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Tom Fox/Staff Photographer Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek throws during passing drills with the team in Lubbock, Texas, Wednesday, August 2, 2017. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)
LUBBOCK — To be sure, small-town Texas kid Nic Shimonek didn’t find his field of dreams in Iowa.
After starting at quarterback all four seasons at tiny Mildred High School, just southeast of Corsicana, he was forced to sit out what was supposed to be his freshman season at the University of Iowa in 2013 because the Hawkeyes already had their fill of experienced quarterbacks more familiar with their offensive system.
No big deal. Happens all the time in college football.
But when Shimonek saw no way out of his non-playing predicament before the next season, he decided to transfer during the summer of 2014.
His timing could have been better.
Few schools had scholarships available so close to the start of a season. The few that did, he had no interest in attending.
And so Shimonek gave up free tuition, room and board at Iowa to walk-on and pay for the privilege of trying to impress the coaching staff at Texas Tech.
When his parents learned that the youngest of their two sons was going to pay to try to play they were “shocked” and “nervous,” Shimonek’s mother, Tresa, said.
Turns out, by the way, that Nic was so intent on getting a free ride in college, he decided to attend Iowa because it was the first school to offer a scholarship. He couldn’t pass up on the opportunity of an all-expense paid college education, he said. What if no other school came along with a similar offer?
Of course, NCAA transfer rules meant he would have to follow his idle 2013 season by sitting out the 2014 season as well. And, as Tresa Shimonek pointed out, there was no guarantee Tech would offer him a scholarship for 2015 and beyond.
Then there was the matter of another aspiring Tech quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes would prove a nightmare for opposing defenses as well as any teammate who thought he might play quarterback in Lubbock.
Mahomes became a starter nine games into his true freshman season after Davis Webb suffered an ankle injury in 2014. Meanwhile, Shimonek sat and watched. Mahomes was destined to start at Tech as a sophomore in 2015 and then again in 2016. Shimonek suited up and then he sat and watched some more.
Instead of being boxed out by two young, but slightly more advanced quarterbacks as he had been at Iowa, Shimonek’s roadblock on the High Plains was an immovable do-it-all future No. 1 pick by the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in the 2017 draft.
But Shimonek was determined to make Tech his college football home. It was close enough to Mildred. Kayla Wilkie, his high school girlfriend, was already enrolled. And there was the added incentive of learning from Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, whose reputation as a quarterback whisperer seemed to be gaining momentum by the snap.
Now at long last, Shimonek’s road to starting as a college quarterback appears to be on the verge of a happy ending. There is still the matter of the fifth-year senior producing once the Red Raiders’ season begins.
After two seasons in which he didn’t suit up and two more riding the Tech bench, Kingsbury’s pass-happy offense is in his hands.
Shiminek’s college football eligibility expires at season’s end.
There’s nothing like waiting for its last 720 minutes.
“I have one season to do this,” Shimonek said in the wake of an early morning team meeting earlier this month. “I want to win games here. I want to play well enough to get drafted and go to the NFL.
“I’ve waited for this chance longer than most,” he said. “I know I can do it. I ask myself everyday, ‘Why not me?'”
While still playing at Class 2A Mildred, Nic Shimonek worked to help make ends meet. He had to, he said. Money was tight.
His father, Kenny, worked in an auto paint and body shop. His mother, Tresa, started her own small business out of a design studio in Corsicana. She sold flooring, wallpaper and furniture.
“We are a blue-collar family all the way,” Shimonek said. “There were no handouts.”
Rather than earn his keep by joining his father in inhaling intense fumes and contorting his body every which way to get paint jobs and bodywork done, Nick chose to help at his mother’s business. Kenny has since moved to less strenuous work at an iron foundry and supplements his income with a landscaping business. He starts most workdays before sunrise and ends them after sunset.
To alleviate the pressing issue of dollars and cents in Lubbock, Shimonek and Wilkie called on the skills they both learned while working for Tresa. They started a furniture restoration business.
“I had to earn enough money to take some stress off of my parents,” Shimonek said.
Boyfriend and girlfriend rented space in a boutique mall and christened their burgeoning endeavor, “Southern Pearl.”
Turned out they did quality work. Business was brisk.
“We earned enough money to help with bills,” Shimonek said. “We earned enough to have to pay taxes. But the best part was, I learned so much more about myself. I learned how to negotiate, how to interact with people and I learned the importance of time management.”
But it was for a good reason that Shimonek and Wilkie closed down their business in May 2016. There was no time for a major college quarterback, albeit a backup, to prepare to play and run a business.
“I had to start preparing last season like I was a starter,” Shimonek said. “Football is a violent sport and anything can happen at any time. And as tough as Pat was, and as invincible as he seemed, I had to be prepared.”
Last season, a prepared Shimonek played in four games for the Red Raiders. Most of his action came in blowout victories over Stephen F. Austin and Kansas. He finished with 38 completions in 58 passing attempts for 464 yards. He threw for six touchdowns and suffered one interception.
In 2017, he will be the engineer in the Tech offense.
Tough acts to follow
The last four quarterbacks to start in a Kliff Kingsbury offense have been:
Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, when Kingsbury was the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M.
Baker Mayfield, who ultimately found success after transferring to Oklahoma where he was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season and is a strong candidate to win the award this season.
Davis Webb, who transferred out from under Mahomes at Tech and found a home at Cal-Berkley, where he earned his way to the NFL as a third-round draft pick of the New York Jets in 2017.
And the aforementioned Mahomes, who passed for 11,252 yards and 93 touchdowns while rushing for 22 more. He was the 10th overall pick in that 2017 draft.
Which brings the eyes of the Tech faithful to the man who will be Kingsbury’s fifth.
In Shimonek, they have a 6-3, 210-pound quarterback who is 22 years old and still has no college skins on the wall. He is not quite as sexy as the dual threat Mahomes proved to be. He is expected to have to rely more on his arm.
Kingsbury reiterated at Big 12 Media Day that he believes Shimonek is a worthy successor in his assembly line of successful quarterbacks.
“He’s a tough young man, hardest worker on our team, studies the game inside and out,” Kingsbury said. “He’s a bright kid. I expect him to play at a very high level. I expect him to be competitive.”
While Shimonek understands he is not the second coming of Mahomes, that is the standard by which he will be judged.
“I’m more of a blue-collar guy who has to work hard for everything I have accomplished on the field,” he said. “I’m playing this season with a chip on my shoulder for having to sit so long. I know other people want my job here. But I’ve worked so hard to get where I finally am. I’m not going to let anyone take it away.”
Texas Tech has had one of the nation’s top passing attacks in all four seasons of the Kliff Kingsbury era. Can it continue with former walk-on Nic Shimonek in 2017?
Season Passing yards per game National rank 2016 463.0 1st 2015 388.2 2nd 2014 351.1 5th 2013 392.8 2nd
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