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Column: Swift Change

Program turnaround one for ages

Published: Monday, December 10, 2012

Updated: Monday, December 10, 2012 14:12

Season review photo

File photo -- THE BATTALION

As I watched this magical 2012 Texas A&M football season unfold, I couldn’t help but recall my first Aggie bowl game several years ago. A&M played Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl and I would witness my first live taste of SEC football. It was men against boys — the Vols were comically bigger, faster and stronger than the helpless players on A&M’s sideline. The Aggies, quite frankly, didn’t stand a chance.

A&M would lose 38-7. “Rocky Top” blared through the rafters as the Aggies somberly filed out of the stadium, 12th Man towels in hand. Yet somehow, despite the on-field misery, I was hooked. That day, I fell in love with college football.

Still, I was left to wonder: just when would A&M get to that level? Season after season the Aggies were mired in mediocrity, failing to get out of their own way. Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma teams and Mike Leach’s Texas Tech teams — among others — ran circles around an underachieving program searching for a return to prominence and sense of identity.

I’d always heard the stories of the old “Wrecking Crew” and, like all of us, witnessed the SEC’s rise to dominance from afar. I watched Les Miles pick up where Nick Saban left off at LSU. I watched Urban Meyer dominate at Florida. I watched Saban return to the SEC and wreak havoc with a potent smash-mouth formula at Alabama. “Wouldn’t it be great,” I thought. “If A&M could play like that against those teams.”

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine A&M moving to the SEC before 2010, but when the prospect was on the table, the transition made too much sense not to happen. I, like many other Aggies, was devastated at the University’s initial hesitation to join the “League of Champions.” When it finally happened, there was little doubt the potential for the A&M football program had skyrocketed enormously.

Enter head coach Kevin Sumlin, strength and conditioning coach Larry Jackson, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Johnny Manziel. Former head coach Mike Sherman left a winning foundation, but his final season would encapsulate A&M’s decade-long struggle of possessing the talent and resources for success without the results to show for it. Aggies could only hope Sumlin would keep A&M competitive in the vaunted SEC and maybe — just maybe — take the program to the next level.

Sumlin and Co., with the assistance of now-Heisman winner Manziel, answered the call in spades.

Who would’ve thought A&M would win 10 games in its first season in the SEC? Who would’ve thought the Aggies would march into the defending national champions’ own house and knock off No. 1 Alabama? Who would’ve thought the player leading the charge would be the first freshman to win the Heisman in the history of the award? Not many, but it happened.

Now looking back, it’s difficult not to appreciate what this 2012 Aggie football team accomplished against unlikely odds and a sea of doubters. The Aggie offense is blowing up scoreboards and setting records as the A&M defense surpasses all previous expectations. The Aggie coaching staff, meanwhile, now holds the recruiting cards in arguably the nations’ most talent-rich state.

Seven years ago, I could hardly fathom — at the conclusion of A&M’s clash with the SEC’s most prominent program — I would see the men in maroon leaving in victory. I wouldn’t believe that instead of “Yea Alabama” trumpeting proudly in the distance, much like “Rocky Top” in 2005, I would hear a triumphant Aggie War Hymn. I’d scoff at the notion that an Aggie redshirt freshman’s name would be called as the winner of the Heisman Trophy.

My, have things changed. What a privilege it was to experience it.

 

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