Big 12 Football Media Day Notes: A&M

A&M closed out the Big 12 Football Media Days in Dallas last Friday. This is the third in IT's reports from Dallas covering every league team:

FS Jay Brooks and C Seth McKinney, who along with QB Mark Farris and head coach R.C. Slocum, represented the Aggies at the Big 12 Media Days in Dallas last week, are both fifth-year seniors who have already earned their undergrad degrees from A&M. Brooks, who started one game last fall at CB but came off the bench for the remaining 11, will take over the No. 1 spot at free safety in place of the departed Michael Jameson, a move that the senior says will give him a chance to run sideline to sideline where he can take advantage of his rush, cover and tackle skills. Brooks is one of the top returning special teams performers in the conference after totaling four punt blocks in '00, all returned for TDs. McKinney has earned first-team mention on every preseason all-conference team and is an all-America candidate. Farris, who originally signed with the Ags in 1994, finally made it to College Station in '99 after spending six years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. The 26 year old QB "Is well on his way to becoming the most prolific pass in Texas A&M history" according to his Aggie Media Guide bio. That's a bit like saying so-and-so is the most open-minded Aggie in history. In other words, it's all relative based on the competition, but regardless, Farris could make a jump to the first tier of league QBs with a strong '01 season. He threw for 2,551 yards last season in 11 regular season games and will the Ags' first-ever 2,500-yard returning passer and the first returning 2,000-yard passer since -- drum roll please -- Corey Pullig in '95.

McKinney, asked if he and his teammates feel a sense of urgency heading into the fall, said the Ags were disappointed in their 7-5 '00 campaign and are working hard in the off-season to ensure '01 is not a repeat. "It shows by the tremendous turnout in our summer workouts," the senior center said. "If you call it urgency, yeah, we've been killing ourselves out there." In a later comment, McKinney said the Aggies need to develop a "killer instinct" after dropping two games (OU and Mississippi State in the Independence Bowl) that they led in the fourth quarter and another (Colorado) that they blew multiple fourth quarter opportunities.

Brooks, the most outspoken member of the Aggies' Dallas contingent, had a couple of the most eye-opening comments (outside of the resolute optimism emanating from the mouths of Colorado coach Gary Barnett and his players). "We like being the sleeper," Brooks said. "Right now, we're the sleeper (team) in the Big 12. Texas, Oklahoma, they have targets on their chests. They've got the pressure all on them so we're gonna take it one game at a time; take care of McNeese State and work our way up to Oklahoma and Texas and eventually get to the Big 12 Championship." Brooks also had this comment in response to a question about last year's UT-A&M game and more specifically, Chris Simms' secondary-scorching success in that one: "In that game, we made Chris Simms who he is now. He did a great job that day. We got hurt and he lit (us up) but now Chris Simms and Texas have to come to Kyle Field to play. We're ready. Coach Hankwitz (A&M's defensive coordinator), you don't beat him twice. We'll put everything on the line and be ready for Texas. Right now we're looking forward to playing McNeese, but come November we look forward to playing Chris Simms and the Texas Longhorns." FYI, the Horns have already beaten coach Hankwitz twice during his tenure as A&M D-coordinator, 26-24 in '98 and 43-17 last season. Brooks closed out the Ag players' interview session with this on A&M's season goals: "We want to win the Big 12 Championship, get to the BCS and hopeful get to the Rose Bowl. . . . Each time we break it out in our drills we say, Big 12 Champs, National Champs. That's what are team goals are . . . " Which makes me wonder, will R.C. post a picture of the Rose Bowl in the A&M locker room this fall like he did with a picture of the Fiesta Bowl back in '95, a year in which the Ags finished 9-3 with a loss to UT in College Station?

Slocum pointed to several things that A&M needs to accomplish this fall to be a better football team than last fall: No. 1, "stay healthy." "Last year we had the worst run of injuries since I've been a head coach," R.C. said; No. 2, "be a better short yardage team" with a "more physical offense"; and No. 3, achieve "consistency" by eliminating some of the negative plays (like INTs).

R.C., like Mack Brown before him, faced the inevitable "Now that OU and Bob Stoops have raised the bar . . . " pressure question: "I don't think there's any more pressure on me to win than there's ever been," Slocum, echoing Brown, said. "Part of the expectations at A&M I helped build. . . . There's an old saying in coaching, alumni expectations never go down. Every year they keep going higher. Certainly, we're at a place that takes a lot of pride in itself and I take a lot of proud in what we do. I feel a sense of urgency in terms of, I was very disappointed in the way those games (the losses) came out last year and our record last year. I thought we could have very easily had a 10-win season last year at least. I'm looking forward to the challenge of the season. . . . To me, every coach in country right now is feeling pressure. The pressure he feels is the pressure to do a good job and the challenge of playing and competing and going out an getting his team ready and I don't feel I don't feel any differently now than I've ever felt in terms of going into a season. I don't plan to do anything differently. I'm going to coach as hard as I can coach. I'm as excited and as motivated as I've ever been about a season so I'm looking forward to it." At this point, R.C. went into one of his typical and well-worn internet/talk radio rants which frankly is not worthy of repeating. I will say that Slocum used the tired line that the few seem to speak for the many, implying that those who call radio talk shows and post on internet message boards are the malcontents who don't represent the views of most Aggie fans. And maybe he's right. I'm more inclined to believe, however, that the views expressed by fans on those mediums are a sampling of the feelings of the fan base as a whole. Many of the A&M fans I know (and few if any of them call radio talk shows or post on the internet) think R.C.'s time has come and gone, and it's time for him to go. Their oft-used and apt comparison of the current Aggie program is to the Texas program in the final few years under Fred Akers: declining recruiting (not only compared to their main rival but out-of-state and lesser in-state schools as well); declining win totals (but not low enough to ax the coach); and the illusion (by coaches, fans and the school administration) that the program is still an elite one. Anyway, R.C. hit it on the head by saying that we have become an "instant gratification society." Times indeed have changed, with patience losing its virtue nation-wide even since Slocum took over as head coach at A&M in '89 (just ask former Ohio State head man John Cooper). And even in College Station, where an unquestioning mentality pervades, support for R.C. is eroding. And Slocum's head-in-the-sand attitude about the opinion-reflecting (and shaping) mediums of talk radio and the internet could hasten that erosion and his "retirement."

Slocum talked a bit about ESPN's fall Sidelines show, a 13-week series documenting the 2001 Texas A&M football season. "There are going to be time demands," R.C. said. "Demands on my part and on the players. There's no question there will be some distractions . . . but I really don't see a lot of downside." Slocum said the exposure alone, which corporations would pay millions of dollars for, makes the potential distractions acceptable. The A&M coach said ESPN's viewing audience will get to see the many "unique things at A&M." Unique, weird, borderline psychotic, but who's checking? ESPN's audience that's who and Slocum said this will give A&M a chance to creep up the line in terms of national awareness. "We volunteered to do this," the A&M coach said, likening this opportunity to that of playing Florida State in the Meadowlands to open the '98 season. "Our (exposure) circle will be wider after that 13 weeks of exposure." Depending on the Aggies' season, for better or for worse.

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