This Saturday will be a blast from the past. Texas Tech will face their old Southwest Conference rival, the University of Arkansas. Gabe Rivera, better known as “Señor Sack” will be inducted into the Texas Tech Ring of Honor. And the Red Raiders will be wearing throwback uniforms from the 1990s Zac Thomas era, before Air Raid was a household phrase in Lubbock, when defense ruled the South Plains.
Rivera played defensive tackle for Tech from 1979-1982. Rivera was 6’3″, 270 pounds, but that did not slow him down; he had a 40 yard dash time of 4.8 seconds. During his four years at Tech he racked up countless statistics. 321 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, 11 pass deflections, and six fumble recoveries. His senior season he totaled 105 tackles, which still holds the school record for most tackles by a defensive tackle.
In 1980, Rivera earned honorable mention All-American. In 1982, he was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American defensive tackle for his senior season. In addition, Rivera was named Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and he was also named to the Southwest Conference All-Decade team. In 2012, Rivera was inducted into the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame.
Rivera left a legacy at Tech that will never be forgotten. Coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Rivera, “He’s one of the greatest players to ever play here and one of the greatest players ever to play, so we’re very proud of that.”
Rivera’s defensive spirit carried on into the Spike Dykes era. Dikes became defensive coordinator for Tech in 1984 and head coach in 1986. The Dykes era was known better known for their defense and upsets. In 1986, Dykes and the Red Raiders defeated then #8 Arkansas 17-7 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Tech won 38-21 in the last matchup against Arkansas in 1991.
During the Dykes era, an outstanding defensive player named Zac Thomas made his debut. Much like Rivera, Thomas was a hard hitter. Thomas was a three-year starting linebacker at Tech and compiled 390 tackles, a season high of 131 tackles, and school record of 20 tackles against Missouri his senior season. And of course, who could forget his dazzling last second game-winning interception which he returned for a touchdown against Texas A&M in 1995. Thomas went on to earn All-American honors and Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the year in 1995.
It is strange to think of a time when Tech was known for their defense. When Mike Leach took the reins of Tech football in 2000, dominant defense quickly became a thing of the past. Since the years after the Leach era, Tech has continually struggled on defense. Inconsistency appears to be the problem. This is the first time since 2009 the football team has had the same defensive coordinator two years in a row.
This weekend, Tech is channeling a simpler time in their history, before the glitz, glamour, and pass happy offenses, when defense was the driving force. Arkansas scored 73 points last weekend, so Tech will need that energy. Kingsbury said of facing old rival Arkansas, “Anytime you play an old Southwest Conference foe, it’s a unique experience for the fan base. I expect it to be a great atmosphere. We need them loud and rocking, and I’m sure they will be.”
Let us not disappoint our Red Raiders this weekend. My motto at the Jones has always been, “Come early, be LOUD, stay late!” If you do not lose your voice by the end of the game, you did not cheer hard enough. Wreck ‘Em!