Dallas Colleges: Jake Spavital

The education of Kyle Allen

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
10:00
AM CT
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- August 16, 2014 was the hardest day in Kyle Allen's young Texas A&M career.

After enrolling early and spending seven months competing with sophomore Kenny Hill, gunning for one singular goal -- a chance to be the Day 1 starter for the Aggies in 2014 -- the true freshman was dealt a gut punch from Kevin Sumlin and Jake Spavital.

The Aggies' head coach and offensive coordinator pulled Allen into an office to deliver news he wasn't expecting to hear.

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTexas A&M's Kyle Allen is ready to seize the starting quarterback job this season, no matter who is there to compete with him.
"They said, 'Kenny is going to start the first game,'" Allen recalls. "'You’re going to have a chance to win it back, so don’t bow out right now. You’ve got to stay in this.'"

Emotions flooded. The 18-year-old, in search for a sympathetic ear, reached out to family and friends back in Arizona. One of the phone calls he made was to his longtime private quarterback coach, Dennis Gile.

"I've never heard Kyle down; he broke down to me, crying on the phone," Gile said. "I didn't know how to take it because he's like my little brother. He's really close to me. To hear your little brother cry for the first time, when I know how good he is and how much he wanted it, it was hard for myself. I was getting choked up talking to him."

Gile urged Allen to not let the emotions of the disappointment affect him moving forward, nor let those emotions be seen by coaches and teammates. "Practice like you're the starter, every day," Gile said, and "your time is going to come."

Allen followed that advice, and 10 weeks later, it came true: He was named the starter, replacing Hill before the Aggies' home game against Louisiana-Monroe. Now, Allen begins a sophomore season with five starts under his belt and much promise as the Aggies look to trek up the SEC West standings in 2015.

From the moment he stepped on campus, teammates and coaches praised Allen's approach to his craft. Several attribute his ability to wrangle the starting job from Hill in midseason to those traits.

"The approach that Kyle has taken since Day 1, even when Kenny won the battle at the beginning of the year, [Allen] came in every single day and kept putting the work in," Spavital said. "He was wanting to get better every single day, and naturally when you see a kid take that approach to the game and the way he works, you are naturally going to see him increase and get better each day."

"He is always up here watching film before practice," current backup quarterback Conner McQueen said. "Every day Coach Spav will talk about things when we watch film, and Kyle will have seen it once or twice already. He is always up here, just doing the right things, being the first one in the weight room and doing extra. I really think his preparation, not only this year but starting last spring, put him in a great position to succeed."

Allen's starting debut vs. Louisiana-Monroe was, in many ways, forgettable. The Aggies were more than 30-point favorites but squeaked by with a 21-16 win. The offense only managed a meager 243 yards, Allen was 13-for-28 passing for 106 yards with a touchdown and an interception. With a road trip to Auburn looming, Allen's debut didn't exactly provide an overflow of optimism.

"I came in nervous, I’m not going to lie," Allen said. "Even though it’s Louisiana-Monroe, you’re playing in front of 105,000 people. You step on the field, you look around and there are people everywhere. I come from a high school where I am lucky if a thousand people come to my game."

Gile, who was on the sideline at Kyle Field for Allen's debut, implored Allen later that week to talk to his teammates before the Auburn game, to lead. Before the Aggies took the field, junior defensive end Julien Obioha requested Allen do the same. There was a sense the group needed to hear from its quarterback, even if he was a true freshman making his second start. He did and the team responded to Allen's words and energy before kickoff, exploding to a 35-point first half and hanging on for a dramatic 41-38 win.

After losses to Missouri and LSU, Allen closed out the season on a high note, winning offensive MVP honors in the Aggies' 45-37 win against West Virginia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. He bounced back from an early pick-six to put together a 294-yard, four-touchdown performance which included a dazzling rushing touchdown.

This spring Allen is not pushing anyone; he's the incumbent, with only McQueen to push him. The program awaits the fate of its five-star quarterback signee, Kyler Murray, who signed a letter of intent in February and would be Allen's primary competition upon arrival.

