Blazing Their Own Trail
It was a moment I won’t forget. Why, I’m not completely sure. It took place at a College Station Subway, as innocuous as that is. My Texas Aggies had just been lit up by a relatively pedestrian Missouri team at home in early October of 2010 to drop A&M to 3-3 with the appearance of going nowhere fast.
Grabbing a quick bite with a fellow season ticket holder and colleague, we had to hightail it back to Dallas for work that evening. I looked across the table at him, sighed and said, “Dude, where the heck is this program going? I can’t even see a flicker of hope.”
Since that moment, the Aggie roller coaster has been a ride of unbelievable highs, several blown-lead lows, and a transformation of change no one could have seen coming.
I joked with that same friend the other day, “What if we could have hopped into Doc Brown’s DeLorean that day in 2010 to be transported to the 50-yard line of Kyle Field during pre-game of Saturday’s contest vs. Ball State five years later?” The rules – we’d get literally one minute of time to stand there, look around and simply observe. We’d see an unbelievable stadium of pure beauty, an SEC logo on the field, a 2012 Heisman Trophy highlight of some kid named Johnny on the big screen, our 2002 offensive coordinator as head coach, and a roster stocked with some of the best young talent in the nation.
Then the DeLorean would take us back to 2010 with only the memory of what we just saw with our eyes. We wouldn’t have believed what we had seen.
Such is what can happen in a short span of five years. And a little vision.
The move to the SEC by the Aggies was scoffed by many, most of whom had zero vision, in my opinion. Sure, the Ags had been mediocre for the better part of a decade when the talks began, but the hiring of Dennis Franchione in 2003 was an error of monumental proportions that literally set this program back. Mike Sherman came along in 2008 and did some fantastic things on the recruiting trail, but was his own worst enemy on game days with some of the worst play-calling I have ever seen. Those that think football programs don’t run in cycles have not been paying attention.
Enter the Aggie trifecta in 2012: Kevin Sumlin, Johnny Manziel and the SEC.
Each has had a huge role in the Aggies’ resurgence. Sumlin was the perfect fit at the right time, leading A&M into the new league with the right attitude and focus on the big picture. Bottom line – he wanted to be in the SEC (unlike Sherman) and knew he could build a program that could be competitive in it. And Sumlin has embraced the recruiting advantage of being the only SEC team in Texas. Manziel expedited the process on the field, offsetting much of the needed roster depth that needed to be built and leading the Aggies to a fantastic inaugural season in the SEC.
Manziel is gone now, but his value continues to resonate. He put A&M on the map for many recruits and the Aggies are still impacted by the momentum he jumpstarted. Manziel has also been replaced in the “trifecta” by a new lynchpin in John Chavis – one of the best defensive coordinators in the game with a championship pedigree. His impact was seen immediately in the season-opening win over Arizona State in which the defense got nine sacks.
This new Kyle Field would never have happened without the move to the SEC. In fact, there were talks of downsizing Kyle to a capacity of about 72,000 before the conference change occurred. The stadium was in much need of a renovation one way or another, and the SEC move resulted in Aggies (including me) forking over some serious dough to create a home field worthy of a top-tier program.
That’s what A&M is, though some still like to live in the past when the Aggies were afterthoughts in the Big 12. That’s what the move to the SEC was all about. It wasn’t to get away from Texas. It wasn’t because of the Longhorn Network. It was about stepping up and creating their own brand and identity. The Aggies finally changed their mindset and decided to lead instead of follow.
Believe whatever you want; it’s not going to stop Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall from terrorizing quarterbacks this fall. They’re just two examples of where the Aggies are now and where they are headed.
It all makes me wish I could jump into that DeLorean and go forward another five years and see where A&M is in 2020. On second thought, nah, I’d rather ride this out and witness it all as it happens. Lunches at Subway with my buddy will surely feature much more fun conversation.