in 2014, Louisiana Tech made the jump and finished 9-5 after beating Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. To get there, Skip Holtz needed the help of a few key transfers.
When Holtz first arrived in Ruston, he brought in junior college players like Mitchell Bell and Tre Carter on the offensive line as well as defenders like Mitch Villamez, Terrell Pinson, and Tony Johnson. Bell and Carter started most of the last two seasons on the line, while Villamez, Pinson, and Johnson became three of Tech's leading defenders. Another transfer, DeAngelo Brooks, was a fixture inside for two years at defensive tackle.
Johnson started most of the 2014 season at middle linebacker and finished with 69 tackles. Pinson had 57 tackles and almost filled out his year long stat sheet in one game against UTSA. Against the Roadrunners, Pinson intercepted two passes, returned a fumble for a touchdown, and added 7 tackles. Villamez had 53 tackles and 3 sacks at outside linebacker.
In 2014, Holtz brought in graduate transfers Houston Bates and Cody Sokol and those two players helped put the Bulldogs over the top. Bates had 10 sacks on the year, including 4.5 against his former Illinois teammates in the bowl game. Sokol threw for over 3,400 yards and 30 touchdowns to give the offense a major boost.
Now some of these same players get a chance to play in the NFL. Pinson and Bell will get an opportunity to make the team with the Oakland Raiders, while Johnson, Bates, and fellow senior Levander Liggins have a chance to make the Houston Texans.
While Louisiana Tech did not have a player drafted in the 2015 NFL Draft, they did have a total of four players drafted the two years prior. Quinton Patton, Jordan Mills, Justin Ellis, and IK Enemkpali all were selected in either 2013 or 2014.
The Bulldogs have several players coming up that should get them back to being front and center on draft day. Led by Vernon Butler and Kenneth Dixon, LA Tech is set up to have one of their best draft days in several years in 2016.
Now comes the hard part for Holtz and the Bulldogs. In 2013, he signed a few key junior college players to infuse talent into the roster. It worked, but now those players are gone. Holtz signed a majority of high school recruits in 2014 and 2015, so there is a definite youth movement in Ruston. The young guys will be counted on right away to fill the void left by the veteran players that moved on. There will be no junior college help this time around.
Holtz is doing things the right way and it has worked so far.