Texas A&M Aggies: Ben Malena

It was quite the week for Texas A&M football in relation to the NFL draft.

The Aggies had three players taken in the draft's first round on Thursday, marking just the second time in school history the program had that many first-round selections in one draft. It was also the fourth time in school history the team produced two top-10 picks in the same draft. The Aggies were the only team in the 2014 draft with two top-10 picks and one of only two (Louisville being the other) with three first-round picks. This was also the fourth consecutive year the Aggies have produced at least one top-10 pick.

After the draft's completion, eight more Aggies reached agreements with NFL teams as undrafted free agents and will pursue pro careers. Here's a recap of where all the NFL-bound Aggies landed:

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Elsa/Getty ImagesOffensive lineman Jake Matthews was the first Aggie off the board in the NFL draft, going No. 6 overall to the Falcons.
Draft picks

OT Jake Matthews: Atlanta Falcons (first round, sixth overall)
There's a long line of pro-football-playing Matthews men and Jake is the latest. The 6-foot-5, 308-pound offensive tackle can stake his claim to being the highest-drafted Matthews in the family's well-documented NFL history. His father, NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, was the previous high pick, chosen ninth overall in the 1983 draft. The Falcons hope Jake will help provide more protection for franchise quarterback Matt Ryan, and Matthews has all the makings of a 10-year pro. Matthews could be the team's left tackle of the future.

WR Mike Evans: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (first round, seventh overall)
It seems fitting that analysts' go-to NFL comparison for Evans was Vincent Jackson, because now those two will be in the same huddle for the Buccaneers. Evans completed his compelling story, going from humble beginnings and obstacles to overcome while growing up in Galveston, Texas, to star basketball player to unlikely, under-the-radar football recruit to All-American receiver to now, top-10 draft pick. It looks like Evans will be a good fit in Tampa and could start rather quickly.

QB Johnny Manziel: Cleveland Browns (first round, 22nd overall)
Manziel was the most-talked-about prospect on the draft's first night, and though he waited longer than he would have liked, he finally found a landing spot in Cleveland. Thursday officially closed the book on what was one of the most memorable collegiate careers of any player in recent memory. Manziel helped lead A&M to great heights and brought the program unprecedented exposure in its first two SEC seasons, including a Heisman Trophy. Now Johnny Football takes his game to the highest level, and it seems everyone will be watching to see how he fares in his new home.

Undrafted free agents

LB Nate Askew: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Askew, who had one of the better pro day performances at the Aggies' showcase on March 5, completes an interesting journey at Texas A&M that saw him go from seldom-used receiver to starting outside linebacker who made the play that sealed the Aggies' thrilling Chick-Fil-A Bowl victory.

TE Nehemiah Hicks: Miami Dolphins
Hicks will join his former Texas A&M teammate, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in South Beach.

DB Toney Hurd Jr.: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After undergoing offseason surgery and missing the Aggies' first pro day, Hurd was able to work out for scouts on March 27 (the same day as Manziel and Evans). The versatile Hurd, who played cornerback, safety and special teams at A&M, did enough to warrant an opportunity from the Buccaneers.

CB Tramain Jacobs: Baltimore Ravens
A reserve cornerback who proved to be a valuable rotational player -- and even started two games -- for the Aggies, Jacobs landed with the Ravens.

LB Steven Jenkins: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers certainly took a liking to the Aggies. Including Jenkins, the former A&M starting outside linebacker and impact player, four Aggies are headed to Tampa. Jenkins returns to his home state, where he played his prep ball in Pensacola, Fla.

WR Travis Labhart: Houston Texans
Labhart was a great story, a seldom-used walk-on who emerged into a scholarship player as a senior and eventually a starter, then wound up finishing second on the team with eight touchdown receptions. Now he gets the chance to pursue his future in his home state with the Texans.

RB Ben Malena: Dallas Cowboys
A running back who did more than just carry the ball, Malena brings his versatile skill set back to his home region, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (Malena played his high school ball nearby in Cedar Hill, Texas).

WR Derel Walker: Tennessee Titans
Another player who came a long way (receivers coach David Beaty raved of Walker's progress from his arrival to the end of his senior season, when he was a starter), Walker will get a chance to pursue the NFL with the Titans.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Will it be the pro day to end all pro days? The buildup certainly lends itself to such hyperbole.

There will be live national coverage, on television and the web. There will be countless hours of analysis on the airwaves in the aftermath -- and there already has been in the lead up to the event. Political figures, past and present, will be in the house. Johnny Manziel even got to spend time with a former president on Wednesday. Later in the day, Manziel's visit with Jon Gruden for Gruden's QB Camp will air on ESPN (you can get a sneak peek here). It's, as one NFL coach called it, "Johnny Day."

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergAfter participating in several drills at the NFL combine, Johnny Manziel will throw for NFL scouts at his pro day.
In case you were unaware (if you follow college football or the NFL draft closely, it's hard not to be aware), Johnny Football's biggest job interview to date takes place at 11 a.m. at Texas A&M's McFerrin Athletic Center.

At the NFL scouting combine last month, Manziel did almost everything except throw for the 32 teams on hand. Thursday, he will finally display the fruits of the intensive labor he has put into his right arm (as well as his footwork, accuracy, arm strength and mental capabilities) over the last 10 weeks.

In mid-January, less than a week after officially declaring for early entry into the NFL draft, Manziel headed west for San Diego, the city that would become his training ground to prepare for the combine and pro day. Working with his personal quarterback coach, George Whitfield Jr., Manziel went to work in what they dubbed "Dime City," hoping to prove to the NFL, and specifically the Houston Texans, that the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner is worth the No. 1 overall pick.

