It started to sink in at SEC media days if Texas A&M players didn't know it already.
The doubt. The questions. The perception that the Aggies were in for a hazardous leap from the Big 12 to Southeastern Conference football.
You could read between the lines, offensive tackle Luke Joeckel said, unless reporters were being flat-out obvious about it.
“Not many people thought much of us,” Joeckel said. “That put a chip on our shoulder.
“They just asked, 'Do you really think you're going to be able to compete in the SEC?' We had gone through a 6-6 season, everyone was saying the SEC's a much tougher league and we were picked 12th or 13th going into the season.”
But Joeckel said the mantra since he arrived in College Station was to “make A&M relevant again,” and he believes the Aggies started doing that in 2012.
Joeckel was in Omaha on Thursday night to pick up his Outland Trophy at the annual banquet at the Downtown DoubleTree. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel had claimed the Heisman Trophy a month before in New York.
Before this season, Nebraska was the last team to sweep the Heisman and Outland in the same year with Mike Rozier and Dean Steinkuhler in 1983.
Behind Joeckel and Manziel, Texas A&M also went 11-2, pounded Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl and finished tied for No. 5 in the final Associated Press ratings. The Aggies posted a 6-2 record in their first SEC season — with narrow losses to Florida and LSU — and beat national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Making A&M relevant again.
“It was all about Texas when A&M wasn't doing well,” Joeckel said Thursday night. “Everyone wanted to play for Texas and stuff like that.”
Joeckel helped Texas A&M begin the turnaround by starting every game at left tackle his true freshman season in 2010. When things stalled in 2011, the Aggies replaced Mike Sherman with Kevin Sumlin and got back to work.
“People weren't giving us the time of day,” Joeckel said. “But we knew what kind of talent we had, and we just wanted to be able to show people.”
Joeckel will be a tough part to replace after he announced Tuesday that he would skip his senior season and declare for the NFL draft. No A&M player had won the Outland before he was announced last month and then took it home for good Thursday night.
Joeckel is being touted as one of the top picks for the draft in April.
“He raised the level of everyone around him,” said B.J. Anderson, the Texas A&M offensive line coach who presented the Outland to Joeckel before an estimated crowd of 500.
Texas A&M will stay relevant without him, Joeckel said.
“They can go nothing but up from here,” he said. “Even though I'm leaving, I know for sure Johnny's in great hands with the rest of those offensive linemen. Guys are going to step up and Coach Sumlin has brought that atmosphere around there that's all about confidence.”
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