Texas A&M Aggies: Mississippi Rebels

Five from Friday: 2015 QB Murray has tools 

December, 9, 2012
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Each week, GigEmNation reporter Sam Khan Jr. will bring you five things he learned from watching high school football action in the Midlands region that week, including observations of Texas A&M commitments and targets and other players that catch his attention. Here's this week's installment:

Josh Walker
Courtesy of Gilmer ISDJosh Walker continued to have a big impact for Gilmer (Texas) High School.
1. Allen (Texas) High School 2015 quarterback Kyler Murray is a well-rounded talent. Son of former Texas A&M quarterback Kevin Murray, Kyler has a lot of appealing traits. One of the first that strikes you is his speed and elusiveness. He chewed up 122 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns on 21 carries in Allen's 37-17 win over talented Dallas Skyline in the Class 5A Division I quarterfinals. Murray wasn't his best as a passer on Saturday, but he showed arm strength, good touch on his deep passes and the ability to thread the needle, finding receivers in coverage. He's shorter than your ideal college quarterback (5-foot-11) but he just turned 15 and has time to grow.

2. Texas A&M 2013 defensive tackle commitment Kerrick Huggins (Dallas Skyline) is a relentless player. In the Raiders' loss to Allen on Saturday, the 6-3, 285-pound three-star prospect used his consistent effort to get into the backfield on several occasions and pressure quarterback Kyler Murray. He collected a sack and with his overall effort, showed why he appealed to the Aggies and other schools that recruited him.

Five from Friday: Mike Mitchell shines 

November, 18, 2012
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Each week, GigEmNation reporter Sam Khan Jr. will bring you five things he learned from watching high school football action in the Midlands region that week, including observations of Texas A&M commitments and targets and other players that catch his attention. Here's this week's installment:

1. It's easy to see why Plano (Texas) Prestonwood linebacker Mike Mitchell is such a coveted prospect. The ESPN 150 outside linebacker, who has a final four of Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas A&M, is skilled, athletic and seems to be around the ball constantly. The Lions' opponent on Friday, Tomball (Texas) Concordia Lutheran, ran a triple-option offense that was well executed and hard to defend because of that. As Mitchell got in a groove he made an impact, recording 12 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He's also quick and athletic enough that the Lions used him as a kickoff return man and he even lined up on offense a couple of times. He limped off the field late in the fourth quarter and left the game the stadium with his leg wrapped in ice after suffering an injury that he played most of the night through, but the nation's 10th-ranked outside linebacker appears to have plenty of tools. According to his father Ken Mitchell, the injury could keep the linebacker out for Prestonwood's next playoff game.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comESPN 150 linebacker Mike Mitchell has narrowed down his list to four schools and will take visits after the season.
2. Prestonwood has plenty of other worthy prospects. Obviously Christian Morgan, the three-star tight end prospect, is one of them. The Mississippi commitment is big, athletic and relentless when chasing the quarterback (he plays defensive end in addition to tight end for Prestonwood). Also, 2016 prospect Michael Irvin Jr., the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin, has impressive size for his age (6-2, 190). Look for him to emerge as a prospect on the radar of many colleges in the future. The Lions also have a 2015 prospect in quarterback Mickey Mitchell, who excels on both the gridiron and the basketball court, but he did not play and will miss the remainder of the season because of a torn ACL suffered on Nov. 2.

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Texas A&M has added to its 2013 class.

The Aggies received a commitment from City College of San Francisco offensive tackle Jeremiah Stuckey, who made an official visit for the Sam Houston State game. Stuckey, who is 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, will be a mid-year transfer as a full-qualifier, joining the Aggies in time for the spring semester. Stuckey, who confirmed the news via text message to GigEmNation, will have four years to play three.

The 18-year-old Stuckey had offers from Mississippi, Nevada and Oregon in addition to Texas A&M and was recruited by Aggies linebacker coach Matt Wallerstedt. Playing offensive tackle in a spread offense for City College of San Francisco, he appears to be a good fit for the Aggies and can help with depth at the tackle position should one or both current junior tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, decide to declare for the NFL draft.

Stuckey played his high school ball at Pacifica (Calif.) Terra Nova. He and his City College of San Francisco teammates are 9-1 and will play American River College in the Northern California Football Association championship game on Saturday.

Stuckey is the 31st commitment for Texas A&M in the 2013 class.

Emerging LB Otaro Alaka on Aggies' radar 

October, 25, 2012
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One of many 2014 prospects who were present at Kyle Field when Texas A&M took on LSU last week was Houston Cypress Falls outside linebacker Otaro Alaka.