"I want them to say absolutely, without a doubt, with 100 percent certainty, that I'm who they want," Manziel told the Houston Chronicle and Fort Worth Star-Telegram in February. "I want everybody from the janitor at Reliant Stadium to the front-office executive assistant all the way up to [owner] Bob McNair to say, 'This kid is 100 percent, can't miss. This is who we want being the face of our program. We want the Texas kid staying in Texas and leading the Texans.'”

Thursday, personnel from the Texans and almost every other NFL team will be present. Texans general manager Rick Smith, head coach Bill O'Brien and quarterbacks coach George Godsey will be there watching closely. Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer will not be, but there won't be a shortage of pro personnel. NFL.com's Gil Brandt put the over/under on NFL folks at 125.

Manziel won't be the only one they are there to see, either. Receiver Mike Evans -- who like Manziel, did not work out at Texas A&M's first pro day on March 5 -- will also perform for the scouts on hand. A projected first-round pick, Evans has the opportunity to add to his already storybook career, one that includes him going from high school basketball star with no varsity football experience to one of the best receivers in college football.

Because Manziel is expected to be taken early and not every team needs a quarterback, there will be as many -- perhaps more -- eyes on Evans. Projected initially to be a mid-first round pick, some felt his performance at the combine last month might have given off a good enough impression to help Evans work his way into the top 10. Either way, there are plenty of teams that feel they might have a shot to take him.

At 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds, with a 37-inch vertical and a 40-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds, Evans has the physical tools coaches desire and was extremely productive in the SEC despite having only four years of football experience.

Joining the two projected first-rounders in the pro day performance will be their Texas A&M teammates, running back Ben Malena, receivers Travis Labhart and Derel Walker and tight end Nehemiah Hicks. Whitfield has been in town with the group this week working with them on the pro day script.

Texas A&M defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., who had to sit out the Aggies' March 5 pro day while awaiting medical clearance from offseason surgery, also plans to perform for scouts.

But the nation's attention will be on Manziel. He's a polarizing figure in this draft, just like he has been throughout his college career, for many reasons: his height (5-11 3/4), his scrambling ability, his tendency to orchestrate seemingly impossible plays and the headlines he has made, particularly off the field. The predictions and opinions about his future run the gamut, from those who feel he will excel at the next level to those who believe he will be a bust. Can he make all the throws? He has the opportunity to answer those questions now.

His accomplishments at Texas A&M are well-documented, but what kind of impression will he leave for his future employers? Most of his life, Manziel has been at his best when the lights have been brightest. A coach who knows him better than most expects that to be the case once again.

"I'm not going to be shocked when he does well," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Some other people may but it won't shock me at all when he does well."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- As Texas A&M began its ninth practice of spring football on Monday, Johnny Manziel briefly roamed the sideline before hitting the turf for a pre-workout stretch.

Earlier that morning, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback was in Kevin Sumlin's office, catching up with his former head coach.

And in the afternoon, prior to his workout, he made headlines across the Internet with this viral video of him displaying his athleticism with a multitude of dunks.

Yes, it was just like old times in Aggieland for Manziel.

The difference this time is, he wasn't suiting up for practice with the Aggies. Instead, he was utilizing the facilities where he launched his memorable college career to prepare for the latest "most important day" of his young career, his pro day workout in front of NFL personnel on Thursday.

Though he has spent most of his time since January in San Diego, working with private quarterback coach George Whitfield and Aggies teammate Mike Evans (who will also perform on Thursday), Manziel is finding respite in the place he spent the last three years.

"It was kind of startling to open the door and see him there," Sumlin said of seeing Manziel in his office first thing Monday morning. "Obviously, he feels at home."

Manziel and Sumlin caught up briefly and the quarterback inquired on the team's practice times so he could schedule his workouts with Whitfield and a host of familiar A&M teammates like Evans, Travis Labhart, Derel Walker and Ben Malena.

Sumlin made sure to mention Manziel's television commercial debut, a McDonald's spot featuring LeBron James.

"We just talked about pro day, we talked about a lot of things," Sumlin said. "I haven't seen him since the first week of spring football, before spring break. I congratulated him on his commercial (laughs). We just talked about a couple things and asked him how he was doing. He wanted to know what time we were practicing and whether we were indoors or outdoors because he was going to come in and throw a little bit beforehand and come out and watch practice. Just regular stuff."

On Thursday, both Manziel and Aggieland will be the center of attention as he throws for NFL personnel who will be on hand. Evans -- who like Manziel is projected to be a first-round pick -- will also get a chance to shine since he didn't work out in the Aggies' first pro day on March 5. The pair's aforementioned workout partners will also be a part of the pro day script and will have the opportunity to prove their worth to those on hand.

There will be plenty of eyes on Manziel in particular, including those of the Houston Texans, who hold the No. 1 pick in the draft.

"I'm happy for him now," Sumlin said. "This will be a big day for him. The exposure, the bright lights, the video, the brand -- that carries worldwide and that's a big deal for everybody concerned."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Jake Matthews bypassed his first opportunity to enter the NFL draft for two reasons.

One was to move over to left tackle after spending the previous three years as a right tackle and show NFL personnel he was versatile enough to handle both. The other was to play on the same offensive line with his younger brother, Mike, Texas A&M’s starting center in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsJake Matthews felt that his pro day at Texas A&M on Wednesday went well.
By the end of the season and throughout the pre-draft process, Jake Matthews appears to be plenty happy with the decision he made to return to Aggieland for his senior year. On Wednesday, the latest in a long line of football-playing Matthews men took another step toward his future as a pro, headlining Texas A&M’s pro day at McFerrin Athletic Center.

