Walk-on Torres blossoms as another key Tech receiver

May, 14, 2009
5/14/09
7:58
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Football careers can sometimes turn on a fortunate break.

 
  Michael Strong Photography
  Alex Torres has some big shoes to fill in taking over Michael Crabtree's flanker position.

Texas Tech walk-on wide receiver Alex Torres knows all about that, as his opportunity to play with the Red Raiders was boosted by a break that proved to be more literal than figurative.

Specifically, a broken hand that Torres sustained while in basic training to join the Air Force Academy two summers ago snuffed out any hopes he had of joining the Falcons.

But when that dream ended another one materialized. After sitting out of football for a year, Torres has walked on with the Red Raiders, sending him from a program that ranks among the least friendly for wide receivers to one of the nation's most prolific aerial teams.

In the mindset of a receiver, it was like going from a barren desert to a rain forest.

"There's a huge difference in the programs," Torres said. "It's a receiver's dream to play at this school. I'm very excited and happy how it all turned out. I couldn't feel more fortunate."

Torres has made the most of his opportunity as a walk-on with the Red Raiders this spring, emerging from relative obscurity before spring practice to claiming a starting job on Tech's depth chart after spring practice ended.

In the process, Torres has been inserted at the flanker position formerly manned by two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree, who left school after two years to become the recent No. 1 draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers.

Replacing Crabtree is only a part of the massive renovation of Tech's offense that coach Mike Leach is facing this season. New quarterback Taylor Potts has replaced record-breaking three-year starter Graham Harrell. Also gone is productive underrated wide receiver Eric Morris.

"It's rough losing the players we lost, but at the same time we've got some guys who have been working here with some great coaching to get ready for the chances," Torres said. "We've been working hard. We might not have a standout like Crabtree or Eric, but we have guys who are focusing on doing what they need to do to become key receivers."

Tech coaches like the physical nature of the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Torres and his willingness to play hard on every snap.

But his growth has been particularly noticeable comparing him now to the player he was when he arrived at Tech last fall.

"He has superior intelligence and work ethic and he probably catches the fade route as well as anybody we have," Leach said. "And the thing about him is that his development has come the old-fashioned way with a lot of hard work. He may not be the best at making a superior play, but he never passes anything up when he's out there. He just works very hard."

Such an opportunity wasn't a consideration only a couple of years ago when Torres' career appeared to be at a crossroads after an injury the summer before he was expecting to join Air Force's team after a year at the academy's prep school.

While taking part in basic training exercises -- a requirement for any potential Air Force football player -- Torres was hurt while making an early morning training run. He tripped on a log he didn't see, fell and fractured a hand that had already been broken once before in football.

After that injury, Torres was unable to practice for football and was sent back home to El Paso.

While Air Force coaches told him to wait for his opportunity, Torres became impatient. He worked as a server at the Red Lobster, but hoped for a chance to play football again somewhere.

"I guess I never thought it was over," Torres said. "I never gave up on what I had dreamed about. I wanted to find out if I could play somewhere if I just got a chance."

That opportunity materialized at Tech, where coaches were impressed after watching some of Torres' high school films. He snagged 73 catches as a junior at Franklin High School in El Paso, but switched to quarterback as a senior as he took his team to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.

After arriving as a walk-on receiver last season, Torres showed early that he could play for the Red Raider from his earliest practices.

"I was glad I was able to have a chance," Torres said. "But I knew I had a lot of work to do. I knew I had to put more time in than anybody else just to get noticed. I just went back to working out really hard."

After practices, Torres beseeched any quarterback or manager willing to stay late to keep throwing to him after practice. That work ethic showed something to Tech coaches, who noticed him from the beginning.

"You could tell he had something when we started coming out," Leach said. "But being a walk-on, you couldn't devote a lot of time him because of the guys in front of him. But he's kept working and getting better and the result is what you've seen so far."

Torres showed that production at Tech's first scrimmage this spring when he snagged a couple of touchdowns. Even a nasty cut on his mouth later in spring practice couldn't deter him from getting back after missing only a day of practice.

"I had been through too much to let something like that stop me," Torres said. "I've learned that adversity is something I've just got to deal with. I just kept playing."

That determination and his talent enabled him to blossom as one of Tech's biggest spring surprises.

"We make dreams come true around here if somebody is willing to work hard to make it happen," Leach said. "We were blessed when Torres came to our team and he's made the most of his opportunity as it's happened."

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