Campaign for Fearless Champions Continues to Build Momentum for Texas Tech Athletics
Three years into The Campaign for Fearless Champions, Kliff Kingsbury and his fellow Texas Tech coaches are excited by how well it’s going, but the head football coach and former Red Raider quarterback is also a bit surprised.
“We had renderings for an indoor facility when I was a player here,” he said recently from his office, next door to where Texas Tech’s new showpiece $48 million Sports Performance Center is rising.
Kingsbury has seen firsthand the sense of urgency and success as donors, alumni and fans have made Director of Athletics Kirby Hocutt’s vision come to life all over campus with improvements to help Texas Tech compete in all 17 sports.
“Kirby had a vision…and I’m proud to be part of it,” said Kingsbury.
The key numbers
Outlining a bold, philanthropic agenda, Hocutt announced The Campaign for Fearless Champions in August of 2014 with a goal to enhance athletic facilities, invest in student-athlete scholarship endowments and grow the first-of-its-kind J.T. & Margaret Talkington Leadership Academy.
To date, 22 of 25 facilities projects have been funded — the star of that list being the Sports Performance Center, a multi-purpose facility with an indoor track, indoor football practice facility, and strength training and nutrition amenities that is scheduled to open on October 20.
But there’s more to the campaign than buildings.
Texas Tech Athletics has added more than $10 million to scholarship endowments benefiting student-athletes. More than $5 million has been invested in growing championship athletes and people through the J.T. & Margaret Talkington Leadership Academy, a brainchild of Hocutt and Hall of Fame Coach Marsha Sharp.
The campaign’s rapid success has been driven by the generosity of alumni and fans who share Hocutt’s vision, and the resulting gifts are already making an impact.
‘Got to raise your game’
“When [donors] invest, there are expectations and it pushes us to the next level to play for a national championship,” said Red Raider pitcher Davis Martin, who won the first College World Series game in school history last year. “We want that. We’re not scared of that. We want expectations that high and you’ve got to raise your game to meet those expectations.”
“I want Texas Tech Athletics to be the best it can be.”
Hocutt said, “I want Texas Tech Athletics to be the best it can be. There’s a recipe for success and facility development plays a role in that.”
As an example, Hocutt mentioned former Red Raider first baseman Eric Gutierrez, who finished second and fourth in the College Home Run Derby in 2014 and 2015.
“Eric was telling me stories about coming to the indoor hitting cages late at night to work on his technique. Without that facility, he would not have had the opportunity,” he said.
And the J.T. & Margaret Talkington Leadership Academy helped the university develop a first-round choice in this year’s NFL draft.
Kingsbury said, “We put Pat Mahomes in the leadership academy and it helped develop him. He saw how people lead and it helped him be comfortable taking control of the team, which he did.”
A foundation for recruiting
The football coach also added how it helps with recruiting.
“We need our facilities to wow recruits when they visit and think about it when they drive back home. I have a sense of pride of what this university is becoming,” Kingsbury said, adding that not only is he proud of how well done the campus improvements are done, but how well Lubbock is growing alongside Texas Tech.
“Families are blown away how nice the university and town are — and we’re just getting started,” he said.
Track and field head coach Wes Kittley loves showing the Sports Performance Center to recruits looking to join his perennial, top ten program. The new facility will house an indoor Beynon track that will rival the best in the nation, raising Texas Tech’s profile among Division I track and field programs.
Seeing the difference
Even as a baseball player, Davis Martin is excited about the new Sports Performance Center.
“Pitchers need to take care of their arms and you don’t want to throw in six layers in cold weather. We’ll be able to throw long toss in the turf room,” said Martin.
The weight room next door to the turf room also has him excited.
“We won’t have to push sleds through the weight room in the Rec and try not to hit anybody,” he said. “We’ll get more work in and it will be awesome.”
Martin also enjoys the improvements to Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park that have been made as part of The Campaign for Fearless Champions.