Because he performed all drills last month at the NFL scouting combine, the 6-foot-5, 308-pound Matthews did not perform any of the same testing measures on Wednesday but performed several offensive line drills for scouts and NFL player personnel people.

“I thought I did well,” Matthews said afterward. “They put me through a bunch of different stuff and showcase what I'm capable of and that I'm able and I thought it went well."

After the pro day, he met with the St. Louis Rams and said he did some work on the whiteboard, among other things. The son of NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, Jake has numerous people in his own family to draw advice from in these types of situations.

"It helps a lot,” Matthews said. “It's kind of like I've been training for this process for my whole life. I think we calculated it earlier and I'm the seventh Matthews to go into the NFL. It's really humbling, especially being a part of this family and all the tradition with football that we have and such a great background: I'm truly blessed to be a part of it."

The opportunity to spend 11 out of 13 games starting at left tackle was something Matthews felt was valuable when it came to assessing his NFL future.

"It helped a lot, especially after playing three years of right tackle showing I was capable of going over and playing well on the left side,” Matthews said. “[It showed] how versatile I am and that I'm able and can do anything teams want me to do."

Most projections have Matthews going in the top 10 of the draft and possibly being the first offensive tackle drafted. He wasn’t the only potential first-round pick present at the pro day on Wednesday -- quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans were in attendance too -- but both were simply there to support their other teammates performing and did not work out for scouts or NFL personnel. Both are performing at their own pro day on March 27 at Texas A&M and performed at the NFL combine last month.

Representatives from all 32 NFL teams were present at Texas A&M’s pro day.

Other Aggies performed at the pro day included Nate Askew, defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, cornerback Tramain Jacobs, linebacker Steven Jenkins, receiver Travis Labhart, running back Ben Malena and receiver Derel Walker. Because of their rehabilitation from injuries, tight end Nehemiah Hicks and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. did not perform, and Ennis -- who is recovering from knee surgery -- performed only in the bench press.

Askew had perhaps the most impressive day among Aggies outside the “big three” projected first-rounders. The linebacker, who began his Texas A&M career as a receiver, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds and recorded a 38-inch vertical while measuring 6-foot-3 and weighing 241 pounds.

Malena, the Aggies’ leading running back the last two seasons, clocked 4.54 seconds in the 40 while checking in at 5-8 and 194 pounds. He also had the second-most repetitions in the bench press, lifting 225 pounds a total of 22 times.

Texas A&M pro day on tap

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Scouts and player personnel people from across the NFL will descend on Aggieland today when Texas A&M hosts its annual pro day at 9:30 a.m., one of two pro days on deck for the Aggies this month.

The Aggies’ biggest names are all expected to be present at the McFerrin Athletic Center -- quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews -- though Manziel and Evans won’t be working out for scouts until March 27.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin is expecting all NFL teams to be represented at Texas A&M’s pro day, which will feature a dozen players.

“Ever since we’ve been here every team shows up, with a couple of different representatives,” Sumlin said. “We had a couple guys who did real well at the combine. Obviously, Mike was here last week and was real pleased with how he did things. I talked to Johnny [on Sunday] night and he’ll be back in town. I think it’s big when you have those types of marquee players [like them] and Jake. It creates opportunities for other players who weren’t at the combine and I think that’s a big deal.”

Other Aggies who will be present and are expected to work out are linebacker Nate Askew, defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, tight end Nehemiah Hicks, defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., cornerback Tramain Jacobs, linebacker Steven Jenkins, receiver Travis Labhart, running back Ben Malena and receiver Derel Walker.

Evans, Manziel and Matthews are all projected first-round picks and the fact that their presence brings plenty of NFL personnel is a positive, Sumlin said. The same has happened in the past with previous high draft picks who came out of Texas A&M.

“I forget how many guys we got that got into [NFL training] camp but it was a large number of guys that at least got an opportunity that maybe they wouldn’t have had if there’s not a Luke Joeckel here, if there’s not those types of guys,” Sumlin said. “It attracted a lot of guys and just about all of those guys got in camp which is, after that, that’s about all you can ask. Can they all make it? No. But it gave them an opportunity and I think that’s the bigger picture than just the three guys that went to the combine.”

Manziel did almost everything except throw at the NFL scouting combine, running a 4.68-second 40-yard dash and a 4.03-second 20-yard shuttle. He had a 31 inch vertical jump, his height was measured at 5-foot-11 inches and his weight 207 pounds.

Evans measured at 6-5, 231 and ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash and recorded a 37-inch vertical jump. Matthews measured at 6-5, 308, had a 30 inch vertical and performed the three-cone drill in 7.34 seconds.

The pro day begins at 9:30 a.m. and is closed to the public.

Shifting power: Texas 

January, 23, 2014
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Texas A&M has gone through and overcome a major case of the “you can’ts.”

You can’t leave the Big 12 and compete in the SEC.

You can’t win with Kevin Sumlin, a coach off a successful stint at Houston in mid-major conference play.

You can’t outrecruit your archrival Texas. You can’t win. Period.

For every negative critique, Texas A&M has managed to silence the doubters. With everything positive that’s happened with the Aggies the last two seasons, this year’s recruiting class may be the biggest accolade next to winning back-to-back bowl games under Sumlin. With 21 commits – including 10 ESPN 300 players -- Texas A&M has the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, just behind Alabama.

Planning for success: Texas A&M

November, 21, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Like many of his coaching peers, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin is likes to emphasize two statistical areas with his football team when it comes to the difference between winning and losing: third-down conversions and turnover margin.

