By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard Willis, a former Texas Tech football player, still makes a contribution to the Red Raiders program - even if it's just five or six times a season.
When Texas Tech plays a road game, it's 48-foot equipment tractor-trailer rig needs to be driven to the destination. Willis, who owns Willis Moving and Storage in Lubbock, is happy to oblige. He became the Red Raiders' designated driver when the school joined the Big 12 Conference.
"Most of the road trips in the Southwest Conference were pretty short and they used a couple of vans," Willis said. "In the Big 12, there are some long road trips - it's 950 miles to Iowa State - and they decided to get their own trailer."
Willis Moving and Storage, a Mayflower franchise in Lubbock, works with James Kinsey, who owns Lubbock Truck Sales, to move the Red Raiders to and fro. Kinsey provides a new Freightliner cab each year while Willis takes care of the trailer. Both are painted black and adorned with Texas Tech logos and football accomplishments. In addition to football, the school band has its own tractor-trailer rig.
"It's a partnership," Willis says of the arrangement with Kinsey. "We take care of all the insurance, the fuel."
The Texas Tech equipment truck is in College Station this weekend for the Red Raiders' game at Texas A&M. Lubbock to College Station isn't an easy drive, particularly when you're behind the feel of a big rig that operates best on Interstate.
Willis' route to Aggie Land involved taking Highway 84 to Abilene and then Interstate 20 east to I-35 South then Highway 6 into College Station.
On long trips, Federal laws limit Willis to driving 10 hours a day before being off for 10 hours. During his time as the driver, Texas Tech has had regular-season road games at Reno, Nev., Raleigh, N.C. and Columbus, Ohio. Those longer trips require extra planning.
Driving a black semi-trailer rig decorated with Texas Tech art work brings plenty of attention.
"People pull up beside me and I wonder if they're going to pass me," Willis said. "They honk, they lean out the windows with 'guns up,' they take pictures - even when they're driving. We stop and get gas, people are always coming up to talk with us.
"When we're at the stadium, before the game a lot of Tech fans want to get their pictures made. If they want, I let him get up in the cab so they can act like they're driving. It's great advertising to Texas Tech, it's a rolling billboard."
When Texas Tech plays at Oklahoma on Nov. 13, Willis expects a longer-than-usual stop at a weigh station outside of Oklahoma City.
"The last time we went to Oklahoma, we pulled in and usually they just check to make sure everything's OK," Willis said. "They asked us to come in and we shot the breeze about the game for about 10 minutes. Then I said, 'Well, I gotta get this stuff on down the road.' They just want to talk a little football.
Willis enjoys his part-time gig, which includes hotel rooms and road game tickets provided by Texas Tech. His wife accompanies him on the road. He and his wife are Texas Tech graduates and die-hard fans through thick and thin.
"I pull rank," Willis said. "It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. It's not work, it's a lot of fun."