Murray, 42-0 as a starter with three state championships at the highest level of Texas high school football, is also a baseball star and is finishing up his senior year at Allen High School. A decision on whether he goes to Aggieland or signs with the professional baseball team that drafts him (he's projected by several experts to be a possible first-round selection) won't come until the summer.

Either way, Allen -- who couldn't possibly have missed all the hand-wringing over Murray's decision leading up to national signing day or the deserved universal praise he received for his long list of prep accomplishments -- sounds like a focused, confident competitor ready to welcome the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

"He deserves it, the kid’s never lost a game in his life. He’s a Texas legend. I know everyone here is from Texas and I’m from Arizona, so I don’t get that love yet," Allen said with a smile and a laugh. "So, he’s going to step in, he’s going to put the work in just like I did, but it’s going to be a fun competition."
With about five minutes left in the first quarter of his first bowl game, Texas A&M true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen took a snap, looked left and fired a pass toward the left hashmark. There were Aggie receivers in the vicinity, but also a host of West Virginia defenders.

One of those defenders, Mountaineer defensive back K.J. Dillon, picked off the pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown and a 17-7 West Virginia lead. Upon returning to the sideline, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital aimed to settle his young signal caller. Head coach Kevin Sumlin opted for a more direct message to Allen.

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Justin Ford/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M true freshman Kyle Allen says the lessons learned this season will benefit him during the 2015 season.
"We said 'Don't do that again,'" Sumlin said with a laugh after the Aggies completed a 45-37 victory against the Mountaineers in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29. "Actually, that's exactly what I said."

Allen didn't repeat his mistake and completed a career day, completing 22-of-35 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns, while adding a rushing touchdown. It put an exclamation point on his five-game stretch since taking over as the starter on Nov. 1 against Louisiana-Monroe.

It was a positive way to end the season, which had its ups and downs for the country's No. 1-ranked pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class.

"Yeah, these last five games have been a big learning experience for me," Allen said after the bowl win. "Obviously, coming into the Monroe game, I came in a little nervous and didn't really trust what we were doing. I think I've grown a lot as a quarterback, and I think the guys have trusted me a lot more in the backfield. We're meshing together better as a team, the line understands blocking for me, and the receivers are running routes for me. They're playing great, which helps me play better, and you could see it this game."

Allen showed significant growth by bouncing back from his pick-six and performing virtually flawlessly the rest of the game. He showed off his mobility with a 14-yard touchdown run that included a nifty spin move, and showcased his decision-making skills by calling a key audible that led to a touchdown.

The drive after the interception, Texas A&M faced a fourth-and-5 at West Virginia's 40 and elected to go for it. When the Mountaineers showed blitz, Allen made a check at the line of scrimmage, threw the ball before pressure reached him, and hit running back Trey Williams, who was uncovered, for a 40-yard touchdown.

"That's a play we had put in specifically for that blitz they were bringing us," Allen said. "They brought everyone, and left four people to cover the receivers, but we knew they wouldn't cover the running back. So we had a play where he fake-blocked and took it right up the seam, and I knew right when they put it in that look, I checked to that play and it was going to be money. Trey made a nice catch and I didn't make a great throw. He made a nice catch and took it in the end zone, and that was great."

Allen arrived at Texas A&M in January with visions of winning the starting job from the jump, but sophomore Kenny Hill took the reins after an offseason competition and had a stronghold on the job initially, after a record-setting performance in the season opener against South Carolina. As the Aggies struggled, Hill did, too, opening the door for the Aggies to reopen the quarterback competition. Allen took over as the starter and had a rough debut (13-for-28 passing, 106 yards, one touchdown, one interception) against Louisiana-Monroe. But he looked the part the next week in an upset win at Auburn (19-of-29, 277 yards, four touchdowns).

There were peaks and valleys against Missouri and LSU to close out the regular season, but the bowl win signified progress for Allen -- not only for the freshman quarterback, but for the offense as a whole, which is filled with young skill-position players.