It's the latter that bit the Aggies badly when they hosted LSU in 2012.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipKevin Sumlin's Aggies need to win the turnover battle at Tiger Stadium on Saturday.
While there has been one game in the Sumlin era where the Aggies committed more turnovers than the five they did against LSU last October, the turnover ratio was at its worst against the Tigers, who committed none that day.

Reducing those could have certainly made a difference in the Aggies' 24-19 home loss. So it's, of course, a point of emphasis as they prepare to head into Death Valley.

"Whenever we play, we put a premium on not just turnovers but turnover ratio," Sumlin said. "To win the game, we talk about turnover margin. If we have two or three, we need to get four or five."

The Aggies are plus-two this season in that category, even with a rough day like the one they had against Vanderbilt, losing the battle 5-3, earlier this season. It's especially important against a team the caliber of LSU, in an environment like the one harbored in Tiger Stadium. Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said earlier this season that the team practices ball security every day.

"We have to protect the ball, and the team that protects the ball has a good chance to win," senior running back Ben Malena said. "We had a lot of turnovers last year but we also had a lot of series last year that we didn't turn into points. That's LSU, hat's off to their defense. But the turnovers didn't help."

Special teams is a key point when these teams play also. LSU has no problem taking some chances in that area, and the Tigers also have a talented playmaker in receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who's a force in the return game.

Sumlin said the Aggies will have to be on point on special teams.

"Odell Beckham has gotten loose on just about everybody," Sumlin said. "They've got a scheme and sometimes he says 'The heck with it' and just takes off. I've seen teams fit the right way and he just said 'I'm going to do my own thing.... He's exceptional. It's why he leads the league in all-purpose yardage.

The Aggies struggled in the kicking game last season against the Tigers, missing two field goals and a point-after-touchdown kick. While that part has been seemingly rectified in the second half of this season with a personnel change, being ready for what LSU has to throw at them in the third phase also is important.

"We've got to be on edge in all phases and paying particular attention to that," Sumlin said. "Other people have too and [Les Miles] has still been able to pull them off. So we'll be on edge the whole time. From the time we get off the bus, our special teams units have to have the hair on the back of their neck up looking for stuff to happen."

Aggies road streak put to stiff test

November, 20, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Call them the road warriors.

Since coach Kevin Sumlin took over at Texas A&M, the Aggies have been perfect on the road. That run of success will be put to the test on Saturday when the No. 12 Aggies travel to No. 22 LSU to play in Tiger Stadium, also known as Death Valley.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesTexas A&M doesn't lose on the road under Kevin Sumlin, but LSU doesn't lose at home very often. Something has to give on Saturday.
As LSU coach Les Miles once said "It's truly a place where opponents’ dreams come to die."

On Tuesday, Sumlin said "We're trying to keep our dreams alive.”

The task is a tall one for sure. Under Miles, LSU is 55-7 at Tiger Stadium. Since 2010, the Tigers are 25-1 at home, with the lone loss coming to No. 1 Alabama last season.

But the Aggies are pretty good on the road. Since Sumlin took over, the Aggies are 9-0 away from Kyle Field.

Something's got to give.

"It's a tough environment," senior running back Ben Malena said. "It's probably one of the top-five toughest environments for an opposing team to actually go in there and win. Not a lot of people go into Death Valley and win. If you go into Death Valley and win, you've got to beat those guys. It's something we're looking forward to."

The challenges for the Aggies are plentiful, especially when looking back at last season's meeting. LSU was one of two teams to defeat the Aggies last year, doing so 24-19 at Kyle Field. It was a game which Texas A&M lost the turnover battle by a wide margin (5-0) and it was a day of struggles for eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who threw three interceptions that day. Special teams were also an issue, as the Aggies left points on the board with two missed field goals and a missed point after touchdown kick.

All of those things will have to be corrected if the Aggies are to keep their dreams alive. They'll also have to defend a strong LSU running game, led by Jeremy Hill, much better than they've defended the run all season (the Aggies are 105th nationally, allowing 210.7 rush yards per game).

Sumlin spoke with a level of confidence about his group heading into the tough tilt on Saturday. The Aggies have gone and won SEC road games at Arkansas and Ole Miss this year; Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State last year. This test will be a unique one for sure.

"It'll take a really good effort from all three phases -- offense, defense and special teams -- for us to go in there and win," Sumlin said. "Right now where we are, we're about as healthy as we've been. We've got a lot of energy. Our guys understand our schemes as much as any time this year. Even though I said it's going to take a lot, I think right now we're in a position where guys understand what we're doing and we're looking forward to going and playing."

Style and substance for A&M RB Malena

November, 13, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- For his last walk through the tunnel at Kyle Field, senior running back Ben Malena felt like he needed a grand entrance.

[+] EnlargeBen Malena
AP Photo/David J. PhillipBen Malena knows how to have fun, but he's also proven to be a strong leader for Texas A&M.
As part of senior day on Saturday, the Aggies' last game at home this season, each senior was introduced one-by-one and given a chance to be applauded by the crowd. So Malena, with the flair and flamboyance that has been his signature all season, walked in with the flashiest entrance of all.

When Kyle Field public address announce Chace Murphy introduced Malena, his teammate -- sophomore running back Tra Carson -- walked through the tunnel with a black cape, with the words "CASH OUT KING" in bold gold text, all caps.

Like a boxer stepping into the ring for a championship bout, Malena strutted in behind Carson, with his right hand in the air, fingers rubbing together for the "Cashing out" sign that has become a signature move for Malena and the Aggies when they score touchdowns. Of course, it wasn't complete without his headband, which has also become a Malena signature, with the hashtag "#CASHOUTKING" draped across the forehead.