The 6-foot-3, 196-pound Alaka has been picking up momentum in recruiting this fall. He recently added offers from Mississippi and Northwestern to add to offers he already had from Arkansas, Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Several other in-state schools are showing interest in Alaka, including Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.


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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- When Texas A&M defensive back Toney Hurd stepped in front of a Bo Wallace pass last Saturday and slid safely to the turf to secure one of the Aggies' most thrilling wins in recent memory, teammate Steven Terrell wasn't surprised.

The senior safety has seen Hurd do his due diligence when it comes to film study. It's paying dividends, with Hurd's game-clinching interception being the latest piece of evidence as the Aggies pulled out a 30-27 come-from-behind victory at Ole Miss last week.

[+] EnlargeToney Hurd Jr.
Ray Carlin/Icon SMITexas A&M defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. is third on the team in tackles with 31.
"He's been really studying the game," Terrell said. "He really watches a lot of film ... so it's almost like he's out there cheating. He knows exactly when teams are going to stuff and things like that. He's done a great job of triggering and letting go and throwing his body around and things like that. He's been making plays for us since the spring, so it doesn't surprise me that he came up with that game-winning interception."

Hurd, a junior from Marshall High School in Missouri City, Texas, said he looks at each game like an exam. Taking that approach when looking at video helps him prepare.

"Honestly, I feel like it's like studying for a test," Hurd said. "If they're going to give you the answers, you might as well study them and figure them out while you can. It gets you ahead and it gives you an edge going into the game."

Going back to his Marshall days, Hurd has been a student of the game. He attributes his improvement in that department to former Aggies cornerback Terrence Frederick, another Houston-area product, who was Hurd's teammate for the last two years.

"Honestly, T-Fred taught me how to watch film," Hurd said. "I kind of look at it from a receiver's point of view. What are they thinking? When they see me in front of them, inside or outside leverage, what are they thinking? Then from there, I make my game plan of what I want to do and how I'm going to try to trick them, because all they're trying to do is line up and trick us. So I try to figure out, according to the formation and where the back is aligned and where they're at on the field, what I can do to get an edge."

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M came away with a win on Saturday over Mississippi, but there was plenty to clean up for the Aggies as they watched film on Monday.

The number that stood out the most and made coach Kevin Sumlin unhappy was, obviously, the one in the turnover column.

“You can’t live with six turnovers," Sumlin said. "That’s not us. We haven’t been like that and hopefully we never see that again. You talk about how that happens and why that happens and the ability to do that."

Another area of concern for Sumlin was the Aggies' third down defense. The Aggies came in allowing third down conversions just 26 percent of the time but yielded 47 percent to Ole Miss (9-of-19). The Rebels converted six of their first 11 before the Aggies shored up late, allowing just three of the Rebels' last 8 attempts.

"I thought we were pretty good on first and second down but on third down, we weren't where we've been all year," Sumlin said. "We got kind of spoiled by that because we've been off the chart on third down defense this year."

Of course, Sumlin was happy with the win but made sure the players knew it could have come without the type of fight they had to put up to come back from a 10-point deficit and eek out the 30-27 victory.

"Our message yesterday was 'Here's what we're capable of, we still won the football game because of great effort and because you played until the end, but you made it harder on yourselves,'" Sumlin said. "On the road, as things go on, a ball can bounce either way and we lose that game. We clean that up, and who knows, we probably can win going away....Our guys understand that. It’s a learning process."

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Johnny ManzielStacy Revere/Getty ImagesQuarterback Johnny Manziel finally played like a freshman vs. Ole Miss, but he showed poise to bring Texas A&M back.
They committed six turnovers. They had five penalties, as many as their two previous games combined. They trailed by 10 points with fewer than eight minutes to go on the road against a Southeastern Conference opponent.

And even with all that, the Texas A&M Aggies still came away with a victory on Saturday.

There's little doubt that the Aggies have played better overall games in their first four games of the season -- which includes a 20-17 home loss to Florida -- than they did against Mississippi, against whom they pulled out a 30-27 come-from-behind victory. And while the Rebels might not be of Florida's caliber, they are still a respectable SEC squad, and road wins in the SEC aren't easy to come by.

Considering that the Aggies made it harder on themselves than they had their previous four outings, there's a lot that can be drawn from the fact that Texas A&M still pulled out a win.

[+] EnlargeBen Malena
Spruce Derden/US PresswireTailback Ben Malena rushed 18 times for 142 yards and a touchdown vs. Ole Miss.
"For us to turn the ball over like that and go on the road in the SEC and win is something I think our team can build confidence from," coach Kevin Sumlin said after the game. "We'll be very very honest with ourselves on Monday as we always are and we'll fix some things that need to be fixed. But the confidence of the team that really in these situations a year ago, didn't close them out, and some young guys who it's their first time in this situation, there's a lot of things you can draw from that will help us the rest of the year."

