New Attitude in Aggieland
Over the years Texas A&M seems to have good seasons, look like they are finally getting on track to be a perennial top 25 team, only to have disappointing seasons and fall back into irrelevance on the national college football scene. Being an Aggie fan my whole life I have been on the emotional roller coaster that is Aggie football, and since 1998 it has been mostly low. I have seen the hope that has come from breakout seasons from Reggie McNeal, Stephen McGee, Jerrod Johnson and Ryan Tannehill only to watch fourth quarter leads get blown into 7-5 records. I thought Franchione was a good hire (proceed laughing at me here) and then thought Sherman could turn things around. But during all that time never have I felt the way I feel about the Aggies’ future as I do now.
Things have truly changed in Aggieland and it all starts with Kevin Sumlin. I’ll admit that when Sumlin was hired I questioned it. I thought going into the SEC we should have hired a defensive minded coach like Kirby Smart (again you can laugh at me here). Sumlin brought something much more needed to College Station than a defensive mindset; he brought a whole new attitude. For years it seemed that the attitude of both players and coaches at A&M was that they were part of Aggie football and that was good enough. Sure winning was nice, but just being part of the team was a huge deal and all the extra work needed to be a champion was not necessary. This was abundantly clear in the multitude of fourth quarter leads that were lost in the years prior to Sumlin. Coaches were too stubborn to change their game plans and too scared to remain aggressive in their play calling. Players were exhausted, unable to keep up with teams that were in better shape.
When Sumlin arrived he changed all of this. It started in the spring before the 2012 football season, when he brought in Larry Jackson to be the strength coach. That spring Sumlin gave Jackson two extra weeks to work with the players in the weight room. This was done to prepare the players for the fast pace Sumlin wanted to play at, but I also believe it was the beginning of changing the attitude of the Aggie football team. Players openly complained about having two extra weeks of strength and conditioning, but when the season rolled around it paid huge dividends.
Sumlin also instilled the heart of winners into his players. I was very disappointed after the loss to Florida last season; it was another second half lead blown and I thought things were going to the same as they had been before. But I saw a glimmer of hope that things were changing. Sean Porter came into the postgame press conference livid, promising that the season would not be like the ones before it, that the Aggies would not continue to blow second half leads. For as furious as he was in the press conference, he admits he was much worse in the locker room after the game. I had not seen this in the years before. Losses had not put a fire into the players to step up their game for the rest of the season. It had seemed that before this season a loss only brought the players down and they gave up later on in the season when put in the same situation.
When A&M went on the road to play Ole Miss their newfound resiliency was put on display. After six turnovers and a very poorly played game A&M came back from a two score deficit to beat Ole Miss. The locker room celebration after the game was something special as Sumlin put on a rare display of emotion jumping around with the team like they had just won a title. It was at this moment that the team and Aggie fans realized that things were different; it had been years since the Aggies had pulled off a fourth quarter comeback.
The next week A&M showed resiliency in a different way. After storming out to a huge lead against Louisiana Tech, the Bulldogs made a tremendous comeback to make it a close game late. Instead of folding as had been the trend in the past seasons, A&M held on for another huge win.
Then came the game in Tuscaloosa. When Alabama came back from being down 20 it almost seemed a forgone conclusion that the Tide would finish the comeback and win the game. But A&M left everything they had on the field, fighting all the way to the end to get one of the biggest wins in Aggie football history.
The way A&M won last season certainly signified a major change in the football world around Aggieland. Add to this the recruits A&M has landed and it’s clear that the Aggies are well on their way to being a perennial top team in the land. Just this month A&M has landed four recruits and have 14 commits to the 2013 class, nine of which are in the top 300 nationally. This class includes the top defensive player in Texas, Hoza Scott, top ten safety Dylan Summers-Gardner, and one of the most coveted quarterbacks in the land, Kyle Allen. Before Sumlin came to town the hope was to land a few top 300 guys and hope the three star guys turned out to be pretty good. But when Sumlin came to A&M he brought in assistant coaches from across the nation who were top recruiters in their area. Guys like David Beaty and Clarence McKinney have hit the recruiting trail with a certain “swagger” about them that has all the 17 and 18 year olds across the country drooling over the opportunity to play for A&M. Of course the chance to play with Johnny Manziel has been a real draw too.
There is a new attitude in Aggieland, led by the man wearing a visor. Sumlin has changed A&M from a school who was just happy to see there football team be above .500, to a national powerhouse that only accepts winning.