Not a bad way to enter for the final time in front of the home crowd.

"I was sitting there talking to my roommate, and I figured if they're going to give me an opportunity to run out like they do in the NFL and call people one by one, I've got to do something crazy," Malena said after the game on Saturday. "I had my roommate do it and thanks to Tra Carson. He helped me out with walking it out. It was pretty cool."

With cameras trained on virtually his every move each Saturday, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel gets the majority of the national attention/discussion for his on-field actions, but it's Malena who has displayed the most style and flair among the Aggies this season. And he's become a fan favorite while doing it.

"Day to day, I guess he's kind of like Superman and Clark Kent," offensive coordinator and running backs coach Clarence McKinney said with a laugh. "You don't notice him during the day. You don't notice him in meetings. You don't notice him at practice. He doesn't say a whole lot. But when the lights come on and it's time to play that game, he's a different person."

But there is substance to accompany Malena's style. He's perhaps the most consistent of the team's four scholarship running backs when it comes to production. He leads the team in rushing touchdowns (nine) and has been a steady, though not necessarily explosive presence, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

He's a threat in the passing game as a receiver, catching a pass in all but one game this season and he's the best pass-protecting running back the Aggies have. He also is a willing special teams player, be it on kickoff return or kick or punt coverage -- whatever the coaching staff asks of him.

But probably his most talked-about quality among A&M players and coaches is his leadership.

"He's had some great moments here," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He's really been an emotional leader for us, maybe not as much as y'all see during the game, but in particular during practice time and in the offseason. There's a reason he's a captain and a reason why he plays a lot of special teams. He's been a leader by example, and this year he's been a vocal leader."

The style part seems to come naturally to Malena. He's been "cashing out" for years, even back to his early seasons at A&M when he was wearing No. 23 (he wore No. 1 in 2012 and this season). In an in-stadium jumbotron segment called "Ask the Aggies" that plays during home games, several teammates called Malena one of the "coolest" players on the team. And he likes to have fun with it, evidenced by his answer when a reporter asked him before senior day what his headband would say.

"I can't give that information out," Malena said smiling. "I change it up sometimes. I can't give the senior day bandana away. [My teammates] ask me every week, 'What's it going to say this week? I say 'Man, if I tell you, I have to kill you. You just have to wait until Saturday.'"

Malena enjoyed his senior day to the fullest, jumping into the crowd to celebrate the Aggies' win over Mississippi State with fans after the game. He even tossed his bandana into the crowd as he walked toward the locker room.

"I figured, why not?" Malena said. "Might as well jump in the stands and enjoy this moment."

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Before walking through the tunnel behind the south end zone after pregame warm-ups on Saturday, Johnny Manziel stopped near the goal post where his parents, Paul and Michelle, stood waiting for him.

The last player in maroon and white to walk off the field, it seemed as if the Texas A&M quarterback was savoring every moment of the last Aggies game at Kyle Field this season. Before following his teammates into the tunnel, Manziel gave his mother and father each a warm embrace, and they reciprocated. With arms wrapped around each other tight, the emotion on their faces seemed telling.

If it wasn't Johnny Manziel's last game, period, at Kyle Field, it certainly had that feeling.

The rest was vintage Johnny Football. If you tried to sum up his short college career in four quarters, Saturday's 51-41 win over Mississippi State would serve as a pretty accurate microcosm. A spin move here, a juke there. Touchdown passes in bunches, oohs and ahhs from the crowd when he scrambled for yardage or to extend passing plays and, yes, a few interceptions mixed in for good measure, because Manziel is nothing if not a risk-taker.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/David J. PhillipJohnny Manziel wouldn't say whether this was his last home game, but he savored it nonetheless.
Heisman Trophy winner. Riverboat gambler. Highlight reel waiting to happen. Relentless and unapologetic. It all accurately describes Manziel, who is right in the middle of this year's Heisman race as he pursues a second consecutive trophy.

The numbers were good: 30-of-39 passing, 446 yards, five touchdowns, plus 47 rushing yards. There were those three interceptions that he'd like to have back, too, but in the end, he played well enough for his team to win. Was this it for Manziel in Aggieland? He's not ready to say.

"Not one bit," Manziel said, when asked if he has thought about or made a decision about his football future. "I'm focused on still trying to get us into a BCS berth and the best bowl that we can possibly get to. That's my only focus right now."

Whether or not this was his last game in front of the home crowd, Manziel made sure to enjoy the moment to the fullest. With less than two minutes to go and the Aggies trying to take a knee to secure a win, he waved his arms emphatically toward the crowd, hyping up the fans, ordering them to get loud. After returning to the sideline with less than a minute to go, his face showed up on the JumboTron and he smiled and saluted. The fans went nuts and began chanting in unison, "One more year! One more year!"

After the game was over, as the Aggie War Hymn played, Manziel ran into the stands to enjoy the moment with the fans and saw varsity's horns off with the people who have adored him throughout his nearly two-season stint, one in which he has captivated the college football world. He smiled from ear to ear almost every second, soaking it all in.

"It was just kind of spur of the moment," Manziel said. "The way that the crowd acted that last 1:30, for me and Mike [Evans], with the chant and with the energy that they brought when the game was kind of slowing down, it kind of kept us focused. It was just a great way to end this year, celebrating with them."

If the Aggies can get to a BCS bowl, or at least win out with victories at LSU and Missouri to close out November, Manziel's chances of repeating as the Heisman winner are real. Oregon's loss to Stanford on Thursday significantly hindered Marcus Mariota's chances, and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, whose team beat Wake Forest 59-3 on Saturday, stands as Manziel's primary competition.