Perhaps that is the biggest difference between this year's Aggies and the previous installment. In 2011, the Aggies had trouble closing out games. Six times last season, they lost a game in which they at a double-digit lead at some point.

The tables were turned on Saturday, with the Aggies trailing by double digits, but they closed with authority.

"What you can draw from this is that you have to believe and you have to keep playing. Period," Sumlin said. "Sooner or later, if you do your job and you just keep playing and believing, good things are going to happen to you."

That holds true for the entire team, including redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who committed his first turnovers of the season on Saturday. He threw two interceptions and fumbled twice, yet still showed the confidence to engineer two fourth-quarter scoring drives to fuel the comeback.

"He never hangs his head," Sumlin said. "That's a learning situation, and again, every situation that he's in is new at this level, particularly playing in this league, going on the road. It had gone for four weeks without giving the ball to the other team. He may have been pressing a little bit, he may have been pressing a little bit in the second half and we talked to him about the same thing. We've got 10 other people out here that can help us win games and the more he plays, the more he'll understand that. He made plays to help us win also."

The Aggies defense also got key stops in the fourth quarter, particularly a fourth-and-short stop at the Ole Miss 39-yard line that gave the Aggies the ball back for the go-ahead score and an interception by Toney Hurd that effectively ended the game, killing the Rebels' final scoring chance.

"That gives us great confidence as a team," Hurd said. "Special-teams wise, offensively and defensively, it took every piece of the puzzle to get this win. Offense went on a long drive, kickoff came down and stuffed them, defensively we gave up a few yards but in the end, we held and we got the win. A great team win."

There was also plenty of players redeeming themselves after making mistakes early in the game, a big point of emphasis for Sumlin, who often says "It's not what happens to you, it's how you react to it." One example was senior receiver Ryan Swope, who fumbled in the second quarter to kill a potential Aggies scoring drive but caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

"I think we're just going to use this as momentum going into next week," Swope said. "We did not play good football today, including myself. I had a poor first half. ... We really didn't play good today and we didn't execute really well, so we've got to take a look at this film and be real critical of ourselves and we've got to fix those little things and come back and work hard in practice. We're better than that and we have some improvement to work on. That's why we practice and we've got plenty of time to watch this film."

As the Aggies move forward in the rough-and-tough SEC, they have the confidence to know that they have a team talented and poised enough to stay within striking distance of winning any game, even when faced with dire situations. That's particularly key for the younger players on the squad, of which there are many playing starting or key roles.

"They learned that anything is possible," senior linebacker Sean Porter said. "They learned to keep pushing. We can win games. We have enough talent to beat a lot of teams. We can compete with anybody. I think these young guys learned just never quit, keep pushing and eventually, something good will happen."
[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel passed for 191 yards and rushed for 129 yards against Ole Miss.
Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel was named Southeastern Conference Co-Freshman of the Week by the league office on Monday for his performance in the Aggies' 30-27 win over Mississippi on Saturday.

Manziel was 17-of-26 passing for 191 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 129 yards and a score on 20 carries. He turned the ball over three times but overcame the miscues to lead a comeback from a 27-17 deficit in the fourth quarter, engineering two scoring drives in the final eight minutes.

Nationally, Manziel ranks as the top freshman quarterback in rushing, passing efficiency, total offense and points responsible for. For the year, Manziel has thrown for 1,285 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 495 yards and seven more scores.

The Texas A&M Top 10: Week 6 

October, 8, 2012
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Each week this season, GigEmNation will rank Texas A&M's top 10 performers of the season up to this point. After five games this season, including the most recent win over Mississippi, here's a glance at who has shined so far:

1. DE Damontre Moore
The junior has been a constant, consistent playmaker on defense for the Aggies from the first game of the season through the fifth. On Saturday he tied for the team lead in tackles with three others, added two tackles for loss and recorded his seventh sack of the year. For the season, he's tied for the nation's lead in tackles for loss (12.5) and tied for third in sacks.

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3 Up, 3 Down: Texas A&M 30, Ole Miss 27 

October, 7, 2012
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Texas A&M has now won four consecutive games after a thrilling, 30-27 comeback win over Mississippi on Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. With the Aggies sitting at 4-1 for the season and 2-1 in Southeastern Conference play, let's look at the highs and lows of the victory:

THREE UP:

1. Poise: With so many breaks going against them and their backs seemingly against the wall, the Aggies showed quite a bit of poise. Winning road games in the SEC isn't easy (especially when you commit six turnovers), but doing so after being down by 10 points and backed up at their own 1-yard line with 7:47 remaining in the game shows a mental toughness that could carry this team for a long time.