"I think he gave us a chance to understand him a little bit more and him understand himself a little bit more," Sumlin said. "Because the speed of the game is different than in high school. A lot of the things that happen are different. Some of the things he was able to achieve in high school, he found out 'Maybe I can't do all those things all the time. And I don't have to make every play, and we don't have to score every time we have the ball. It's OK to punt, and it's OK to kick field goals.' When a guy is talented coming out of high school, sometimes that's the first thing they have to learn."

At the moment, Hill remains on the roster and five-star dual-threat quarterback Kyler Murray, who just put the finishing touches on a 43-0 career and three state championships at Texas high school's largest classification, is currently committed as the lone quarterback in the Aggies' 2015 recruiting class.

But Allen's showing in the Liberty Bowl signaled promise for he and the Aggies moving into next season.

"Winning this game is huge for us, because we get confidence going into next year, especially with the young guys," Allen said. "Next year, we're going to be a much more experienced team. We'll work harder in the offseason because we know what's at stake and how our work ethic produced this year. It didn't produce the record that we wanted."
MEMPHIS, Tennessee -- The fun began with a phone call and a Twitter battle.

Laughs and jokes were exchanged upon the announcement that Texas A&M and West Virginia would meet in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Head coaches Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen and Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital are among those involved who once shared time on the same coaching staff -- relationships that provide an intriguing backdrop for the reunion.

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Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesTexas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital (right) learned under West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen at Houston.
"He taught me everything about this offense and he knows how I signal the game and I know how he signals the game," Spavital said of Holgorsen. "It'll keep the game interesting, and it'll keep us on our toes."

They're part of a group that shared time together five years ago, interestingly, while trying to get to a Liberty Bowl. During the 2009 season at Houston, Sumlin was head coach and Holgorsen was offensive coordinator. Clarence McKinney, Texas A&M's current running backs coach, held the same position with the Cougars at the time. Spavital was a graduate assistant and current Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury was the offensive quality control coach.

Making it more interesting was the fact that, at one time, Holgorsen, Kingsbury and Spavital all lived together in an apartment in Houston's Midtown district, a trendy neighborhood with a thriving business scene and nightlife. What could happen with three young, single coaches in close proximity to such an area?

"I'd better not say anything about that," Sumlin said, with laughter. "I didn't go over there at all. Anybody who knows Houston knows that Midtown has a lot of nice restaurants that stay open late at night, I'll just put it that way."

When he took over at Houston in 2008, Sumlin made Holgorsen -- who he describes as "brilliant" -- one of his first hires to install an innovative up-tempo offensive attack.

Holgorsen called Kingsbury, who was still pursuing a pro playing career, that summer. Sumlin agreed to add Kingsbury to the staff while also allowing him time to try out for the NFL.

"He spent more time out there throwing the football and practicing with guys than he did coaching," Sumlin joked. "Over time, thank God he got cut."

In 2009, Spavital's older brother, Houston defensive backs coach Zac Spavital, encouraged Jake to join the Cougars staff. Zac saw promise in Sumlin and Holgorsen and thought Jake could benefit from working with them. After interviewing with Holgorsen, Jake was hired on the spot.

"I loved him," Spavital said of Holgorsen. "He was great to me. He coaches his ass off. He's hard on the kids, he was hard on me. But he would separate work on and off the field. He was hard on me about things and he wanted me to grow as a coach, but then afterwards he was one of my buddies and he treated me that way."

Kingsbury was already living with Holgorsen in that two-bedroom apartment. Spavital would go from couch to couch, from his brother's to Holgorsen's.

"I wanted to be around Dana the whole time, so I'd sleep on his couch a lot," Spavital said. "I'd sleep at the offices, depending on whether Dana had his kids in or anything. I'd just move around because it's a two-bedroom apartment."

The bachelor pad was pretty bare in terms of furnishings.

"We were very minimalist in that household," Kingsbury said. "There wasn't anything to get in your way. ... You know, in Houston there's a lot to do. We would be there to sleep and that was about it."

