Thursday, October 18, 2012
Several Aggies freshmen making impact
By Sam Khan Jr.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Based on the highlight reels, it would be easy to surmise that Texas A&M has been a one-man show in its inaugural Southeastern Conference season.
Johnny Football, Johnny Football and more Johnny Football. Even his nickname is starting to catch on with analysts and commentators across the country.
Freshman Mike Evans has become Johnny Manziel's top target for Texas A&M.
Johnny Manziel, the Aggies' redshirt freshman quarterback, has provided seemingly a season's worth of highlights already in six games with his playmaking ability. His improvisational skills and his quick development have helped the No. 18 Aggies to a 5-1 record heading into their SEC West tilt with LSU.
But he's not the only freshman getting it done for Texas A&M.
Even on nights when Manziel has broken SEC records, Kevin Sumlin has called the Aggies' wins "team wins," and he's right for doing so. It's easy for others to get overshadowed in the hype.
One of the Aggies' most dynamic freshmen along with Manziel has been the one who has caught most of Manziel's passes, redshirt freshman receiver Mike Evans.
In the Aggies' two most recent wins, both of which had wild finishes, Evans made some of the biggest plays. When the Aggies had their backs against the wall, down 10 points with less than eight minutes to go at Mississippi on Oct. 6, it was Evans who made a leaping catch over a defender near the sideline on third-and-17 when the Aggies were backed up at their own 3-yard line. The 32-yard catch triggered a scoring drive that pulled the Aggies to within four, and they later scored once more to pull out a 30-27 win.
On Saturday in a thrilling win over Louisiana Tech, the 6-foot-5, 218-pound Evans caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from Manziel in the second quarter that gave A&M a 34-7 lead. For the season, Evans leads the team in catches (36), receiving yards (549) and receiving yards per game (91.5), and was recently added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list.
"Mike's a guy who we knew in spring had a lot of ability and just needed to keep working at it, and he has," offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said. "He was kind of nicked up last week and kept pushing through and had some huge plays."
Evans wasn't the only freshman who caught a touchdown Saturday. True freshman Thomas Johnson, a Dallas Skyline product, has appeared in every game this season and even started two. He caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Manziel with 7:28 left to give Texas A&M a nine-point lead. He's tied for second on the team in catches with senior Ryan Swope (20).
"TJ is just a true freshman and is still learning our system but continues to get in there and make big plays," Kingsbury said.
True freshman running back Trey Williams also has been involved in every game, getting touches at running back as part of a three-back rotation and serving as the team's primary kick returner.
On defense, two true freshmen have been key contributors: cornerback De'Vante Harris and defensive end Julien Obioha. Both won jobs during fall training camp. Obioha has started all six games thus far, and Harris has started five of six while playing in all six.
Harris was tested extensively Saturday against Louisiana Tech, matching up on several occasions against one of the nation's most productive receivers, Quinton Patton. Patton ended up having a huge day, catching 20 passes, and Harris also was challenged frequently against Arkansas receiver Cobi Hamilton on Sept. 29. Snyder said teams will continue to attack Harris because he's a freshman, but he is showing flashes of his capability.
"He was on and off [against Louisiana Tech]," Snyder said. "He's going to get that every week because he's a freshman. He has to be prepared for that. I thought that receiver [Patton] was a really good receiver. [On Monday] we showed him five or six examples where he's covering that guy. I'm going, 'De'Vante, you're a freshman, playing one of the better receivers in the country right now, and you're proving to me that you can do it. Now we have to become more consistent with it.'"
Sumlin said having unexpected players contribute is a natural part of the team's season and has to happen for his team to be successful.
"On every team, during two-a-days, you look up and there's people that you have never thought about or guys in that room who are going to be critical parts of your football team going down the stretch that you may not even know their name during fall camp," Sumlin said. "It's been that way forever."