Anticipation, destiny and reality were set on a course for collision when Texas A&M hired Dennis Franchione as head football coach last December 6th. This Saturday night Kyle Field serves as the backdrop for that collision. The results, hope Aggies everywhere, is the dawn of a better day, the beginning of a trend upward after a slow, but undeniable slide.
Coach Fran’s arrival was the most anticipated by the Aggie faithful since Sirr Parker’s arrival in the Trans World Dome's end zone in St. Louis four years before. After a season of lackluster performances and gut wrenching defeats, interrupted by that one glorious November afternoon against Oklahoma, anticipation gives Aggies everywhere a good feeling about this season at hand.
Looking back at his 30 years coaching football it seems Coach Fran’s destiny to arrive at a place and a moment like this. For sure he thought that moment had arrived two years before when he answered the call to lead the storied Alabama Crimson Tide. That date with destiny was derailed by NCAA investigations, ongoing allegations and debilitating scholarship limits placed on the Tide. When Coach Fran leads the Aggies onto Kyle Field for the first time Saturday he will be in a place ripe with traditions, filled with expectations, but most importantly he will find himself in a place that seems almost a natural fit.
Reality sets in for Aggie fans when reviewing the recent past. It’s been five years since an Aggie back gained 1,000 yards, coinciding with the team’s first and only Big 12 title. The Wrecking Crew turned into more of the wrecking who? And for one season, at least, Kyle Field was just another place to play. The Aggies two decade long dominance of in-state rival Texas has waned since that 1998 season. Reality sometime is harsh and for Aggies with championship aspirations, last season’s 6 –6 record was harsh indeed.
Considered overall the Aggies schedule is brutal with road trips to Lubbock, Norman, Lincoln and a much tougher Columbia, Missouri. But, the opening opponent, Arkansas State, couldn’t have been scripted much better. While it would be foolish for this A&M team to take anyone lightly, this is a definite step up in class for the Indians. With Tennessee-Martin and Southeast Missouri State to follow in games two and three this is ASU’s chance to spar with a heavyweight.
The Aggies begin this season with an abundance of talent at the offensive skill positions. Quarterbacks Reggie McNeal and Dustin Long have perhaps A&M’s most talented corps of receivers to throw to. Jamaar Taylor, Terrence Murphy, Terrence Thomas head the list of returnees while Taylor’s younger brother Earvin is the lone true freshman and may push some of last years reserves and redshirts for playing time.
Derek Farmer led the Ags in rushing in 2002, but fell well short of 1,000 yards. Courtney Lewis showed in the spring game his game breaking ability and likely will share the load with Farmer. Neither is a big back, so their interchangeability may extend the stamina of both. Keith Joseph lines up as the lead blocker for the duo and reports from fall camp indicate the coaching staff is comfortable handing him the ball as well. Versatility is the name of the game for Jason Carter and Coach Fran has committed to get this potential playmaker touches in a variety of ways.
Tight end promises to be more of an adventure for this first Fran coached Aggie team. Redshirt freshman Taylor Schuster has impressed the staff and appears set to begin the season as the starter. Junior Thomas Carriger has battled injuries and offers some experience at the position. Several other young players likely will battle for playing time as the season progresses, leaving the status of true freshman Joey Thomas uncertain in the beginning. Thomas, injured in the High School Coaches All Star game, appears a good fit for the Greg Porter type role.
Along both lines of scrimmage the issue isn’t talent, but depth and preparedness to play at the level necessary to compete and win. Jim Bob Helduser inherits a number of returnees along the offensive front plus a class of true freshman that appears capable of matching the press clippings that accompanied their February letter of intent signings. How this group overcomes the retirement of Andre Brooks, the lingering illness of Jami Hightower and meshes together as a cohesive, effective unit will determine the capability of Les Koennig’s offensive contingent.
Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush will introduce the 4-3 as the Aggies base defense and must deal with question marks in the front seven as well as the four deep defenders. As with the offense, intriguing possibilities exist. Torbush is well respected in coaching circles and his track record indicates he sets his expectations Wrecking Crew high.
Sammy Davis and Terrance Kiel are the most notable departures from last year’s defensive team that suffered too many injuries and spent too much time on the field. Experience on the defensives side of the ball should come from Jared Morris, Linnis Smith, Marcus Jasmin, Sean Weston and Byron Jones. Younger players like Jaxson Appel, Nuhrada Manning and Archie McDaniel help to round out the unit. Income freshman should have the opportunity to earn playing time as depth poses Coach Torbush a formidable challenge. Look for Jason Jack, Justin Warren and one or more of the defensive backs to force the issue and find the field.
Looking ahead the prospects for the Aggies seem bright, with many valuable pieces to the puzzle in place and more expected find their niches this season. This Saturday night Kyle Field sees anticipation and destiny play out into reality. A reality all Aggies hope sees a re-emergence of the maroon and white as a force on the Big 12 and national scenes.