Added Spavital: "There was no silverware and plates and stuff like that. It was two rooms, two bathrooms and a couch and a TV. We never were there."

McKinney, who joined the staff in 2008, recalls some of the late-night meetings the offensive staff had.

"We spent a lot of time together in meetings after practice," McKinney said. "We'd go from the office to somewhere down the street to grab something to eat, grab some drinks and the meetings would still be going until 2 in the morning."

Certainly it wasn't only football, though, right? When Holgorsen, Spavital and Kingsbury hit the town, there have to be some entertaining stories.

"You can't put that in the paper," Kingsbury said coyly. "It was fun."

Each of them have distinct traits. There's Holgorsen, the casual dresser ("I don't even think Dana owned a suit until he got to Oklahoma State," Spavital said. "He would always say, 'How many games has that suit won?'") and Red Bull devotee ("It's amazing that he's still functioning," Kingsbury said. "I guess his kidneys are pretty strong. He gets after those.").

There's well-dressed Kingsbury, who might still be holding on to NFL dreams. ("If Kliff could play right now, he'd play," Spavital said. "That's why Kliff works out all the time, because I know he believes that he can still do it.")

And there's Spavital, the youngest who deferred to his elders. ("He listens a lot," Kingsbury said. "He's not just going to talk a lot, he likes to listen and soak things up.")

It wasn't just tomfoolery; they had significant success. The 2009 Houston team ranked No. 1 nationally in offense (563.4 yards per game; 42.2 points per game), upset Oklahoma State in Stillwater and triumphed over Texas Tech. The 10-4 Cougars came within an incomplete pass of a Conference USA championship and a Liberty Bowl berth.

As each moved on, they kept in touch daily. They've traded game film, though that practice stopped between Holgorsen and Kingsbury once they became opposing Big 12 head coaches. They still talk, but the relationship dynamic is different now.

It didn't change for Spavital and Holgorsen until this year's Liberty Bowl announcement. They still communicate daily, but they obviously weren't trading tape or exchanging ideas in preparation for Monday's game (2 p.m. ET, ESPN).

"He gave us all his offensive stuff and we didn't give him any of our offensive stuff; I pulled the wool over his eyes in the last couple of weeks," Holgorsen joked. "When it gets competitive and you've got to play a game, you're going to have a good time talking about anything than actual football."

Spavital, Holgorsen having fun with bowl meeting

December, 8, 2014
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Jake Spavital worked under Dana Holgorsen for four years, from Houston to Oklahoma State to West Virginia. So with the Texas A&M offensive coordinator set to face West Virginia and his former mentor in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Spavital and Holgorsen, the Mountaineers' head coach, are having some fun with this looming rendezvous.

First, Spavital delivered a quick reminder to his old boss that he should be cautious in his preparation for the Dec. 29 game. Holgorsen, who remembers Spavital from the coordinator's not-so-glamorous days as a graduate assistant with the Cougars and Cowboys, was hardly worried. Of course, Spavital was not going to let his old superior put him in his place, firing back in grand fashion, with help from Jay Gatsby. Game on, indeed. The game should be a fun one. But the lead-up will not be without its share of highlights, either.
Kevin Sumlin, Gus MalzahnGetty Images, AP PhotoKevin Sumlin, left, and Gus Malzahn have similar offenses, but use different sideline philosophies.

Before his team faced Auburn last month, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier spoke of the mutual respect he believes exists between head coaches who call plays on offense. Spurrier and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn are among those who wear both hats for their respective programs.

Later asked about those coaches that don’t call plays on either side of the ball for their teams, the always candid Spurrier jokingly speculated how those top men spend their time.

"I think they sit around and say 'What am I going to tell you guys [media] most of the time,'" Spurrier said with a laugh. “Most of them look in on all three phases of their team -- offense, defense, special teams. Some of them are more involved in one or the other -- special teams, defense or what have you. But you really need to ask them what they do all week. I’m not 100 percent sure what they are doing, exactly."

It’s an interesting discussion, and every head coach has his own philosophy. On Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, two offensive-minded head coaches who differ in that area will meet -- Malzahn and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.

