Maybe the first star of the Texas Tech football program was a Kingsville high product who could score from anywhere on the field. Bobby Cavazos grew up on the King Ranch, over 800,000 acres covering South Texas where his dad was the ranch's first Mexican American foreman and did everything from fighting bandits to helping develop the first American breed of cattle.
In high school the younger Cavazos was a multisport star for Kingsville High, leading the Brahmas in football, basketball, and track. He earned All-South Texas football recognition, All-District merit in basketball, and participated in the Border Olympics in track. Cavazos also rodeoed, and all the while worked with his dad on the ranch. After high school, Cavazos spent one season at Tarleton College where he was the third leading scorer in the Southwest Junior College Conference, after one season in Stephenville, he followed the lead of his older brothers and headed to Tech.
Older brother Richard was the first Mexican American to don a Red Raider uniform, distinguishing himself in 1949 and 1950 on the field. Getting on the field was a different matter, the team’s equipment manager, apparently surprised that a “Mexican” wanted to play football, refused to issue him a uniform until the coach told him to. If Richard Cavazos opened the door for a Hispanic player at Texas, Bobby Cavazos kicked it in.
At Tech Cavazos played for DeWitt Weaver and the Red Raiders. Weaver led the Tech to three conference titles in four seasons. Back then Tech played in the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association with the likes of Hardin Simmons, Texas Western, Arizona, Arizona State, West Texas A&M, and New Mexico State.
In his first start for Weaver's Red Raiders Cavazos ran for 103 yards in a loss to Houston. He followed that up with 100-yard performances against SWC members TCU and Baylor. Cavazos earned honorable mention All-American recognition and All-BIAA merit every year of his collegiate career. In 1951 the Red Raiders finished 7-4, won the BIAA and beat Pacific in the Sun Bowl, the school's first-ever postseason win.
Building on the success of 1951, Tech added 13,000 temporary seats to Jones Stadium in the hopes of drawing the attention of the SWC. The Red Raiders high hopes were dashed as the Raiders were snake bit in 1952 season as Tech sliding to 3-7-1. Cavazos rushed for over 600 yards at 5 yards a carry and ten touchdowns to lead the Red Raiders in both categories and gain All-BIAA recognition.
His best season was his last in Lubbock as the Red Raider football team reached unprecedented heights and finally draw the attention of the juggernaut Southwest Conference. Before gridiron success, Cavazos went to infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia for six weeks. Imagine an All-Conference player taking six weeks off in the summer to train for military service. It was a different time.
The secret of Cavazos was out in 1953 with every Tech opponent employing special measures to shut down the running back. West Texas A&M and Texas Western did a good job containing Cavazos in the first two games, the rest of Tech's opponents weren't so fortunate as the Red Raiders finished 11-1 with the lone loss coming to Texas A&M.
Tech earned an invite to the Gator Bowl against Ralph Jordan's Auburn squad. Tech's high flying offense carried the Red Raiders who finished second in the nation in scoring.
Tech made short work of the Tigers, winning 35-13. Cavazos was named the game's Most Outstanding Player after running for 141 yards and three scores. Cavazos finished the season among the NCAA leaders in scoring and earned second-team All-America honors. Tech ended the season ranked 12th in the final AP poll. While his production was equal or better than the elite players in college football, Cavazos suffered through the stigma that Texas Tech was playing in a second-tier league.
Those Red Raider teams of the mid-fifties helped legitimize the University's athletic programs and helped Tech gain entry into the Southwest Conference. Cavazos, by then considered the best back in Tech history, was essential to the school's aspirations.
The Chicago Cardinals drafted Cavazos in the third round of the 1954 amateur draft, but a shoulder injury prevented him from continuing his football career. Instead, Cavazos joined the Army and served in Korea before returning to King Ranch to work with his father. He went on to write two books based on the history of the King Ranch from the Tejano perspective. He worked on the ranch for over 40 years.
Texas Tech inducted Cavazos into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 1968. Last fall he was announced as a member of the 2018 Texas High School Football Hall of Fame Class.
The other Cavazos kids left their marks as well. Brother Lauro Cavazos became the first and only Hispanic President of Texas Tech. He also served as Secretary of Education in the United States, serving under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. After Richard's playing days he made history as the first Hispanic four-star general in the United States Army, serving in Korea and Vietnam.