Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An Open Letter To Stephen McGee


Let me start by saying that I hate the way this season has turned out for you. For a guy who has left it all on the field for the Aggies in the previous two-and-a-half seasons, getting hurt against New Mexico in game two obviously wasn’t what you had in mind while you were playing with precision during summer practices.

But, if I know anything about you and the kind of guy you are, you took it all in stride—the injury, the criticisms and the less-than-complimentary jabs sent your way by faceless message board posters. I say that because nobody has been a better team player than you in the last few years, so when Jerrod Johnson came off the bench to throw for three touchdowns I know you were happy because the Aggies won.

You also gave all Aggies fans plenty of reasons to be happy during your career. And since it’s Texas week, this is the perfect time to bring up a couple of those magical moments.

You almost did the impossible in 2005 when the juggernaut Longhorns rolled into Kyle Field. It had been more than a month since A&M had won a game, but former coach Dennis Franchione awarded you with your first start that Friday afternoon. The Horns jumped on top early, but you persevered, absorbed crushing hit after crushing hit, and had your team in contention for what would have been one of the biggest upsets in rivalry history. I guarantee you that nobody in the stadium will ever forget the sequence when you scored a touchdown one play after almost getting your head knocked off:

What you didn’t quite accomplish that day was more than made up for the following year in Austin. That year, the Longhorns were one win away from playing for the Big 12 South title, but you guys kept their high-powered offense off the field with your clock-eating drives. I vividly remember that fourth-quarter, game-winning drive from my seat in the end zone at DKR…you and Jorvorskie Lane battered their defensive backs to convert third down after third down, the final one which resulted in an 8-yard TD run. I still have that game saved on my TiVo, and that final drive still gives me goose bumps. (Maybe you can show it to the team before the game on Thursday—there are some good highlights at:

After you beat them on the ground in 2006, last year’s game at Kyle Field was an all-out aerial assault. While speculation about Franchione dominated the pre-game headlines, the post-game story was all about how the unheralded Aggies sliced and diced another stellar Texas defense, shredding them to the tune of 362 passing yards and three touchdowns. The double-lasso dance was particularly impressive:

The coaches aren’t saying whether or not you’re going to get one last chance to suit up in this game, but I guarantee you the last person the Texas coaches want to see out on the field Thursday night is a guy in a white jersey with a maroon No. 7 across his chest. They should be scared, too, because you’ve outfought, out-gutted and out-hearted their whole team in the last two years.

Fortune hasn’t been kind to you this year; yet, all along the way you’ve been a stand-up guy who has handled the hardship with true character and resolve. Because of that, I sincerely hope you get one more opportunity to take the field against the hated Horns.

Thanks for representing our school with so much heart. You make me proud to be an Aggie,


True Brown
Editor, 12th Man On Campus

Monday, November 24, 2008

Weekend By The Numbers

46 – Number of seconds the Texas A&M soccer team needed to net two first-half goals against Florida on Sunday. The outburst prompted a 2-1 victory over the Gators and pushed the Aggies into the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons.

4 – Elite Eight appearances for coach G Guerrieri and the soccer team. A&M will shoot for its first Final Four when it squares off with North Carolina on Friday at 2 p.m. in Chapel Hill, N.C.

232 – Career 3-pointers for senior Josh Carter. Carter’s five triples against Jackson State lifted the senior from Dallas into a tie atop the A&M record book, matching former player Bernard King’s mark.

210 – Wins recorded by Gary Blair while he was the coach at Stephen F. Austin. Blair will be inducted into the SFA athletics hall of fame during halftime of the A&M-SFA game in Nacogdoches on Dec. 2. Blair led the Ladyjacks to six NCAA Tournament appearances.

5 – Over the weekend, senior swimmer Triin Aljand turned in the fifth-fastest time in NCAA history in the 100-yard freestyle. Aljand set the mark during the Adamson Invitational at the Student Rec Center Natatorium during the weekend.

.402 – Season-high hitting percentage recorded by the volleyball team during its sweep of Colorado on Saturday. The Aggies smoked the Buffaloes, pounding out 44 kills and committing just nine errors in a match that lasted just 1 hour, 10 minutes.

1993 – The last year the A&M-Texas football game was played on Thanksgiving.