Both have built their reputations on high-powered, up-tempo, no-huddle offenses. Malzahn serves as Auburn’s primary offensive play-caller, and Sumlin delegates the duty to his offensive coordinator, something he has done since the start of his head coaching career seven years ago at Houston.

Why do they believe in their respective methods? Malzahn said his passion and habit of calling plays dates to his time as a head coach in the high school ranks. His success juggling the tasks at that level led him to continue to do so when he became a college coach.

"I've always done it all my career," Malzahn said. "When I got into coaching college, I got some good advice: 'Hey, don't change anything that helped you get to where you're at. Do what you feel like your strength is,' and I feel very comfortable doing that."

It’s hard to argue with the results. Last season, Auburn was No. 1 in the nation in rushing yards per game (328.29), No. 8 in yards per play (6.92), 11th in yards per game (501.3) and 12th in scoring offense (39.5). This season the Tigers are eighth in rushing (276.88), fifth in yards per play (6.97), 16th in yards per game (497.5) and 13th in scoring (38.8).

Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have a strong rapport and ongoing discussion during games that yields the results.

"It’s just kind of constant back-and-forth dialogue from there," Lashlee said. "A lot of in-drive stuff for us is feel and based off things we’ve seen so far. If one of us feels really good about something, we say it and usually roll with it.

"Usually Coach [Malzahn] would get in a good rhythm, and I’m just trying to be that sounding board -- keep things on his mind or remind him certain things are there. Sometimes he’ll say 'What do you want?' It works good back-and-forth so far together."

Malzahn says Lashlee’s work during the week allows Malzahn to handle his head coaching duties and not solely focus on offensive game-planning.

"I'm very fortunate to have a guy like Rhett Lashlee who can do a lot of legwork during the week, preparation and everything that goes with that, and it allows me to be a head coach," Malzahn said. "But I do enjoy calling plays on Saturday."

Being a play-caller as a head coach was something Sumlin gave much thought to when he accepted his first head coaching job at Houston prior to the 2008 season. In the end, he felt assuming the duty might stretch him too thin when it came to being able to juggle that task and building the type of program he wanted.

He had success hiring coordinators. The first two he hired -- Dana Holgorsen and Kliff Kingsbury -- moved on to head coaching jobs after having success under Sumlin.

"I just thought there are so many things to do, so many things that go on that it was going to be very difficult for me to establish a program, get a program going at the level [I wanted] -- whether it was at Houston or here [at Texas A&M] -- to really do that during a game," Sumlin said. "When I was a coordinator I couldn't tell you what was going on [with] special teams or defensively, because we were always worried about what was happening [offensively]."

He also feels delegating that responsibility helped him be better in other areas.

"We played in a lot of really, really close games, and I think history will tell you that we've had a great track history in close games of clock management and what happens at the end of close games," Sumlin said. "I think that had a lot to do with me, along with the staff, being able to communicate and see the whole picture rather than being myopic on the situation."

Though the Aggies have struggled lately offensively, Sumlin’s head coaching career has been filled with significant offensive success, lending credibility to the approach. His current offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital, has the freedom to call the game as he sees fit, just like the others who preceded him in that position under Sumlin. Though the head coach does have his input, he saves it for breaks in the action.

"It's in-between drives that we discuss what we need to do, and a lot of it is personnel issues about what we're capable of doing from protection to running the ball, to how the quarterback is handling the situation right now and what's going to be easiest, and what's the situation on the clock," Spavial said. "Coach Sumlin is going to step in and voice his opinion if needed, but he really doesn't mess with me that often during the course of a drive."

Kyle Allen's opportunity arrives

November, 5, 2014
11/05/14
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Within hours of the announcement that Texas A&M would opt for sophomore Kenny Hill as its starting quarterback for the team's season opener against South Carolina, true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen did what many kids do these days: take to social media.

Allen opened his Twitter account and fired off a five-word tweet, a note to the world that he was down, but not out.