But Manziel will have to limit the mistakes he made on Saturday in those final games against LSU and Missouri, both of which are stronger opponents than the Mississippi State squad the Aggies played Saturday. The Bulldogs harassed Manziel quite a bit, sacking him three times and making him do a lot of work outside the pocket. Manziel admitted he got greedy at times, particularly on his final interception, when he tried to force a pass to Evans that was picked off by Mississippi State safety Nickoe Whitley.

"Greed is a terrible thing," Manziel said. "I really wanted to hit that touchdown to Mike. I tried to look off that safety, and still going to him anyway, as a football player and as a quarterback watching film, I know better than that."

But it was about more than just Manziel. It was a historic moment of sorts, because it's the last time Kyle Field will exist in its current state. Major work soon will begin as part of a $450 million renovation project to be completed in 2015 to turn the stadium into a pristine, 102,500-seat monstrosity. It was senior day, the last time guys such as left tackle Jake Matthews, running back Ben Malena, linebacker Steven Jenkins and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. would play in College Station. The 13 seniors there on Saturday have been part of a 35-14 overall record and the Aggies' quick and surprising rise upon entry into the SEC.

And it also could be the last home game for Evans, arguably college football's best pass catcher this year, who also is a draft-eligible sophomore after this season. He'll have a decision to make, just like Manziel.

There still are two games left for the Aggies and a lot out in front of them, but there certainly was plenty of emotion in the air on Saturday night in Aggieland.

"We know who the seniors are, and we know who the guys are that could potentially leave," junior receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "We want to play hard every game, but there was something inside of us that urged us to play harder, because we know this team won't be the same next year. Every year, regardless, there will be change, but there will be some drastic changes next year, and I just wish those guys the best."

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2 SEC) looks to make it three in a row while Mississippi State is looking for its third win in four games when the two meet this afternoon at Kyle Field. Here's five things to keep an eye on:

1. Last game at Kyle Field for some Aggies: It's senior day at Texas A&M today and 13 seniors will have their last game in the maroon and white, notably offensive tackle Jake Matthews, running back Ben Malena and linebacker Steven Jenkins. But could it also be the last game at Kyle Field for a pair of redshirt sophomores, Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans? Both are draft eligible after this season. Neither has indicated a surefire decision as of yet, but considering how coveted they'll be as prospects, it's likely something they'll both take under serious consideration. Today will also be the last time Kyle Field looks the way it does, as some major work will begin soon as part of the $450 million renovation project on the stadium.

2. Dak Prescott will play: The Mississippi State quarterback has had an emotional week. His mother Peggy lost a more than year-long battle to cancer on Sunday and coaches and teammates joined Prescott at her funeral on Tuesday. He returned to practice on Wednesday, and Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger on Thursday that Prescott will play today. He's a dual-threat quarterback who leads the Bulldogs in rushing with 568 yards and 10 touchdowns. Given his difficult week, his presence could be a significant emotional boost for the Bulldogs.

3. Continued improvement on D? Texas A&M has looked like a different defense lately, having strong performances the last two weeks against UTEP and Vanderbilt. The Aggies held each team to fewer than 330 yards of offense, fewer than 130 rushing yards and combined for nine sacks in those two games. It certainly doesn't hurt that they faced a backup quarterback each week and Mississippi State, with Prescott at the helm, will likely bring a tougher challenge. This should be a solid test to see how much progress the A&M defense has truly made.

4. Handling Mississippi State's front seven: The Bulldogs are one of the bigger teams the Aggies will face this year, offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said earlier this week. The Bulldogs can generate a pass rush and have had 16 quarterback hurries in their last three games. They're also efficient at getting three-and-outs, holding opponents to three offensive plays or fewer 36.4 percent of the time, or 4.5 drives per game, which is second in the SEC behind Alabama.

5. Key players returning for A&M: The Aggies will get the services of offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and defensive tackle Alonzo Williams back today, according to Kevin Sumlin. Both have missed the last two games with injuries. Ogbuehi will slide back in his right tackle spot and the offensive line will go back to normal after shuffling in Ogbuehi's absence. Williams will plug back in next to true freshman Isaiah Golden and give the Aggies a playmaker as well as some much-needed depth on the defensive interior. The status of running back Tra Carson (sprained neck) who was injured against UTEP, is uncertain, though Sumlin said earlier in the week that Carson "wants to play."

Running back depth key for A&M

November, 7, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Coming into this season, there was much discussion from Texas A&M coaches about its options in its offensive backfield.

[+] EnlargeTrey Williams
AP Photo/Eric Christian SmithTexas A&M's Trey Williams is averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
The stable of running backs the Aggies was both deep and talented this summer. Ben Malena was the returning starter of the group, the senior who found his way into the starting lineup a year ago, and Trey Williams, who contributed as a freshman, was back for what he hoped would be a super sophomore season.

A pair of sophomores, Tra Carson and Brandon Williams, joined the group. Both had to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, as Carson transferred from Oregon and Williams from Oklahoma.

How carries would be divided was a frequent question from fans. All four were talented and highly touted recruits coming out of high school, and there was no question each had the ability to earn playing time.

But because of injuries, the Aggies haven't always had all four backs healthy and available for the entire season. Because of that, the depth they have built has become valuable as players shuffle in and out of the lineup.

On Saturday, in the Aggies' 57-7 victory over UTEP, Carson gave the Kyle Field crowd a scare after being carried away on a stretcher. Fortunately for the Aggies, Carson only had a sprained neck, but it underscores how critical it has been to the Aggies to have so many options.