3 – Games against top-five ranked (by The AP) teams this season for the football team. This will be the first time in A&M history it will have played three regular season games against top-five teams. The Aggies played No. 5 Texas Tech and No. 4 Oklahoma already and will face No. 4 Texas on Thursday.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

LAST CALL: The Road Gladly Traveled

Coaches in virtually every sport at every school in the nation bemoan having playing on the road. Tough travel schedules, hostile fans and unfamiliar locker rooms all play a role in the universal disdain for leaving home, but Texas A&M soccer coach G Guerrieri is taking a glass-is-half-full approach as the 3-seed Aggies prepare to travel to Gainesville, Fla., for a Sweet 16 match against second-seeded Florida.

It helps that A&M has seen a fair amount of Florida in recent years, including an exhibition game prior to last season. It also helps that this year’s A&M squad has been pretty darn good when they’ve ventured outside of College Station.

The Aggies are 5-1-1 in true road games this year, the school’s best record away from the Aggie Soccer Stadium since the 2004 team posted a 6-1 mark. The fact that Sunday’s contest with the Gators will be played in warmer conditions also helps.

“Those are good things for us,” Guerrieri said. “If we were having to go to the snow belt and play someone we’ve never played against, we would be in a much different match-up that what we will see Sunday.”

A&M’s road prowess this year is interesting considering the amount of underclassmen contributors the team counts on. Eight of the Aggies’ 11 starters in the team’s second-round game against Washington were freshmen or sophomores. The Aggies upended the Huskies by a 3-1 tally, and two of those goals were scored by freshman Rachael Balaguer and sophomore Whitney Hooper.

The fact that this team has performed so well in front of hostile crowds says a lot about the type of steel-willed players Guerrieri has recruited, as well as the chemistry the team began developing during a pre-season trip to—interestingly enough—Florida.

The Aggies spent several days in mid August in the Sunshine State, training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and playing an exhibition game against Florida International. A&M picked up a 3-1 win against the Golden Panthers, but more importantly, Guerrieri said the team began to bond during their days away from home.

“The reason we did that was to get us in an environment where we were completely on our own,” Guerrieri said. “It was a big growing up for a lot of our players, not that they were shocked into having to grow up, but they were able to grow together quickly. The team gets along together very well, and in women’s sports more than men’s sports, chemistry and respect and communication and how the team kind of breaths together is a very important part of your success.”

Midfielder Laura Grace Robinson, one of just two seniors on the roster, has played in plenty of tough games in her career. She said in a way, it can be a little easier to focus before a game away from home.

“When you’re on the road, you can focus completely on the game,” Robinson said. “You’re not going to class on Friday and you’re in the hotel—we’ve done a good job of staying focused. We know that since we draw such a great crowd at home that it isn’t going to be that (friendly) on the road.”

If the regular season was any indication, the Aggies will be primed up to play the Gators. A win would catapult A&M to its second Elite Eight showing in three years and would likely set up a contest against North Carolina to advance to the Final Four.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Five Minutes with Soccer Senior Laura Grace Robinson

Want to see someone profiled in our weekly “Five Minutes With…” segment? Please email your suggestions to true@12thmanfoundation.com

This week, we sat down with Laura Grace Robinson as the Aggies prepared for Sunday’s Sweet 16 match-up against the Florida Gators.

True Brown: What is the biggest difference between the way the Big 12 Tournament unfolded and how the team played in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament?
Laura Grace Robinson: Because our team is so young at least half of our team hasn’t been in the NCAA Tournament, so I think everyone was really excited. We know that it’s a win-and-advance or lose-and-go-home (situation). We played really well, and I think you could see the urgency of how each game counts. People mark your season on how you played in the Tournament, so it’s a lot of pressure, but at the same time it’s a lot of fun.

TB: What do you do now to kind of keep things rolling?
LGR: Going to the Sweet 16 is really exciting, so it’s not going to take much to get us pumped up for this game. We’re going to have a lot of time this week since the game is not until Sunday, so we need to stick with the same things we’ve done all season. There’s going to be another excitement level because it is the Sweet 16 and Florida is a great team. It won’t be hard to get up for this game.

TB: What kind of game will Florida try to play?
LGR: They are really athletic, so it will be a fast-paced game. They have a really nice field so it won’t be slow at all. They are the type of team that we like to play, so I think it will be a good game.