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Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsTrue freshman QB Kyle Allen will guide Texas A&M on Saturday as the Aggies take on No. 3 Auburn.
"Don't count me out yet," the post read on Allen's Twitter account the night of Aug. 16.

The message was clear: Allen would keep fighting, competing for a chance to start even as the backup. Though it seemed unlikely after Hill's record-setting debut on Aug. 28 that Allen would see the field this season for anything other than marginal playing time, the youngster's time has come.

After making his starting debut Saturday vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Allen will make his second consecutive start this weekend when the Aggies travel to Auburn. Allen will trade the friendly confines of Kyle Field and a Sun Belt Conference opponent for the hostile atmosphere of Jordan-Hare Stadium and the No. 3 team in the nation.

"That's a lot of pressure for an 18-year-old kid to get thrown into," Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said.

That's an understatement.

The Aggies hope Allen can handle it, because there are precious few alternatives. Hill will be serving the second of a two-game suspension and won't make the trip. The only other quarterback on the two-deep depth chart is Conner McQueen, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship fewer than three months ago.

Texas A&M can only work with what it has, which is Allen, an ESPN 300 recruit and the No. 1-rated pocket passer in the 2014 class.

"I think he can handle it and it's up to us to get him calmed down," Spavital said. "He's going to have nerves, it's going to be a hostile environment, there's going to be a lot of things happening in between plays and he's just got to calm down, relax, communicate it clearly and just go out there and compete and do what he's always done.

"I always tell him 'Cut it loose. Who cares what happens? Go out there, have fun and play to the best of your ability.'"

When Allen enrolled at Texas A&M in January, there were many outside the program that assumed the Scottsdale, Arizona, product could be starting from Day 1, given his lofty status as a recruit. Johnny Manziel's shoes were left to fill and only unproven quarterbacks resided on the Aggies' roster to fill them.

With a season of experience and a knowledge of the Aggies' style of offense that dated back to his high school days on his side, Hill won the job during an offseason and training camp competition. Upon breaking Manziel's single-game passing yardage record in his starting debut vs. South Carolina, virtually no one questioned coach Kevin Sumlin and Spavital's decision to start the sophomore.

After a 5-0 start, Hill faltered as did the Aggies' offense in a three-game losing streak. During an off week that followed that stretch, Spavital said Allen beat out Hill during practice for the right to start against Louisiana-Monroe. Before kickoff, the team announced Hill would be suspended for the following two games for a violation of team rules and athletic department policies.

Allen led the Aggies to a touchdown drive to start the game and a 21-10 halftime lead Saturday but had his fair share of struggles, too, finishing 13-of-28 passing for 106 yards with a touchdown, an interception and taking three sacks with a scaled-down playbook to ease him into his first start.

"We had a lot of thoughts of max protecting him, keeping it down and keeping the game plan simple, not making him think as much," Spavital said. "There's a lot of nerves that every kid goes through in his first start. I thought he handled it pretty well."

How the 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback has handled himself since arriving in Aggieland is one of the strengths in his short career. During training camp, McQueen mentioned how impressed he was with the youngster's maturity.

"He came in here at 17 years old, can't even buy a lottery ticket yet and he's more professional about the quarterback position than anybody I've ever met in my entire life," McQueen said in August. "He came here with a goal and he's trying to attain it right now."

Physically, Allen is gifted. His arm talent, stature, intelligence and confidence were among the things that attracted Spavital -- and dozens of other colleges -- to Allen during the recruiting process. After his first start, teammates lauded him, even though the offensive production left much to be desired.

"Kyle is young but he controls that huddle," offensive lineman Ben Compton said. "He knows that he is the guy and he worked all week and whenever his name was called he was ready."

Spavital praised Allen's approach, which he said hasn't changed from the moment he arrived. The Aggies are hopeful he can make significant improvement in a short amount of time as they hit the road as heavy underdogs. The job is his to take, Spavital said, so Saturday becomes a golden opportunity for the golden-armed Allen.

