Hanspard Keeps On Running

By Amy Gunter

Right before the hole closes, a red and black number four comes rushing through the gap. The jersey keeps running, shaking off defenders who desperately try to stop his advance. As soon as they reach him, he is on his knees in the back of the end zone and the referee is holding up his arms. Just a simple example of the technique of Texas Tech running back Byron Hanspard.

A Heisman Trophy candidate, Hanspard leads the nation in rushing with 217 yards a game. He continues to set records and then break them. In what was possibly his best game against Baylor three weeks ago, Hanspard broke three school records. In front of 50,594, the Red Raiders defeated the Big 12 rival Bears 45-24. The tone of the Lubbock evening was set on the opening drive when Hanspard took the ball to the end zone on a 51-yard run. He ended the contest with 287 yards on 35 carries.

Following the game, Hanspard had become the first back in the nation to break the 1,000-yard mark this season and only the second to hit the coveted barrier in a mere five games. In Tech history, he left his name as the first Red Raider back to pass 1,000 yards this early into the season. Hanspard also set the all-purpose yards and tandem yards Tech records against the Bears.

After a pounding 36-carry, 194-yard effort last week in the win over Kansas, Hanspard has rushed for 100 yards or more in 12 straight games. Going into a difficult test today against Nebraska, he also has hit the 200-yard mark six of the last eight games.

Statistics speak for themselves. Hanspard's records state the obvious -- this running back has natural skill and ability. But, this is not the only drive behind the athlete. An ordained minister since the summer of 1995, Hanspard uses his talents on the field to glorify his Lord.

"Whenever my name is in the light, you are going to hear about Jesus," Hanspard said. "Football gives me the platform to lift up the name of Jesus." A player that not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk, Hanspard gives credit to the Lord each time he achieves another career step.

Hanspard, a high school Parade All-American from DeSoto, was recruited by Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Colorado. He chose Tech because "the spirit of my heart directed me to Texas Tech." But, according to legend, Byron chose to wear the scarlet and black of the Red Raiders after he felt the call of the Lord while taking a shower.

As a part of the "running back conference," the Red Raiders have made a mark on the Big 12. The conference boasts the nation's top two rushers and three of the country's top running backs overall. Iowa State's Troy Davis ranks second to Hanspard with 209 yards a game. Kansas running back June Henley, limited to subpar performances the last two weeks, is seventh with 144 yards per outing.

Out of these three power backs, Hanspard has managed to earn the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week twice this season. The first of these honors came following the 31-3 victory over Oklahoma State. Hanspard rushed for 272 yards on 29 carries and ran for two touchdowns. He broke the Texas Stadium record for yards per game, something not achieved in the 25-year history of the stadium by Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson or Tony Dorsett. The second Big 12 honor followed the Homecoming defeat of Baylor.

Hanspard is a strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The Texas Tech prospects for college football's top individual prize have been few in the annals of Red Raider football. Even with the hype and notoriety, Tech's Heisman hopeful keeps such talk in perspective. "If God has the Heisman for me, I will receive it," he said. "But, now my major goal is to make it to a bowl game."

The highest Red Raider finish in the race for the coveted trophy was Donny Anderson in 1965. The former Tech rusher wound up in fourth place.

Head coach Spike Dykes is optimistic about Hanspard's chances for the prize. "I think that if you are consistent week-after-week, then you have a chance to be a valid Heisman candidate," Dykes said. "If you rush for 200 yards a game, you should be a valid candidate."

Teammates have a deep respect for this two-year team captain. Quarterback Zebbie Lethridge is relieved knowing the talent Hanspard brings to the field.

"I feel like Byron makes my job that much easier. He has no limits when he steps on the field," Lethridge said. "There's no stopping him."

Behind every great offensive star is a great offensive line. Senior offensive tackle Ben Kaufman, an All-America candidate himself, enjoys blocking for the running back.

