In the past few months:
- A national championship for men's track and field.
- An overtime loss for men's basketball on one of the biggest college sports stages in the national title game.
- Baseball's fourth trip in six years to the College World Series where, this time, they made it to the final four.
"Raider Power is no longer just a school chant," Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesmen recently wrote. Think about that for a moment – an Austin-based writer showering praise on the Red Raiders. Is it the coaching? Better recruiting? Growing a culture of winning the right way and developing Fearless Champions on the field and off? It's all the above and more – with Tech Texas Athletics on the brink of improving its nutrition program even more when the standalone Cash Family Sports Nutrition Center opens next year to serve all athletes.
Norman Grimes chatted about nutrition and how much it contributes to his performance, a few days after his second-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA Championships inched the Red Raiders closer to what had been an elusive national title.
"It makes up a majority – we are what we eat. Nutrition is an important part of my performance – but I didn't know how important," said the sophomore from Amarillo.
Dayna McCutchin, director of sports nutrition said the new center – under construction just west of the Frazier Alumni Pavilion – will have its own kitchen, which makes a massive difference.
"Food will be prepared on site," said McCutchin, no longer catered into the alumni pavilion. "We'll have fresher food, much better quality and explode the options."
This will help athletes even more fit their performance needs through fueling their bodies if their specific need is weight management, weight gain or weight control.
"It's going to allow us to provide a much greater service to our student athletes compared to what we're currently doing," said Kirby Hocutt, director of athletics.
And it's happening because the Cashes – once again – have stepped up through the DonKay-Clay Cash Family Foundation.
"They have done so much for Texas Tech University, Texas Tech Athletics and have invested in so many ways," said Hocutt.
"I've had the opportunity to get to know the family members over the past eight years and nutrition is a big part of what they believe in. We've had long discussions about the importance of nutrition in our daily lives – especially the younger generations and how that impacts student athletes," said Hocutt.
Andrea Tirey, senior associate athletics director for development, said the Cash family investment is part of the bigger picture driving sports success.
"We talk a lot at Texas Tech about having elite programs — programs that regularly compete for championships. The momentum we've seen has come because of investments — in facilities, in scholarships and in development for our student athletes. Gifts to The Campaign for Fearless Champions and the Red Raider Club annual fund have made these kinds of strategic investments possible," she said.
"We are grateful for all of our donors and fans at every level whose support are getting us to this elite level," she said.
A Center Designed for Athletes
Wes Kittley, who just guided his track team to the first men's team title in school history, calls the new center a "game changer."
"We've been sharing a facility. This will be bigger and all teams can be there at the same time," he said.
The coach mentioned how foods will be labeled with different colors so athletes will easier know what's good and bad for them.
"Nutritionists will be there every day," he said. "And it's going to help us in recruiting – for all our teams."
"I love for our staff to look a parent in the eye and say we'll be able to give their student the best nutrition and take care of them," she said. She gave more details about the center.
"Athletes can custom order and have their food freshly prepared to meet their specific needs and requests," said McCutchin. "Athletes can better follow our recommendations for their nutrition plan based on their body composition," she said.
There will be a hot grill line, they'll be able to rotate more items and partner with different vendors, she said.
Hocutt added: "We'll be able to control how much food is prepared each day. If there's a popular item and now we run out, we can't replenish it." Once the center opens, they could make more of a popular item.
There will also be a demo kitchen equipped with what the athletes would have in a normal student apartment, said McCutchin.
They'll be able to watch how food is prepared, cook alongside a chef and learn a life skill beyond what they need during their athletic career. McCutchin said her team has discussed bringing in local chefs and doing cooking competitions, too.
The facility will have a sports bar theme with a sound system.
"It will be theirs," said McCutchin, a place where athletes can feel at home.
Since she joined Texas Tech Athletics in 2013, McCutchin said nutrition "buy in" has been huge from athletes, coaches and staff.
"Good coaches and good recruiting are going to win ballgames, but anything we can do to help – sports nutrition is playing a big role," she said.
"Coach (Chris) Beard is constantly stressing recovery and eating right at practices," she said about the men's basketball coach. "He was making sure athletes were trying asparagus and asking about their weight. Women's basketball is the same way."