TB: As a senior, does the NCAA Tournament take on an added meaning since every time you take the field could be your last game ever?
LGR: Honestly, I try not to think about that too much. Winning matters just as much to me as it does to our freshmen. We all want to go as far as we can, so I try to keep it in perspective and not put extra pressure on it. All season long, I’ve had fun and soaked up my last year of playing. I think everyone has that sense of urgency—everyone wants to win.

TB: Personally, what kind of goals did you have before this season started?
LGR: Obviously, you set the standard high. I was hoping to get the fifth Big 12 championship in a row. It didn’t happen but we had a good regular season. The Big 12 Tournament was a little disappointing, but the goal all along has been to win as many games as possible and advance as far in the NCAA as we can. We’re off to a good start so hopefully we can get past Florida.

TB: Are you surprised the freshmen on the team are playing such a big role?
LGR: Maybe if you would have asked me in July and told me what they would have done, I would have been pretty shocked. Seeing them in preseason, though, it hasn’t surprised me that they’ve been such an important part of our team. I think it’s really unique that from the freshmen to the seniors, everyone has played a big part. Every victory we’ve had this year have been total team victories. The team chemistry we have makes playing a lot of fun.

TB: The game this weekend is on Sunday—do you like waiting around that long or would you rather get it over with on Friday?
LGR: I’d probably rather play it on Friday, but this gives us a little more time to prepare. When it comes down to it, the game is just a game no matter when you play it. It doesn’t matter when we play it.

TB: What’s in store for you after your playing career is done and you’re through with college?
LGR: I’m a finance major, so unfortunately prospects aren’t too great right now. Before I get a job, I’m planning on traveling for a little bit with my roommates. Hopefully we will have some fun adventures before I have to go out into the real world!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A&M's (soon-to-be) White House Connection

It’s no secret that Brazos County votes mostly conservative during presidential elections, but one Aggie coach has a legitimate tie with president-elect Barack Obama.

Women’s basketball assistant Kelly Bond, a Chicago native, attended the same high school as Michelle Obama, the wife of Senator Obama. Both attended Whitney Young High School in Chicago, albeit they graduated several years apart.

According to Wikipedia, Whitney Young is a highly selective magnet school in Chicago, which is routinely ranked as one of Illinois’ best public institutions. The site claims more than 9,000 students applied for 450 available spots in the 2007-08 school year.

Bond has worked for A&M head coach Gary Blair for several years and has developed quite a reputation as being an ace recruiter. Blair is certainly high on the work Bond has done, including this year’s recruiting class that ranks among one of the top in the nation.

“She has been very instrumental in everything we’ve been doing in recruiting for the last five years, and for three years before that at Arkansas,” Blair said. “She has a tremendous reputation all over the nation, not just with players but also with AAU coaches and high school coaches. She has to think like me; she has to know whether a player will fit the system that I can coach.”

As far as her connection with the soon-to-be First Lady, Bond said she has not yet crossed paths with Michelle.

“Michelle is class of ’84, but one of the things the school does is have a women’s synopsis every year and bring a couple (alumni) back as guest speakers,” Bond said. “Hopefully, she’ll have time to come back to her old stomping grounds, and we’ll get a chance to interact at some of those events.”

With all the media coverage of Senator Obama’s basketball prowess, one of Bond’s biggest recruiting jobs may come in the next 10-15 years.

“I’m not sure how much game (Michelle) has,” joked Bond. “But she has two younger daughters that I’m going to keep my eye on because we know (their father)’s got game.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

Weekend By The Numbers

9 – Sweet 16 appearances for the Aggie soccer team. A&M’s 3-1 win over Washington on Sunday set the stage for next weekends round of 16 tilt with the Florida Gators.

+23 – Shot differential, in favor of A&M, in the NCAA Tournament first-round game against Texas State. The Aggies claimed a 5-2 win and outshot the Bobcats 28-5.

12 – Field goals allowed by the women’s basketball team during their 56-50 win over No. 23 Pittsburgh on Sunday at the State Farm Tip-Off Classic in Baton Rouge, La. The Panthers made just 25.5 percent of their shots. The lock-down defensive performance matches last year’s Michigan game, when the Wolverines connected on only 12 field goals.