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Texas A&M has had its struggles, turning the ball over three times in the first half, but they enter the locker room knotted up with Mississippi at 17-17 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.

Stat of the half: The Aggies have turned the ball over three times tonight, a season high. Coming into the season, Texas A&M had tied for the fewest turnovers in the country with West Virginia (one), but it's been a sloppy first half in that department. Johnny Manziel committed his first turnover with an interception and running back Christine Michael and receiver Ryan Swope each have lost a fumble.

Player of the half: Texas A&M running back Ben Malena. He recorded the Aggies' first touchdown (a 59-yard run in the game's first minute) and has 85 rushing yards on 11 carries, an average of 7.7 yards a tote. He has also had some nice blitz pickups in the passing game. And most importantly, he has taken care of the ball when he's had it in his hands.

What’s working for the Aggies: Defensive pressure. The Aggies have been able to hassle Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, sacking him once, forcing a turnover when Sean Porter nearly sacked him before Steven Jenkins got a 37-yard interception return, and they have three quarterback hurries. The defense as a whole has been solid overall, even though it has had its not-so-bright spots (the opening drive and the two-play, 82-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter).

What’s not working for the Aggies: Ball security. That's the biggest issue so far. Also, Manziel has been given plenty of time in the pocket to pass by his offensive line, but will have to do a better job of finding receivers downfield. Several times he had plenty of time only to tuck and run it. He hasn't been bad, but he could be better.

What Texas A&M needs to do to win: Take better care of the ball. If the Aggies don't turn it over again, they have enough firepower and the defense is playing well enough for the Aggies to come away with a tough road win.

Five storylines: Texas A&M vs. Ole Miss 

October, 4, 2012
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Texas A&M continues Southeastern Conference play when it meets Mississippi at 6 p.m. Saturday in Oxford, Miss. The Aggies (3-1, 1-1 SEC) are coming off their first conference victory, a 58-10 thumping of Arkansas, while Ole Miss (3-2, 0-1) is coming off a 33-14 loss to no. 1 Alabama, a game in which the Rebels showed a lot of fight. Here's a look at five storylines for the Aggies as game day approaches:

1. The SEC experience
Saturday will mark Texas A&M's first SEC road game as an SEC member. The Aggies' first road game of the season, which came on Sept. 15 at SMU, saw nearly as much maroon in the stands as there was SMU red. That won't be the case on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It'll be the first true raucous road atmosphere the Aggies will face this season, and it'll provide a good barometer for where the Aggies are as a team when it truly becomes them against the world (or Oxford, at least).

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Inside look: Q&A on Ole Miss

October, 3, 2012
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As Texas A&M approaches its next game, a road trip to Oxford, Miss., to take on Southeastern Conference foe Mississippi, GigEmNation sought insight on the 3-2 Rebels from Hugh Kellenberger, who covers the team for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Sam Khan Jr.: When it comes to Ole Miss' defense, which is closer to a more accurate representation of what they are: the Sept. 15 loss to Texas when the Longhorns scored 66 or last week when they allowed just 33 points -- and six in the second half -- to no. 1 Alabama?

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
AP Photo/Bill HaberHugh Freeze is 3-2 in his first season as coach of Ole Miss.
Hugh Kellenberger: I don’t know if either was truly more accurate of Ole Miss’ defensive talent, because Texas and Alabama approached their games against Ole Miss so different. Texas was very aggressive with its outside run and threw the ball vertically. That exposed Ole Miss’ lack of speed in the front six and the corners simply could not make plays on the ball. Ole Miss abandoned the 4-2-5 defense in favor of a 4-3 look against Alabama, and it was more successful in bottling up Bama’s running game. What Ole Miss did do well at times is on third down using a 3-2-6 look that put defensive backs across the field to attack the receiver. That used Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s love of the check down and underneath route against him, because those four and five yards receptions did not get much after the catch.

For this week, I expect a return to the 4-2-5 as the team’s base, but the 4-3 was effective enough we may see it on first down and third-and-short situations.

SK: The Rebels are in the top 25 nationally when it comes to running the football. What has been the key to that success?