Her team's work with softball shows how they help athletes during road trips.
"Coach (Adrian) Gregory is huge on nutrition – feeding the girls the right things at the right times and packing for trips to eat healthy things," she said.
McCutchin said her staff helps softball players on what to choose on road trips they'll like and makes sense nutritionally.
Another Red Raider who has seen nutrition make a difference in his performance, said McCutchin, is baseball's Josh Jung, who was recently taken eighth by the Texas Rangers in the Major League Baseball draft.
Earlier this year when McCutchin was on maternity leave, jumper Charles Brown came by before the Texas Relays to discuss the challenges of eating on the road and in between events.
"He met my baby and then went on to set a PR," she said.
McCutchin pitched Hocutt on creating a nutrition program at her alma mater and the timing was right, he said as the NCAA was changing what a school could do to help athletes.
"Dayna was following the national discussion and anticipating this was an area about to be deregulated by the NCAA and an area that could make a difference. She was very aggressive and persistent proposing enhancements we could do nutritionally.
"Dayna's a Red Raider, she's a West Texan and she wants this program to be successful as much as anything," he said.
Hocutt said Athletics needs to look at every incremental advantage because there is such a thin separation and margin for difference for athletic programs and athletes at the major college level.
"Nutrition, strength and conditioning, sleep – those are so important to find that incremental advantage. So we've strategically invested into the nutritional program to the maximum levels the NCAA has allowed," he said.
"And when you talk to the student athletes – it's a cliche – but the proof's in the pudding when you hear the impact it's made in their performance and lives. It's important not only for their competitive lives here, but it's a lifelong habit and education for them," Hocutt said.
"You think about (basketball senior) Norense Odiase and he transformed his physique during his time here and it's a critical element for us and an area we'll continue to invest in," he said.
McCutchin credits Hocutt and Texas Tech administration with providing "enough people on the ground to do it the right way."
And others are noticing.
"New programs call and say ‘we don't have what you have, please give us examples of what you're doing," said McCutchin. "It says a lot to what Kirby and the administration have done." Grimes is a big believer, pointing out the fueling station in the Sports Performance Center as an example of the investment the university has made.
"And it definitely paid off last week," he said of the national title captured in early June.
"The convenience of the fueling station really benefits us. It separates us from other programs. And Dayna's always available to answer questions we have," he said.
Grimes explained he's a "weight-gain" athlete and his nutrition plan replenishes what his body loses after a hard workout and helps him get stronger.
Kittley said so much has changed since he arrived in Lubbock 20 years ago.
"We didn't have anything. But the last five years it's been full force. People around the country are putting money into nutrition programs and Texas Tech is second to none," he said.
"Kids are raised in a McDonald's society where food is quick and microwaved. We eat terrible – all of us," Kittley said.
"It's made kids stop, get educated and learn what good fuel does for your body. They realize their performance gets better, their skin gets better – they feel the difference and know how it scientifically helps with performances," he said.
Kittley then mentioned Nigerian sprinter Divine Oduduru – who won both the 100 and 200 meter races to help the Red Raiders capture the recent track title.
"He comes from a country where there is malnutrition. He's gotten great coaching from Coach (Calvin) Robinson, but the nutrition to fuel his body in a consistent way has been invaluable," said Kittley.
Continued Investment in Texas Tech
Clay Cash, said his family loves that the center impacts every single athlete.
"We love Texas Tech and Athletics because of the visibility sports success brings the entire university," said Cash.
Hocutt outlined other investments they've made.
"They've invested in the future of this athletic department and continue to give impactful gifts each year. They have given to facilities at the Rawls Course, ticket office, Sports Performance Center as well as invested in the Leadership Academy … and it seems like nutrition has always been a part of our conversations," said Hocutt.
"Like how important it is for golfers who walk 18 or 36 holes of golf a day, or leadership development and preparing these young people for success after college. So when we decided we wanted to build a standalone dining facility for our student athletes, it was in alignment with so many of our conversations with Don, Kay, Ashley and Clay and something they passionately believed in," he said.
Kittley echoed his director of athletics.
"We are so fortunate to be at a university where so many people – especially the Cashes on this projects and others – invest in us and believe in us. And they know they had a part in our success," he said.