Life’s successes are often a precursor of greater things to come.
Within the Texas A&M football program, junior tight end Jalen Wydermyer has experienced this firsthand. After graduating from Dickinson High School in 2019, Wydermyer found immediate influence on the maroon and white squad, playing in all 13 of A&M’s games as a freshman.
But the 2019 season was just the start.
Going into college, Wydermyer said he placed special emphasis on trusting himself and his abilities as a Division I athlete. This ultimately led to him breaking down barriers and overcoming obstacles in life, he said.
“That’s all that matters with young players — confidence,” Wydermyer said. “Once you have all of the right confidence, the sky is the limit.”
But not everyone gets to choose the timeline over which they develop that mindset. According to A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, athletes are often forced to “step up” at unexpected times. A player’s ability to “rise to the occasion” can ultimately make or break a young athletic career.
“That’s football,” Fisher said. “You don’t know when those times are going to come.”
Wydermyer’s calling came in the fall of 2019 against a team which has made headlines in recent days: Nick Saban’s then-No. 1 Alabama. Even in A&M’s 47-28 defeat two years ago, Wydermyer had a career showing, picking up 49 yards and two touchdowns on just three receptions.
The tight end said that as a child, he never expected to play against a Southeastern Conference powerhouse like Alabama. Wydermyer said he prepared himself for the rest of his college career by gaining experience against the Crimson Tide. The game also acted as his “breakout performance,” Wydermyer said.
“That’s when I said, ‘I can play in this league,’” Wydermyer said. “It was hard; I’m not going to lie. The more games you get into, the harder the opponents but the more acclimated you get.”
At the time, this was especially critical. The 2019 football program was uncharacteristically experienced, with several key figures — including Braden Mann, Justin Madubuike and Quartney Davis — set to leave the team. Because of the impending departures — most notably four-year quarterback Kellen Mond — threatening to do the same in a year’s time, Wydermyer’s ability to succeed as an underclassmen stood as a beacon of hope for the maroon and white.
Fisher said this put the tight end under extreme pressure as both a student and an athlete. Wydermyer’s first two years with the Aggies gave him the perfect opportunity to develop and “find himself,” thus bettering A&M in its entirety.
“There are high expectations for Jalen [Wydermyer], and sometimes you get caught in the numbers,” Fisher said. “But Jalen is an outstanding player. He’s learning to deal with success and failures, highs and lows, expectations, things that go on. He’s really gotten better and better.”
With his place as a starter solidified, Wydermyer has certainly tackled the issue head-on. As of presstime, he has notched 96 career receptions for 14 touchdowns and 1,202 yards. The two-time SEC-accoladed athlete and 2020 John Mackey Award finalist currently holds the most receiving touchdowns by any tight end in program history and ranks fourth for receiving yards at any position.
Even still, Wydermyer said he believes himself to be on the cusp of greatness. Using his proven athletic talent should open opportunities for the Aggies to further succeed as a team, he said.
“We’re as close as somebody making a wrong step or wrong read,” Wydermyer said after A&M’s loss to Mississippi State on Oct. 2. “When we put them together, you see big runs. If we can knock out the little things and get it all right, we can be successful.”
Fisher echoed a similar sentiment, saying this concept applies to the program as a whole.
“When you’re playing in SEC competition, it all comes down to one or two plays,” Fisher said. “You have to be able to make those and execute at key times.”
For Wydermyer, his “key time” couldn’t have come in a more perfect moment. On Oct. 9, 2021, Wydermyer was given a shot at redemption: the chance to finally avenge A&M’s loss to Alabama at Kyle Field two years earlier. And this time, he succeeded.
A 27-yard pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Calzada in the first quarter gave Wydermyer his first touchdown of the night en route to a 73-yard performance. This catch not only put A&M up 10-7 over Alabama, it also gave the Aggies momentum necessary to take down the then-undefeated team at home for the first time in program history.
In this way, Wydermyer came full circle. His “breakout performance” against Alabama two years ago laid the groundwork for an upset likely to live forever in A&M records. Wydermyer said it was these two years of training that allowed him to succeed.
“It’s all about how you respond to adversity,” Wydermyer said. “It really shows your character and your team’s chemistry.”
Now, Wydermyer has proven to the world he is capable of leading football programs of the highest grade. His athletic abilities, paired with a fortified work ethic, opened doors through which the tight end has found success.
With the stage set for the tight end to chase his dream of eventually playing in the NFL, Fisher said Wydermyer’s destiny is in the palm of the tight end’s hand, regardless of the highs or lows experienced by A&M football.
“Things are never as good as they seem or as bad as they seem,” Fisher said. “If things are going to change, you have to change them.”