HK: The read-option game has been a big success for Ole Miss, because both quarterbacks are comfortable taking the ball and getting yardage up field. That forces the defense to play both ends, and often not very well. Ole Miss also has four backs that will get carries, and their different styles have helped to diversify play-calling and further keep teams off-balance. But that number is also misleading, because it was garnered against teams with really bad run defense. Look at the first three games this season against FBS opponents; the best run defense was Texas, which is 89th nationally. UTEP is 108 and Tulane is 122nd. Against Alabama, Ole Miss had 80 yards on 35 carries. It’s not going to be that bad much, if at all, the rest of this season, because no one runs against Bama. But I also don’t know how many times Ole Miss can run for 300 yards or more this season, which it did against UTEP and Tulane.

SK: What have been their strengths and what have they struggled with the most through five games?

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Notes: Penalties a point of emphasis

October, 2, 2012
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One area that Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin put specific emphasis on heading into this season was penalties.

In 2011, the Aggies ranked 100th in the country penalties per game, averaging seven. Only 20 teams were penalized more on avereage than the Aggies were.

After starting out roughly in that department (the Aggies committed nine penalties in each of the first two games), they've shown improvement in the last two weeks, committing a combined five penalties in wins over South Carolina State and Arkansas. Currently, they average 5.75 infractions per game, tied for 49th nationally.

[+] EnlargeScott Novak
Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty ImagesReferees' flags were an issue for the Aggies in the first two games of the season.
Sumlin and Aggies players talked about the emphasis placed on it entering the season when meeting with the media on Tuesday at the Bright Football Complex. Former longtime NFL executive Bill Polian, father of Texas A&M special teams coordinator Brian Polian, visited with the team during fall training camp and spoke of an NFL study that equated penalties committed to points.

"Bill Polian was here to speak to our football team and in an NFL study, over time, 10 yards of penalties were equal to one point," Sumlin said. "So all you have to do is look back at Florida. If that's the case, then that was about eight or nine points, which could have been the difference in that football game. So when you start talking to people in terms of what it actually costs, I think guys understand it. And then they realize that it's not OK.

"Five-yard penalties are controlled by the players not the coaches. Pre-snap penalties are controlled by the players, not the coaches. You're responsible for that, lining up correctly, jumping offsides, staying onside; coaches coach and players play. You have a responsibility to everybody to do your job and that's it. You hold people accountable for those types of things in front of your peers and they start figuring it out."

In terms of holding people accountable, the Aggies have disciplinary measures in place as punishment for committing penalties. Offensive players are required to do up-downs, defensive players must do over-and-backs, which means they'll have to run across the field multiple times after practices.

"They've definitely upped the punishment for penalties," senior receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu said. "The big guys definitely don't want to be up-downing after practice as much as we do. We definitely honed in on that. To be a winning ballclub, you can't have penalties. You can't hurt yourself and have mistakes like that. We try to get positive yards, not negative yards, and I would say the coaching staff has definitely done a good job of making us more focused on that."

Rowdy road atmosphere: When the Aggies travel to Oxford, Miss., to meet Mississippi on Saturday, it'll be their first Southeastern Conference road game as a member of the SEC. They've heard what to expect and feel like they have an idea of what it should be like.

"I expect Ole Miss to be a crazy atmosphere, real loud," senior receiver Ryan Swope said. "This is going to be special for us and is what I came back for to play, to go out and experience all those SEC schools. Going on the road to all those SEC schools, seeing how loud these stadiums are. It’s going to be cool to see everything these teams have to offer. I’m really excited about it."

Rankings insignificant: The Aggies haven't yet cracked the top 25, but they say that it doesn't bother them one bit.

"It’s not important," senior linebacker Jonathan Stewart said. "If we were ranked 23 we would be the same exact team. It’s not very important to us right now. We’re just trying to focus on Ole Miss. We know how much talent we have on this team. We know what we’re capable of doing. It’s not a big-time priority for us right now. There’s still a lot of season to play."

Interchangeable parts: The Texas A&M secondary has been an area where there have been shifts from week to week. Sophomore Deshazor Everett has played both cornerback and safety and on Saturday against Arkansas, junior Toney Hurd started at safety after spending most of the first three games at nickel cornerback.

Sumlin said that more versatility is a good thing for the Aggies.

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When safety Shaan Washington (Alexandria, La./Alexandria) visited Texas A&M this spring, he got a good feeling.

As he talked with head coach Kevin Sumlin, he felt a sense of comfort. Sumlin wasn't pressuring him to commit then and there, but rather encouraging the 6-2, 210-pound safety to visit and talk with other schools and compare them to the Aggies before deciding.

But when it was all said and done, Washington liked what he saw in College Station and verbally committed to the Aggies on Monday, adding yet another defensive player to the Aggies' 2013 recruiting class.

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