Tuesday, March 5, 2013
A role reversal for Sumlin, Texas A&M
By Sam Khan Jr.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M football has undergone a substantial amount of change in the last year.
Whether it's the national perception of the program, expectations, or any number of other things, this does not appear to be the same program college football fans knew a year ago.
Coming off an 11-2 season and a Cotton Bowl victory, the expectations have never been higher for Texas A&M.
The day before the start of his second spring practice, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin fielded a question on whether he has taken time to reflect on how different things are now than they were at this time last year.
He paused for five seconds.
"How about that? That was five seconds," Sumlin said as a few reporters chuckled and he began to laugh himself. "We don't have time for that."
Sumlin's point was that no, he hasn't thought about how different it is. He's too concerned trying to make sure the Aggies keep up in the ultra-competitive SEC.
Whether Sumlin and the Aggies like it or not, things are different and people are expecting more from Texas A&M than they did a year ago. At this time last year, some thought the Aggies would be lucky to go 7-5 in their inaugural season as SEC members and a few even figured the Aggies would be .500 or worse, or as Sumlin said "get their brains kicked in."
An 11-2 campaign and a Heisman Trophy-winner later, expectations have taken a complete 180. Now observers around the country are pegging the Aggies as a preseason top-five team for 2013 [they were fourth in ESPN's recent Way Too Early Top 25] and contenders for the SEC West, SEC and perhaps even BCS titles.
The Aggies' second-year head coach is not talking that way publicly, but instead is trying to make sure the Aggies keep pace with their conference foes.
"We're nowhere near that stage," Sumlin said. "I've said that from every standpoint, from every aspect of this program, we're still playing catch-up to everybody in the SEC. From a recruiting standpoint, we're top-10 in the country [but] we're fourth in our own division; fifth, by one standard. So we're still moving there. You look at our depth, we wouldn't be moving a wide receiver to linebacker if we had enough guys."
Still, how will Sumlin and his coaching staff deal with the heightened expectations when it comes to his players? This will be one of the most anticipated seasons in A&M football history.
"This is my second season. I couldn't tell you how hyped any season has been here before," Sumlin said. "It certainly doesn't affect me and it doesn't affect these [players] because they haven't been here as long as [some people]."
So far, the increased expectations and attention haven't appeared to have an adverse effect on the Aggies' biggest star, quarterback Johnny Manziel. Sumlin said all the offseason attention and scrutiny has "nothing to do with his performance level." His teammates say the Heisman Trophy winner hasn't changed.
"[He's] still the same guy," running back Ben Malena said. "Still works hard, still the leader of our offense, still the quarterback of our offense. The off-campus situation, we really can't speak to that because we're not Johnny Manziel. But as a player and as a leader, he's still the same guy that won a Heisman last year."
But Sumlin said he'd rather have it high expectations than no expectations.
"That's part of it," he said. "I would rather it be that way than nobody talk about us at all. It helps recruiting, it helps everything. So that's OK."
Malena said that last year's success has led to an increased work ethic as the team looks to build on its 2012 campaign.
"When Coach Sumlin first got here last year, he told us that we had enough talent to beat anybody," Malena said. "Now that we know for a fact that we have enough talent and a new group of guys coming in, we know that this year we have a target on our back. The work ethic of the team collectively has stepped up even more. We know last year's success was last year's success but this year's success will be even harder because now you have a target on your back."