"It's really helpful to have more than one guy," offensive coordinator and running backs coach Clarence McKinney said. "If you've got one guy and he goes down, you're scrambling for the next guy. Our situation, it's unfortunate that Tra had the injury that he went down with, but the next guy up is just as good, if not better. That's a really good position to be in as a running backs coach."

Early in the season, it was Trey Williams and Brandon Williams who battled through ailments. Brandon Williams had offseason foot surgery and missed the season opener against Rice. Trey Williams battled an ankle injury that caused him to miss the Aggies' games against Sam Houston State and Alabama. Carson has appeared in every game this year, though his status for Saturday's game against Mississippi State is uncertain.

The only player who hasn't missed game time because of an injury is Malena, who has 456 yards and eight touchdowns, best among the Aggies' running backs.

As Trey Williams (297 yards, five touchdowns) has become more and more healthy, his per-carry production has improved. He is averaging a team-high 7.6 yards per carry and has shown the explosiveness that the Aggies hoped to see when they recruited him at out of Spring (Texas) Dekaney High School.

Carson (269 yards, five touchdowns) has served as a hammer, a back who can get it done between the tackles. The contributions of Brandon Williams (206 yards, one touchdown) wasn't as significant at midseason, and he did not get any touches at Ole Miss or against Auburn. But he has carried the ball 16 times in the last two weeks, and he scored a touchdown against Vanderbilt.

Not surprisingly, quarterback Johnny Manziel is again the team's leading rusher (564 yards, eight touchdowns) but having a host of guys to hand off to has been valuable to A&M's offensive success and running game, which ranks 25th in the country (210.78 yards per game) and fourth in the SEC.

Planning for success: Texas A&M

November, 7, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Not only will Saturday mark the last time at Kyle Field for some Texas A&M seniors, but it will also be the final time that Kyle Field looks the way it does.

After the No. 15 Aggies host Mississippi State in the 2013 home finale, construction crews will begin work on the stadium and field itself as part of a $450 million renovation that will take place over the coming years with a summer 2015 completion date.

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJake Matthews is one of several Aggies looking for one final win at Kyle Field.
"After Saturday about 5:30 [p.m.], Kyle Field will look completely different forever," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "The ability to play in that game or coach in that game or be a fan in that game to me is a big deal."

The Aggies will continue to play in Kyle Field next season while the redevelopment project is ongoing, but for 13 seniors, including left tackle Jake Matthews, running back Ben Malena and linebacker Steven Jenkins, Saturday will be it in front of the 12th Man, though the Aggies have two road games remaining to close out the regular season at LSU and at Missouri.

"It's going to be an emotional day," Malena said. "Not emotional, I think it's more exciting than anything. I look at it as a celebration that you came here, paid your dues. It's all part of growing up. Everybody's going to have a senior day."

Jenkins said he's amazed at how quickly time has passed.

"Time goes by fast," Jenkins said. "Being a part of this program, seeing all the guys come in, building that brotherhood, it's been great. But it's time to go. I've enjoyed Aggieland and the 12th Man. There's no place like it."

This particular group will be remembered for helping the Aggies make a successful transition into the SEC, smashing outsider expectations by going 11-2 last season, their first in the premier conference in college football. It helped establish a foundation for future success in the league. Matthews said that's one of his best memories.

"Just going in the SEC, that whole season, how much fun it was, how surprising it was coming up when nobody thought we were going to be any good," Matthews said. "Playing the way we did and having that much fun is something I'll never forget."

It could also be a home finale for the Aggies’ two brightest stars: quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans. Both are redshirt sophomores and eligible to declare for early entry into the NFL draft. While it likely won't be known for certain until after the season is over whether they'll go, there's certainly a chance Saturday could be their last at Kyle.

The Aggies are still looking for improvement in several areas in their final home game and final three games overall in order to win out the rest of the year.

"You need to be improving at this time of year," Sumlin said. "We've played pretty well defensively the last two weeks. We're gaining some confidence. We're going to find out Saturday how much we've improved."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — After losing a left tackle who was the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft and a center who was a two-year starter at the position and a four-year starter overall, it was easy to believe that there would be a drop-off in performance from the Texas A&M offensive line.

Through six games, the No. 7 Aggies can safely say all is well up front. Even with two newcomers and some shuffling by moving returning starters around, the unit is again performing at a high level and is one of the reasons Texas A&M's offense continues to be one of the best in college football.

While it's difficult to replicate what the Aggies had last season, when all five starters last season played multiple seasons together, it's easy to see how well this year's group is doing. All it takes is watching quarterback Johnny Manziel drop back and sit comfortably in the pocket for five, six and sometimes seven seconds looking for a receiver or deciding to use his scrambling ability to gain yardage.

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJake Matthews is playing well at left tackle after playing right tackle in 2012.
And in the Aggies' victory over Arkansas on Sept. 28, the line paved the way for two second-half touchdown drives that consisted of all running plays. Texas A&M had more rushing yards than passing yards.

"Offensive line has played really good, with the exception of one game," offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said. "I think those young guys in one of those six games -- I think it was SMU -- had some struggles. But for the most part, they've played great."

Against SMU, there were some penalties and self-inflicted errors that the Aggies needed to clean up. Their performance against No. 1 Alabama was strong and they've been consistent, for the most part, the rest of the year.

The transition began back in spring, moving Jake Matthews from right tackle to left tackle to replace Luke Joeckel. To fill Matthews' void, right guard Cedric Ogbuehi kicked out to right tackle. Jake's younger brother Mike Matthews stepped in as the starter at center and redshirt freshman Germain Ifedi slid in at right guard. The only player still in the same position last season is left guard Jarvis Harrison.