“I got to experience the old field and old scoreboard as a freshman in the fall of 2015. Everybody had shin splints because the turf was old and hard. Once we got done with the last Red & Black Game they ripped it up and replaced it with new turf. When we came back it was brand new, had more bounce and running-wise, it was fantastic,” he said.
The junior pitcher said Texas Tech’s visits to the College World Series two of the last four seasons and the facility improvements made possible by campaign donations play an equal part in attracting recruits to help push the Red Raiders to the top.
‘Light years ahead’
Tim Culp got a business degree in accounting from Texas Tech in 1981 and his Red Raider pride carries on.
He’s a member of the Texas Tech Foundation board and the Texas Tech Athletic Director’s Advisory Council. And he’s stepped up for The Campaign for Fearless Champions with a significant gift and a lot of legwork in his native Permian Basin, where he is CEO and president of Tandem Energy Holdings.
Impressed with the results.
“I love everything about Texas Tech. The improvements Kirby and Chancellor Duncan and their predecessors have made is light years ahead of when I attended,” he said.
“Kirby has rounded up the troops and we’re focused on being the best on and off the field every day. You see it in tens of thousands of supporters at the official spring game in Frisco. Kirby’s got us all going in the same direction,” said Culp.
The energy-industry leader is equally impressed with how students are being developed through the J.T. & Margaret Talkington Leadership Academy.
“I spoke to the Captain’s Circle early this year. I told them my life story of growing up in Andrews and what Texas Tech did for me in my personal and professional life. Afterwards some of them came up and asked me questions.
“I was blown away how impressive our student-athletes are. This is what The Campaign for Fearless Champions is all about — developing leaders who will go into the professional world and represent Texas Tech at the very highest levels of whatever career path they take,” said Culp.
Defensive lineman Talor Nunez feels the support and improvements every day.
“It’s a night and day difference from my freshman year,” said the fifth-year senior, adding, “we had good stuff when I got here, but now it’s tremendous. We have what we need to win championships.”
He’s specifically grateful for his scholarship and the nutrition program.
Nunez got married on May 27, will graduate with an engineering degree and wants to pursue an MBA. Because of philanthropy and student-athlete scholarship endowments, he can focus on making a living for his family and not have to worry about college loans, he said.
And the nutrition program helps his pocketbook.
“I need 5,000 calories a day,” he said – and not all of it has to come out of his budget.
“I’m thankful for every person who gives money – whether it’s a couple of hundred or some people who give millions. It’s tremendous to have fans who care about Texas Tech. I’ve seen so much change and I can’t thank people enough.”
‘We feel the community support’
Kittley and JoJo Robertson, women’s golf coach, are pleased to see how the campaign is impacting all 17 sports at Texas Tech, making a difference for every student-athlete.
“I’m very humbled and proud,” said Kittley, “not many would give credence to the track and field program. Kirby, President Schovanec, [Senior Associate Athletics Director for Development] Andrea Tirey – everybody was for everybody.”
Robertson added, “We see the benefits all the way down to us…We feel the community support. There are so many people who support us, and we see this at the golf course. People will do anything to support Texas Tech.”
The support was not a surprise to Robertson, but, like Kingsbury, she was impressed with how quickly it happened.
It starts at the top
“Kirby has done such a great job,” said Robertson.
“I see the passion Kirby has for Texas Tech and athletics and everybody in athletics sees that he’s willing to do these things and make Texas Tech better. He’s done that through this campaign.”
When asked whose idea The Campaign for Fearless Champions was, Hocutt hesitates to say it was his idea — even if it was.
“My responsibility is to move the ball forward and it’s a team effort,” he said.
Then he changes the focus to the thousands of people who are investing in the campaign.
“We’re so fortunate to have the generous support from so many — people who have continued to put this athletic department on their shoulders to allow us to dream, build and aspire to be the best athletics department in the country,” he said.