"All you have to do is give Byron a little crease and he'll hit it hard and be through the gap," Kaufman said. "We go out there and try to perform for Byron and he tries to perform for us."

Rhudy Maskew, Tech's running backs coach, is not surprised by the season Hanspard has had. "Byron is picking up yards when they are tough to pick up," Maskew said. "I don't think there is much he can't do."

The respect shown from his peers and coaches reveals that Hanspard is what he seems to be. A leader on and off the field, he is breaking records left and right at Texas Tech.

If Byron Hanspard can continue his ground success for the second half of season, which includes the likes of Nebraska, Texas A&M, Texas and Oklahoma, he could bring the Heisman Trophy to Lubbock for the first time in school history. There may be no stopping this scarlet and black number four jersey.

Tech Hopes To Bounce Back Against A&M

LUBBOCK, Texas - So far the Texas Tech Red Raiders have gone two up and one down on the first three games of a critical five-game stretch of Big 12 contests that features Baylor, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Texas.

After pasting Baylor 45-24 and polishing off Kansas 30-17 with a second-half comeback, the Raiders fought a powerful Nebraska team to a standstill for two quarters. The Cornhuskers used a fumble recovery and a long punt return to set up two second-half touchdowns, though, and beat the Raiders 24-10.

So, how do the men in red and black get over such a loss? Easy, they prepare to face perennial arch-rival Texas A&M at College Station.

The Aggies (3-4, 1-2) come into the game having fallen 23-20 to Kansas State at home last week. An Aggie rally from 17 points down fell just short, and the Ags dropped their fourth game of the season.

Tech (4-3, 3-2), meanwhile, saw a three-game win streak and an 11-game home win streak come to an end against Nebraska.

The Raiders will have little time to wonder what could have been in the Nebraska game. Despite their record, the Aggies are a powerful football team.

"A&M's got great players. They're prouder of their quarterback (Branndon Stewart) than they've been in years," said Tech head coach Spike Dykes. "The strength of their football team, though, is in their defense. They're a lot like Nebraska as far as their size, speed and ability."

A&M's defense, in fact, is ranked 29th in the country. More than that, the Aggie run defense is ranked fifth in the nation. It should pose a serious challenge for a Tech offense that ranks fourth in the country rushing the ball.

Last year, a highly-regarded and seventh-ranked A&M team traveled to Lubbock with then-Heisman Trophy candidate running back Leland McElroy. An interception return for a touchdown by star Raider linebacker Zach Thomas with less than a minute remaining in the game proved to be the difference as the Raiders won 14-7. McElroy gained less than 100 yards rushing against the Raiders, effectively eliminating him from the Heisman race.

This year, it will be the Raiders who possess the Heisman Trophy candidate at running back. Byron Hanspard ranks second in the nation in rushing at 201.9 yards per game after gaining 107 yards against a stingy Nebraska defense. It was the first time all year a running back had broken the 100-yard mark against the Cornhuskers.

For the Raiders, it has been 12 years since a running back gained more than 100 yards on the ground against the Aggies. Timmy Smith gained 139 yards on 19 carries against the Ags in 1984, helping the Raiders to a 30-12 win, Tech's last victory at Kyle Field.

The Aggies, meanwhile, possess one of the nation's best wide receivers in Albert Connell, who ranks ninth nationally in receptions and 13th nationally in receiving yards.

"It's never been hard to get [the players] up for A&M," said Dykes.

A Tech defense ranked 27th nationally, and which allowed Nebraska only 238 yards in offense, will face down Stewart and Connell. The Raiders are 22nd in the country in pass defense, and forced five turnovers against the Cornhuskers, a scenario that might prove troublesome against the turnover-prone Aggies.

So far this year, A&M players have coughed up 15 fumbles and thrown eight interceptions. The Ags are 94th in the country in turnover margin.

Kickoff is scheduled for 11:30 CST. Liberty Sports will broadcast the game regionally as their Big 12 game of the week.


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