Column: New school, old school
Published: Sunday, November 25, 2012
Updated: Sunday, November 25, 2012 23:11
It’s hard not to love the dichotomy of the A&M football team between the new and the old.
The new pieces and the conference stomping grounds of this program have been discussed at length. The Aggies have an all-new coaching staff and their leading passer, rusher, kicker, receiver and kick returner are true redshirt freshmen.
This is the new A&M, right? Out with the old, as they say? Not so fast. If not for the wholesale buy-in from this crop of seniors, the Manziel-Kingsbury-Sumlin show would never have made it off the ground.
These players are Sumlin’s because he has made them his, but remember this roster was recruited by a different staff. Ryan Swope and Christine Michael may be the faces of this class, at least on the offensive side of the ball, and they had a great deal of success in former head coach Mike Sherman’s offenses. The modified air-raid offense Kingsbury adopted sits on the other side of the spectrum from Sherman’s pro-style offense. That’s not an easy transition for a player to make and there isn’t a perfect success rate.
Michael serves as a useful case study in this conversation because he didn’t seem to transition as smoothly as his counterparts. Swope, Sean Porter and Jonathon Stewart haven’t experienced a drop-off in production. Spencer Nealy has thrived in his new role. Had Michael stayed healthy the past two seasons, he would have seen playing time nearly equal to that of Cyrus Gray. So with Gray gone, this was Michael’s backfield, right? Wrong.
Sumlin began stretching the field with five-wide sets and an upstart freshman quarterback started scrambling more than 15 times per game. Junior Ben Malena found himself as the starting back. Freshman Trey Williams began to filch carries. There were murmurs that Michael didn’t “buy in,” the universal buzzword in situations like this. On paper, can you blame him? He’s a pro-caliber back who, if featured, may have been the Aggie to tie the school record of 19 running touchdowns in a season instead of Manziel (Michael has 12 through the end of the regular season on 94 fewer carries than Manziel). In all likelihood, Sumlin’s decisions hurt Michael’s NFL draft status. So when Michael was ejected following an early touchdown against Sam Houston State for punching an opposing player — this after much speculation that Michael has been in Sumlin’s doghouse much of the season — the easy conclusion was that Michael was done, or at least close. The easy conclusion was the wrong one.
That’s what was so great about Senior Night, a 59-29 spanking of Missouri. Yes, Manziel put a nice little ribbon on his stellar season that is Heisman-worthy by any and all measures. Yes, A&M reached 10 wins in a season for the first time since 1998. Yes, there was some fitting symbolism in a 30-point thrashing of the “other” school to make the jump from the Big 12 to the SEC. And yes, Michael has been the third-best rusher on the team behind Manziel and Malena. Of the 17 seniors, it’s likely that 16 of them made a smoother transition to this new-look A&M than Michael did.
But on Saturday, the face of the new A&M went down with a twisted knee and the Heisman trophy. Of course we know that Manziel returned after missing just four plays to rack up five touchdowns. But in that scariest of moments, wasn’t it fitting that the face of the old A&M — Michael — immediately ripped off a 38-yard touchdown to settle the crowd?
The present and the future shine equally bright for A&M but most seem blind to the contributions and flexibility of a senior class that made sure they left the program better than they found it.
I doubt the seniors would have it any other way.