On this week’s Big 12 coaches’ teleconference, the first question asked of Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury was this: “Who the heck is Nic Shimonek?”
Coach Double K chuckled before answering.
“He’s a quarterback who has been here about three years, transferred from Iowa,” Kingsbury said. “One of the hardest workers on our team. Competes every day on the practice field, in the weight room.”
That’s the “bio version.” Shimonek could well be the starter when the Red Raiders play at Kansas State Saturday. Junior Patrick Mahomes suffered a shoulder injury (reported as an AC joint sprain in his right shoulder) in last Thursday’s victory over Kansas.
Shimonek, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior, came off the bench to complete 15-of-21 for 271 yards and four touchdowns. In 29 snaps, the offense averaged 9.6 yards per play, and he hooked up with seven different receivers.
Not bad for a “who’s he?”
“I was excited to see him get his opportunity,” Kingsbury said. “I get to see him execute at a high level every day in practice. It was fun for me to see him do it under the lights. I know how good he is, but it was good for his teammates, the other coaches, the fans to see what he can do.”
After redshirting as a freshman at Iowa in 2013, Shimonek decided to transfer. He had been a record-setting QB at Mildred High School in Corsicana, Texas, and the lure to return to the Lone Star state was strong. Also, Texas Tech’s quarterback-friendly offense was a factor.
“He just wanted to get back closer to home and I think he wanted to play in a system that fit him,” Kingsbury said. “He’s kind of a gunslinger. He can get the ball out quick, he’s very cerebral. He saw this was a good fit for his skills. He’s made the most of it. He earned every bit of getting here and getting a scholarship.”
Shimonek was a walk on at first and his arrival to Lubbock in the summer of 2014 was reminiscent of the scene from “Remember The Titans” when Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass showed up. Shimonek has a style all his own, from his haircut to wearing cut-off sweatpants and hoodies to what he describes as some “wild shoes.”
“Nic’s a free spirit,” Kingsbury said. “He’s kind of his own cat, dresses a certain way and wears his hair a certain way and has got his tattoos and everything.”
While his throwing arm is all business, his left arm bears a large tattoo. He and his older brother Jake decided to brother-bond with matching tats in January of 2014.
“Just being who I am,” Shimonek said. “I’m not a big fan of caring what other people have to say about me. If you’ve got something good to say about me, good. I appreciate it. If you’ve got something bad to say, I appreciate that, too.
“It doesn’t really matter to me. That kind of goes with my personality in general. I’m always relaxed.”
Preparation breeds confidence which breeds relaxation. If Shimonek is destined to replace Mahomes for several games, don’t expect a drop-off in performance. He’s being coached by Kingsbury, The Quarterback Whisperer.
In 2013, Kingsbury’s first season, three quarterbacks took snaps. All ended up transferring and starting for different programs.
When Kingsbury arrived, Michael Brewer was the most experienced, but he was sidelined with an injury and attempted only 10 passes, then transferred to Virginia Tech where he started for two seasons. Freshmen Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb each played in 2013. Mayfield left after the season for Oklahoma and led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff. Webb stayed two more seasons, graduated and transferred to Cal, where he is this season’s starter.
The nation’s top three quarterbacks in passing yards this season are Cal’s Webb (2,143 yards), TCU’s Kenny Hill (1,936) and Texas Tech’s Mahomes (1,770). Kingsbury recruited all three (Hill when Kingsbury was at Texas A&M helping Johnny Manziel win the Heisman Trophy).
“He just speaks their language more than anything,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said of Kingsbury.
“There are great Xs and Os guys who don’t speak the same language as the quarterbacks. Kliff’s always been that guy. He gets his quarterbacks to be confident.”
Shimonek became the fourth quarterback to gain significant time in a meaningful game during Kingsbury’s 42-game tenure. Those four QBs have completed 63.2 percent of their passes for 131 touchdowns and averaged 360 yards per game.
The challenge for most coaching staffs is keeping the backup engaged and prepared.
“The whole key is making sure they get an ample amount of reps and believing in them,” Kingsbury said. “You make sure Nic understands the game plan as well as Patrick and get Nic as many reps as possible in practice. We rep a bunch of plays and Nic has worked hard taking advantage of it.”
While his summons against Kansas was surprising, if Shimonek makes his first career start against Kansas State and its fourth-ranked defense, it’s all the same to him with more than a week of preparation.
“One of our sayings here,” Shimonek said, “is to stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready.”