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Texas A&M on football: ‘We’re not going to give up’

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 8/12/2020 By Brent Zwerneman, Staff writer
a group of football players on the field: Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal, making a tackle in the Texas Bowl last season, is ready to play this year even with amid the cornavirus pandemic. © Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal, making a tackle in the Texas Bowl last season, is ready to play this year even with amid the cornavirus pandemic.

COLLEGE STATION — Former Florida and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who still owns plenty of zip on his zingers, believes the SEC and ACC should press on in playing football this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After all, Spurrier told old friend and radio host Pat Dooley on Tuesday, one of the conferences will win the national title anyway. If the last five seasons offer foresight, he’s right, with all 10 teams in the national title game in that span representing either the SEC or ACC (with Alabama and Clemson claiming four appearances each).

After the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences chose to cancel their fall football seasons Tuesday with the idea of playing in the spring, the SEC and ACC proclaimed within minutes of one another they were staying the course for fall football. For now.

“I look forward to learning more about the factors that led the Big Ten and Pac-12 leadership to take these actions,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Tuesday. “I remain comfortable with the thorough and deliberate approach that the SEC and our 14 members are taking to support a healthy environment for our student-athletes.

“We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day.”

The rest of the nation turned its eyes on the Big 12 on Tuesday, as the league’s university presidents and athletic directors met to decide if the league would press on. Should the Big 12 eventually bail, that would leave Spurrier’s scenario — SEC vs. ACC — the last possibility standing among the Power Five.

What does this mean for Texas A&M, an SEC member since 2012? The Aggies, like the league’s 13 other programs, still plan to crank up training camp Monday, in preparation for a Sept. 26 opener against a conference foe to be determined.

“Our players have expressed their desire to play,” A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said Tuesday. “Until we’re told we can’t, we are not going to give up.”

Bjork added that A&M has not veered from its path once it received an overall directive from Sankey and the SEC earlier this summer. The Aggies are taking part in walkthroughs this week with practices starting in earnest Monday under third-year coach Jimbo Fisher.

“Our playbook has been the same the entire way. We’ve stayed informed and organized and that will continue to be our approach, even as the landscape around us changes,” Bjork said. “We’ll continue to gather data, listen to medical experts and follow guidelines put forth by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and local health authorities.

“Our mission is to provide opportunities for young people, and it’s our job to make this happen in the safest environment possible.”

The Aggies, 8-5 last season, are 13th in the initial coaches poll, with the first Associated Press rankings still to come. They return 18 starters, including fourth-year starting quarterback Kellen Mond, and are picked to contend for their first SEC West title since joining the league eight years ago.

“This is our time, and nothing can stand in the way,” A&M defensive end DeMarvin Leal posted to Twitter.

Aggies safety Leon O’Neal, a former Cypress Springs star, also voiced via social media support of playing the fall season: “I can vouch (for) this, Texas A&M has also been doing a great job making sure we are safe and are practicing social distancing guidelines. We are protected more in our facility than anywhere else.”

Bjork said A&M continues to plan for 55,000 fans at Kyle Field for the Aggies’ five home games during a 10-game SEC schedule, the equivalent of 50 percent capacity under the latest mandate from Gov. Greg Abbott.

Meantime A&M players’ parents have gotten in on the social media action this week, primarily to back the players’ movement of angling to start the season in late September.

“(Aggie football) parents want our sons to play this fall,” wrote Jenni McCollum, mother of A&M offensive lineman Ryan McCollum of Klein Oak. “We have complete confidence that Texas A&M University and the SEC will continue to provide a safe environment that mitigates risk for our sons.”


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