By Meredith Hillgartner
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
It was the ideal day for football. The Lubbock sunset was falling upon Jones AT&T Stadium while the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Texas A&M Aggies took the field for the final time as Big 12 conference companions.
The crowd was deafening, suited up in their ‘blackout' t-shirts, they gathered in clusters into the bleachers, ready to do their part for their team. The cheers were so passionate and full of sincerity that even the most lackluster fan would get goose bumps.
While the story of the game is legend enough, the story of one player precedes it.
Eric Stephens made a name for himself on Saturday night.
Fox commentator for the game, Charles David, said it best.
"He can block, he can run, he can catch...this kid does it all."
The junior running back from Mansfield was waiting for this game and couldn't have come in any more prepared.
"It's a big deal every year," Stephens said. "It's a game we circle on the calendar. We try to win."
Stephens has rushed for 570 yards this season, averaging over 90+ yards in six consecutive games.
Head coach Tommy Tuberville said last year as Baron Bathch's backup, Stephens struggled more in his position.
"He wasn't quite as aggressive," Tuberville said. "Last year I thought it really hurt his confidence in his game when he dropped that ball at the one-foot line. That's hard to get over when you are a young guy, not a starter. You kind of feel like you let your team down a little bit by giving away seven points early in the game."
Since then Stephens has progressed into an all-around player, and Tuberville has noticed the changes.
"He has bounced back," Tuberville said. "He's a little bit faster and he is a lot more durable. He can take a lick. He is doing a good job with vision. In this offense, as in any of the spread offenses, the hole might be designed here, but it might end up on the other side, and he does a good job of that. Plus, he is catching the ball well."
Besides being a good player Stephens has proven himself to be a real leader of the team.
Stephens said he has taken over the role as a kind of mentor for the team, especially the running backs, saying it's not just about one person but the team as a whole.
"It's not just important to me it's important to the success of the team because we have a lot of young guys playing," Stephens said. "It's a machine, one part's off and it doesn't work."
Stephens takes his role seriously, modeling himself after another Red Raider, one who made a significant impact on him early on.
"Baron [Batch] mentored me and taught me how to play and I'm just trying to do the same for the younger guys," Stephens said. "Baron did a great job of guiding me, being a big mentor to me for the last few years."
Now out of the shadow of Batch, it looked like Stephens was going to have a stellar season, setting records and building his confidence until the end of the third quarter on Saturday.
On a first and goal while attempting to catch a pass from junior quarterback Seth Doege, Stephens was taken down by A&M defensive lineman Damontre Moore.
Stephens was hit in the knee on a late tackle and by the reaction from the referees on the sideline, it wasn't good. He was carted off the field throwing the traditional ‘guns up' sign in the air on the way out.
Texas Tech announced Tuesday that Stephens will be unable to play for the remainder of the season due to the dislocation of his left knee.
Despite the injury Stephens will press on towards his ultimate goal as a football player at Tech.
"I want to leave a legacy," Stephens said. "I want everyone to remember me when I'm gone."