those seeds will eventually grow within others helping them to acknowledge their creator. Regarding the cynicism, Byron understands. "I was hard-headed once. I would hear the Word and think 'I don't need that,' or 'I don't want to hear that.' So as long as the media hears my message they'll eventually acknowledge it, if they haven't already."

Whether or not one likes Byron's message, his numbers are impossible to ignore. He's rolled up yardage so quickly at Tech, not a play seems to go by without some long-heralded recorded being shattered. In only five games this season, he has already surpassed the 1,000 yard mark -- faster than any back in school history. His 287-yard rushing performance against Baylor marked the sixth time in seven games that he ran for more than 200 yards -- and 11 consecutive performances of 100 yards or more. His drive and determination have made him possibly the best running back in the country, with an impressive current average of 7.7 yards per carry.

Baylor head coach Chuck Reedy had no reason to doubt Byron following the Bear game against Tech. "Hanspard is as good as I have ever seen. I have been on the field with some good ones ... but I don't think I have ever been on the field with one as good as he is," Reedy acknowledged. Only the previous week Utah State head coach John Smith nicknamed the Tech running back "Bye-bye Byron," following 224 yards rushing against the Utah school.

Although Byron loves and excels in football, his father convinced him long ago that there are things more important. When Byron was younger and didn't want to go to church or study scripture, his parents were always there to encourage him to do what was right -- even when he didn't feel like it. "I thank God for that," he pointed out. "The word of God says in Proverbs to raise up a child in the way that he should go, and when he gets old he will not depart from it.' My parents have raised me in the admonition and the fear of God and that's the way I am now -- rooted and grounded in the word of God."

As more and more attention comes Byron's way, a growing number of Red Raider fans are concerned that he might elect to put his formal education on hold for an opportunity to play professionally. "I'm sure I will finish my degree," he said. "I still have another year here at Texas Tech." According to Byron, unless he's directed otherwise, he has no intention of leaving early. "If the Lord leads me to feel differently between now and then -- then so be it," he said.

While being heavily recruited, it was reported that Byron finally decided on Tech while taking a shower, being strongly influenced by the Spirit. Regarding the concern over Byron possibly leaving early, Head Coach Spike Dykes isn't too worried. "We've encouraged Byron to stay out of the shower and take baths instead," Dykes said, "but other than that we'll wait and see what happens." Dykes feels Byron is a solid contender for the Heisman Trophy, given annually to college football's finest athlete. "I think that if you are consistent week after week, then you have a chance to be a valid candidate for the Heisman. If you rush for 200 yards per game, you should be a valid candidate," Dykes said.

Byron thinks a lot of Dykes as a down-to-earth coach. "He's always there to encourage me and I always try to be there to encourage him," Byron said. "Some coaches don't want to do anything outside of football, but Coach Dykes is always there to help out in any way he can. I have great respect for him."

In light of emerging concerns with athletes and their impact on young fans, Byron Hanspard's desire to be a positive influence is certainly welcome. Obtaining the Heisman is important for Byron, but for unselfish reasons.

"I'd want to win it for family and friends, and certainly it would be good for the school," he said. "If I'm the Heisman winner, I'll have a bigger platform to spread the word of God wherever I may go."

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