Behind that quintet, the Aggies are putting up 586.5 yards per game (No. 3 in the country) and have allowed only seven sacks, which puts them in the top 30 statistically in the country. They're 20th in rushing yards (224.6 yards per game) and sixth in passing yards (361.8 per game).

"They're getting better every week," senior running back Ben Malena said. "It's hard to compare this year's group to last year's because they're only six games in, but I can tell you every week they are getting better."

The biggest question marks coming into the season centered around the first-time starters. So far, they've answered the questions.

"I'm really pleased with the young guys," offensive line coach B.J. Anderson said. "I think they've made some strides. They've played in some atmospheres where we had to communicate. Mike's done a really good job. I've changed protections on him a couple games. ... I'm really pleased with where he's at, and the same way with Germain. He's getting better every game and we're fixing some things that need to get fixed and we'll just keep working."

Anderson noted that they're not holding anything back from Mike Matthews, who is just a sophomore, when it comes to game-planning and protections. That's critical considering the vast array of defensive looks Anderson said opponents have thrown at the Aggies.

"If you had told me that I had that flexibility back in August, I'm not sure I would have believed you," Anderson said. "But he's got the kitchen sink right now. I'm not doing anything that I didn't do with Pat Lewis, who was a senior. He's able to make all the adjustments I need and I'm really pleased with the mental work he does during the week, preparation-wise."

The "older guys" -- senior Jake Matthews and juniors Harrison and Ogbuehi -- have also shined. Matthews' adjustment to left tackle has been smooth, as has Ogbuehi's to right tackle. Harrison has impressed Anderson with his effort week to week.

"Jake's Jake and Ced's doing a good job and Jarvis Harrison is playing his tail off -- as well as he's played since I've been here," Anderson said. "He's playing with great effort. It shows on tape and I'm happy with those older guys."

Manziel's progression and mastery of the offense in the second season in the scheme has helped as well. Players say they notice Manziel has tried to stay in the pocket more often.

"I feel more this year that he hasn't scrambled as much and he has been more patient," Ogbuehi said. "He looks to throw more, too. He's always looking to make a big play with his arm, and that's good."

Perhaps the best aspect of this group is it has stayed healthy. The Aggies were fortunate to keep all five starters healthy last season, and that's been the case this year, too. It isn't a perfect group, but it is a smart, talented one that continues to improve every day.

"This year, we're still trying to get there but so far we're getting there," Ogbuehi said. "It's exciting so far what we've done in the little time we've had together."

Aggies show poise late in games

October, 14, 2013
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When Texas A&M's defense got the stop it needed to give the offense a chance to win against Ole Miss late in the fourth quarter on Saturday, players and coaches on the sideline elicited a knowing reaction.

"Everybody on the offensive side of the ball had a smile on their face," Malena said. "Especially all the coaches. They were so fiery."

They knew what was about to happen. With a tie game and the ball in the hands of one of college football's best offenses and arguably college football's best player, the coaches, players and plenty who were watching could guess what was coming: The Aggies would drive downfield and score.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel, Mike Hilton
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisJohnny Manziel added to his legend with a game-winning drive at Ole Miss.
They did, pulling out a thrilling, 41-38 road victory over the Rebels.

It was the second consecutive season that Texas A&M had to go into Oxford, Miss., and fight tooth-and-nail for a victory. In 2012, the Aggies had to crawl out of a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to escape with a 30-27 win.

What both instances showed is that the Aggies have tremendous poise when it comes to playing from behind and making plays with the game on the line.

"Championship teams know how to handle adversity," Malena said. "Just because we were down 31-24, with them having the momentum, as a championship team, you can't let that get you. Who said it was going to be easy every game? They have a great team over there, too. Hat's off to them."

There were plenty of ups and downs Saturday. From some brief uncertainty regarding the health of Johnny Manziel, to a couple of key turnovers in the second half, to a defense that struggled to get stops as Ole Miss made a charge and even a missed field goal, there were several situations that could have thrown the Aggies off course and given them their first road loss under Kevin Sumlin.

Instead, when crunch time came, the Aggies made the key plays in all three phases. The defense got a three-and-out on Ole Miss' final possession to force a punt. The offense drove downfield to put themselves in position for the winning points and, after missing an first-quarter field goal, kicker Josh Lambo drilled a 33-yarder to win it.

"I feel like our seniors and our captains, we lead by example," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said. "Starting with Ben and Johnny, they made big plays running behind Jake Matthews and our offensive line. On defense we just stepped up. In the fourth quarter we knew we had faced a lot of adversity, but we had to step up and make plays on offense, defense and special teams to win this game."

Sumlin noted earlier in the week that last year's battle in Oxford was significant because the Aggies needed a strong effort in the second half to escape. It gave the team confidence after 2011, when Texas A&M lost five games in which they held double-digit leads.

"The year before, I wasn't here, but I heard all the stories about what had happened and the mindset that those types of football games, we wouldn't win," Sumlin said. "There was a lot of emotion after the game [in 2012] and rightfully so and there's no doubt that it helped us gain confidence as the season went on and it helped us gain confidence at a time certainly at a time when we needed it."

Now you have an A&M team that finishes strong, even when behind. Even in losses, the Aggies have stayed in games until the final minute. When the Aggies trailed No. 1 Alabama by three touchdowns on Sept. 14, they kept rallying to keep it close but lost 49-42.

That type of effort is a big reason why the Aggies are 16-3 since Sumlin took over.

"One thing I'll say about our guys: They don't quit," Sumlin said. "It's been kind of a trademark here in the last year and a half. They're going to play until the end and then we'll see what happens."

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