"A lot of times, when you announce that starter at the beginning of the year, they'll be set back from that," Spavital said. "Kyle wasn't that way. He came in and kept working and I think he worked even harder. That's just the ambition that he has to get the starting job.

"He's getting better each week. He's probably his hardest critic, and it's good to see him coming in here and take the effort to keep getting better."

Aggies at a crossroads after embarrassing loss

October, 20, 2014
10/20/14
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It wasn’t that long ago that Texas A&M departed Tuscaloosa, Alabama, feeling on top of the college football world.

The Aggies had an eventual Heisman Trophy winner, an up-and-coming coach and made a loud statement after upsetting the then-No. 1 Crimson Tide, 29-24, on Nov. 10, 2012.

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Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsThe woes of quarterback Kenny Hill and Texas A&M are only growing after a blowout loss at Alabama.
That seminal moment in Texas A&M history was less than two years ago, but it might as well be 1939, because that’s about how long ago it feels after the Aggies returned home from the site of their past triumph, bruised and battered after taking a 59-0 whipping from Alabama this past Saturday.

Suddenly, after their worst defeat since a 77-0 loss to Oklahoma in 2003, the Aggies are at a crossroads in their third SEC season.

Serious questions must be asked. It’s one thing to lose to a top-10 team like Alabama. It’s quite another to be utterly destroyed.

“However you cut it, that performance was unacceptable and embarrassing,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Never in his seven-year head coaching career had Sumlin led a team that got shut out, and how it’s addressed will say a lot about the coach. Last Saturday’s loss was Texas A&M’s third straight and they’ve come by an average margin of 30.3 points. This is uncharted territory for him. Never have Sumlin's teams been dominated like how the Aggies have recently.

“I think we need to evaluate where we are and whenever something like this happens, you can't stick your hand in the sand and say, 'Hey, we're going to keep doing the same stuff,'” Sumlin said. “We've got to make some changes. What those are, I couldn't tell you right now. But the bye week comes at a good time for us.”

Offensively, the Aggies are the worst they’ve been since they entered the SEC. After ranking in the top five nationally each of the past two seasons in scoring offense, yards per game, yards per play and QBR, the Aggies have fallen out of the top 10 in each of those categories. In third-down conversions, an area they were No. 1 in 2012, they’re now 48th. They’re struggling to run the football, ranking 80th in rushing yards per game after ranking 11th nationally in 2012 and 45th last season. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital’s unit doesn’t share any resemblance to the group that dominated South Carolina on Aug. 28.

Defensively, the Aggies couldn’t be worse than they were a year ago, when they were last in the SEC in most major statistical categories, including scoring, yards per game, yards per play, rushing yards per game and red zone efficiency.

After a better start to this season, Texas A&M is beginning to trend in the 2013 direction again. The Aggies are last in the SEC in rushing yards allowed per game, 13th in yards allowed per game, 12th in scoring and 12th in yards per play. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is staring down a second consecutive season of poor defensive results.

On the field, quarterback Kenny Hill has struggled. So has the Texas A&M offensive line, once considered the strength of this program. The receivers, who looked spry and fierce early in the season, have wilted lately. The running game appears nonexistent.

Defensively, the Aggies have yielded an average of 255.7 rushing yards per game in their past four games. If extrapolated over the whole season, that would rank Texas A&M 121st nationally in the category. That means the job isn’t getting done in the front seven. The Aggies have had their inconsistencies in the secondary as well. Just check out what Alabama’s Amari Cooper did: eight catches, 140 yards, two touchdowns.

It wasn’t even two full months ago when a confident Sumlin sat before reporters in the moments after Texas A&M's 52-28 domination of then-No. 9 South Carolina, presumably sending a message about the future, post-Johnny Manziel.

“I think what we did tonight kind of showed that we’re not a one-trick pony,” Sumlin said that night. “We’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”

The jury may still be out on that one. Those words resonated that night and -- given the perception of what South Carolina, a program coming off three consecutive 11-win seasons, was supposed to be -- it gave initial validation to the words. The Gamecocks turned out to be fool’s gold and the Aggies, once ranked as high as No. 6 in the country but now out of the top 25, look that way, too.