8 – Consecutive season-openers won by the men’s basketball team. The Aggies blistered Arkansas-Pine Bluff by 29 points to open the 2008-09 season, winning 76-47 on Sunday afternoon at Reed Arena.

3 – Consecutive South Central Regional individual titles for cross country runner Shadrack Songok. Songok, a senior, won his first two as a runner for A&M-Corpus Christi. His first-place finish this weekend helped the Aggie team earn the regional title and secured a slot in the NCAA Championships on Monday, Nov. 24.

1 – Player in A&M football history to surpass 1,000 kickoff return yards in a single season. Freshman Cyrus Gray ran his season total to 1,023 yards during the Baylor game.

49 – Career touchdowns for Jorvorskie Lane, a school record. After scoring twice against the Bears, 48 of his 49 touchdowns have come via the run.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Hey, Coach G, can I have your autograph?"

Women’s basketball coach Gary Blair is always working. Whether he’s dissecting film in his office, toting a whistle on the practice court or taking in other sporting events across campus, Blair’s brain is constantly going.

As the coach of a team that has traditionally struggled to pack the stands, Blair is particularly interested in watching what unfolds right across the street from Reed Arena. He’s attended several A&M soccer games this year—and he doesn’t do it just to get out in the sunshine and relax.

“A lot of people think I am just going to games to fill out my 12th Man Team Rewards card,” said Blair earlier this week. “I go to the games to study marketing and study coaching.”

There’s a lot he can learn from Guerrieri, who has built one of the most rabid soccer fan bases in the country. The Aggies averaged 3,538 fans in 11 home games this year and are routinely in the top two or three in national attendance. Blair has certainly done his part to help pad the team’s numbers. (Seriously. A quick search at http://sports.tamu.edu/12thManTeam/leaderboard.php confirms Blair is one of the top event-attenders in the athletic department.)

“When I first got here, the two people I really admired the most on promoting their sports were Tim Cass in men’s tennis and G Guerrieri,” Blair said. “I took a little bit from each of those because those are sports where it’s (traditionally) hard to draw people in. I tried to bring some of my marketing ideas and incorporate them with what (Cass and Guerrieri) were doing, as well. I learned from everybody.”

The similarities don’t stop there. The product Blair has put on the court is certainly worthy of drawing inordinately large crowds like soccer. The Aggies rolled to the Elite Eight last year and set a school record with 29 wins.

His success on the court has allowed A&M to open its recruiting beyond state borders. In fact, last week’s signing class included highly-ranked players from Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee and California—and none from Texas.

“Coach Guerrieri hit that road about his fourth or fifth year here, where he could go in and recruit just about anywhere in the country,” said Blair, now in his sixth season at A&M. “We’re almost at that point.”

That’s good news if you’re an Aggie fan. Blair’s squad may soon find itself in a situation similar to Guerrieri’s: an almost permanent fixture in the national top 10.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First time here? Click me!

First off, let me take time to thank you for swinging by 12th Man Magazine On Campus’s new home on the web. Our magazine has been staple around the Texas A&M campus for the last five years, and it’s been our pleasure to bring Aggie students the most in-depth features and behind-the-scenes action of any student-geared publication in the College Station-Bryan area.

This blog, however, represents our first foray into the e-world. It’s all about instant communication these days, and we hope this venue becomes a way for Texas A&M’s students to keep up with all the Aggie sports action that takes place on this campus.

We’ll certainly hit the big sports like football, basketball and baseball, but this will also be the place to keep up with soccer, volleyball, swimming, track, tennis, golf, equestrian and anything else that comes up. In short: if it’s Aggie sports, it’ll be here.

It’s worth noting, however, that hard news won’t be our main focus—there are plenty of newspapers out there to take care of all that. Rather than regurgitate info that is already in several other publications, this site will be a place for short, easy-to-read features about student-athletes and coaches, commentary on A&M’s programs, and any off-the-wall or behind-the-scenes items that you want to see.

We’re going to load this page with updates over the coming days, weeks and months, so I hope you continue to return and stay up to speed. Please don’t hesitate to email me at true@12thmanfoundation.com with any content ideas or things you’d like to see here in the future.

Thanks again for swinging by!