Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek has made his mark on the Big 12 and the national college football scene in his first year as a full-time starter. The Mildred, Texas, native plays with a confidence not often found in an inexperienced player, although Shimonek is far from the new kid on the block.
The 6-foot-3 gunslinger used four years of sitting on the bench to be ready to make the most of his final year of eligibility. Shimonek ranks seventh in the NCAA in passing yardage and has led his Red Raider squad to a 4-1 record and the No. 24 spot in this week’s Associated Press poll.
“(Shimonek) is doing well and protecting the ball well,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said in a press conference on Oct. 3. “I’m proud of the way he’s played so far and (he) just keeps getting better each week.”
Shimonek only had 60 pass attempts under his belt entering the 2017 season after he transferred from Iowa in 2014 and played behind eventual first-round pick Patrick Mahomes for the past two seasons.
The fifth-year senior has been let loose this year and already has 1,811 yards and 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions through his first five games.
How has Shimonek fit in so well in Lubbock? The answer is Texas Tech’s “Air Raid” offense, installed by Mike Leach in 2000. When one quarterback graduates, the Red Raiders simply insert the next man up – which happens to be Shimonek this year.
Kingsbury said that Shimonek has confidently taken the reins of the Texas Tech offense, filling the void left by the ultra-athletic Mahomes.
“(Shimonek)’s a tough young man and he doesn’t get raddled,” Kingsbury said. “He’s what you want (in a starting QB).”
In each of the last 16 seasons, the Red Raiders have passed for over 4,000 yards and thrown at least 30 touchdowns as a team. That success hasn’t necessarily translated to the NFL (where pro-style QB’s still rule), but nonetheless, Texas Tech has developed a constant supply of productive signal callers.
The list of recent Texas Tech QB’s includes Kingsbury, Mahomes, TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, Bowling Green assistant Seth Doege, North Texas offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and New York Giants QB Davis Webb. Current Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield also played for the Red Raiders in 2013 before transferring to Norman.
From Leach to Kingsbury
Texas Tech hit a stumbling block when Leach was fired in 2009 after demanding that concussed receiver Adam James – son of former NFL player Craig James – be locked in an electrical closet. Following a three-year tenure by Tommy Tuberville, the Red Raiders hired Kingsbury in an attempt to rekindle the Leach Era through one of his understudies.
That decision has produced mixed results. Kingsbury owns a 28-27 coaching record through five seasons – including bowl appearances in 2013 and 2015. One reason Texas Tech has struggled is its suspect defense, which currently ranks 105th in the nation in total yards allowed per game with 437.
But Webb, Mahomes and now Shimonek have continued the storied Red Raider QB legacy under Kingsbury, whose expertise clearly lies on the offensive side of the ball. In 2016, Mahomes produced the best statistical season (5,052 yards, 47 TD’s) since Harrell’s record-setting outputs in 2007 and 2008.
An Emotional Leader
Shimonek proved his value when Mahomes left the Kansas game with an injury last season. The replacement QB made quite an impression by throwing for 271 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Red Raiders to a resounding 55-19 victory over the Jayhawks.
That performance - paired with a strong work ethic - helped springboard Shimonek into the starting role this season. The former walk-on plays with a flair that often comes with the leader of a “run-and-shoot” offense.
“He’s the hardest worker on our team and leads by example, but he’s got a fiery side to him as well,” Kingsbury said.”
Shimonek himself admits that he has a tendency to get caught up in the heat of the moment, but said he has been consciously working to remain mentally tough in tight games.
“I’m a very emotional player,” Shimonek said after a narrow win over Arizona State on Sept. 16. “At times, I get too high in the highs and too low in the lows. Sometimes I need to take a take step back... to tell myself to calm down.”
Part of Kingsbury’s task is to help Shimonek manage his emotions and channel them into his performance on the field.
“He’s always hard on himself,” Kingsbury said of Shimonek during media availability in early October, following the team’s loss to Oklahoma State. “He’s had a heck of a start to the season and has done a lot of great things. (I’m) just making sure he enjoys the ride and gives himself 24 hours to get over (a loss).”
What’s next for Shimonek?
Shimonek has led the prolific Red Raider attack to an average of 549.8 total yards per game, good for seventh in the NCAA.
Texas Tech will need more of the same from Shimonek as it faces a crucial slate of games in October, including at West Virginia on Saturday and at Oklahoma on Oct. 28.
After the Red Raiders’ 41-34 loss to Oklahoma State on Sept. 30, Shimonek spoke of shared disappointment in the Texas Tech locker room – a distinct change from past seasons.
“Everyone in (our) locker room expects to win,” Shimonek said. “We’re not here to compete with people. We’re here to win games.”
The team responded with a 69-13 drubbing of Kansas last Saturday - which was no surprise given the Jayhawks’ 1-4 record. However, the game served as a much-needed confidence boost following Texas Tech’s first loss of the season.
“I like where (our) heads have been each week,” Kingsbury said after the lopsided victory. “They competed to win the game, and they came out with a lot of fight. We’ve got to keep that going as we head into this second half of our season.”
Should Shimonek continue to become more comfortable as a game-manager and keep his emotions in check, Texas Tech could pull a surprise or two in Big 12 action.