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The Education of Pete Robertson

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The former high school quarterback has, fairly or unfairly, been the unofficial poster-boy for the much maligned Red Raider defense this season. His improved play in the last three games has been striking, and bodes well for the future.

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

By all accounts Mike Smith was a stand-out athlete growing up in Lubbock. He is a member of the 2014 class inducted into the Lubbock Independent School District Hall of Honor, and his accomplishments at Coronado High School are impressive indeed:

Mike Smith was a two-sport athlete in both baseball and football at Coronado High School from 1997-2000. He was the first person to be named All-State in two sports at Coronado. He was a two-time All-District Player, and in 1999 was named Defensive Player of the Year in the district. In addition to district honors, he also made the All-State Football team in 1999.

He played varsity baseball from 1998-2000, and was named District 3-5A player of the year in both 1999 and 2000. THSBCA named him an All-State player in 1999 and 2000 as well. In 1999, Smith set a Coronado record for most runs scored (47) and most hits (56), a record that stood until 2011. He was the MVP for the Texas Team in the Senior Sunbelt Classic in 2000. He remains in the top 10 for career batting average at Coronado (.459).

But the work that the man whom Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine conferred the much desired "it factor" upon (as in: that guy has the "it factor"; that taco definitely has the "it factor", etc.) could possibly eclipse his efforts as a player.

Since taking over as Tech's defensive coordinator after Matt Wallerstedt resigned on September 18th, Smith's coaching effort has earned him praise. And while not a complete turn around as of yet (the defense has yielded an average of 37 points per game with Smith at the helm) his impact on the play of one player in particular stands out.

Pete Robertson came to Tech as an "athlete" after playing quarterback at Longview High School. In his first year he was converted to safety, then later defensive end and now mans the "bandit" outside linebacker position. For the most part his career as a Red Raider has been more sizzle than steak and he has received ample criticism from me and others for his play early in the season while Texas Tech got off to a surprisingly shaky start.

But his turnaround since Smith became D.C. has been one of the season's most pleasant surprises. In a league peppered with defensive stand-outs like Oklahoma's Eric Striker, Baylor's Shawn Oakman and Kansas State's Ryan Mueller, Robertson leads the conference in sacks at the halfway point of the season. What's more impressive is that all but one of those sacks has been in the last four games. Via cfbstats.com:

Robertson sacks

What's possibly even more promising was Robertson's reaction after the game when asked about the sacks. "I'm just doing my assignment," Robertson said. "A sack is good, but I don't really set my mind on that during the game. I just try to help my team out any way to get the win. The sack's fine. It's just at the end of the day I want to win for my team."

That sounds to me like some of that desirable "it factor" is emanating from Smith and by osmosis is rubbing off on his players. Progress will certainly be slow, particularly with some high-octane offenses remaining on the schedule, but the progress is there. Pete Robertson's transformation from feckless leader of an overmatched defense to conference leader in sacks is proof of that.

Robertson and Smith