The Aggies, who went 20-6 in their first two SEC seasons, reaped plenty of benefits from their early SEC success. It accelerated the fundraising for a $450 million redevelopment of Kyle Field. Millions were spent to renovate the football complex.

Sumlin received two raises and is getting paid $5 million per season, which is in the tax bracket of head coaches who have rings. The assistant coaches got raises, too. On social media the Aggies say they run this state (#WRTS). It’s hard to justify that claim when they have yet to beat a top-25 team in their home stadium since joining the SEC.

All those resources were spent with building a championship-caliber program in mind. Nobody said it was going to be easy, but this past Saturday’s events and what has transpired the past three weeks is cause for some soul searching.

Texas A&M offense sputtering as of late

October, 14, 2014
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Before Saturday night, a Kevin Sumlin-coached team never went into the halftime locker room without points on the board.

Ole Miss observed the old “there is a first time for everything” adage while holding Texas A&M scoreless in the first two quarters of a 35-20 win over the Aggies at Kyle Field. It was the first time a team coached by Sumlin, who is in his seventh season as a head coach, had zero points at halftime.

It served as a microcosm of what the last two weeks have been like for a usually high-powered offense.

“There were a number of times today where we just got whipped,” Sumlin said flatly after Saturday’s game. “It's kind of hard to fix that.”

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill, Jake Spavital
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesTexas A&M QB Kenny Hill and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital have seen their share of frustration in recent weeks.
The Aggies have sputtered in losses to Ole Miss and Mississippi State. They even had their share of issues in the first three quarters of their Sept. 27 overtime win over Arkansas before getting in sync in the fourth quarter and overtime. Through three quarters against Ole Miss, the Aggies had seven points. The previous week, it was 17 through three. Against Arkansas, it was 14 points heading into the fourth.

There have been a myriad of reasons for the struggles, from wide receiver drops to inaccurate throws to an ineffective running game. Offensive line play doesn't seem to be what it was the last two seasons, either. Turnovers have been a large part of the problem as well, as the Aggies have committed six in their two losses. On Saturday, two of those turnovers were returned for touchdowns by Ole Miss -- one interception and one fumble return.

“That's my fault,” quarterback Kenny Hill said Saturday. “I had three turnovers [vs. Ole Miss] and two of them went for touchdowns. We can't win like that. That's on me.”

Hill is correct, but he isn’t the sole culprit. The interception that Cody Prewitt returned for a touchdown saw Hill feeling pressure courtesy of Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who had beaten left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to get in Hill’s face just as he released the football. Hill felt harassment against Mississippi State and Arkansas as well.

Dropped passes were a serious issue against Mississippi State the previous week. The Aggies had nine, according to ESPN Stats and Information, the most by a Power 5 team in four seasons, but Sumlin and his staff were harsher in his grading of that game, giving the Aggies 11. Drops didn’t creep up as a major issue vs. Ole Miss but were a concern against Arkansas, too.

“It's a number that we aren't proud of,” said senior receiver Malcome Kennedy, who missed the last two weeks with a shoulder injury. “[Receivers coach David Beaty] always says 'One dropped ball is too many,’ and it makes perfect sense, that is too many.”

The absence of Kennedy hasn’t helped matters. He suffered a separated shoulder late against Arkansas, sat out briefly and returned to finish the game with a game-winning touchdown reception in overtime but has been unable to go the last two weeks after testing the shoulder in warmups.

That has disrupted the flow of the offense because Kennedy was leading the team in receptions at the time of his injury. He is a vocal leader and Hill, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital have indicated that Kennedy means an immense amount to the offense.

The Aggies tried to get their running game going early against Ole Miss, but the Rebels were having none of it. A&M finished with 54 yards on 35 carries, a measly 1.5-yards per carry average.

So what do the Aggies do?

"You're always analyzing where you are,” Sumlin said. “When things are going good you're analyzing and you're analyzing when things are going bad and not the way you want them to, [too]. So that's kind of where we are right now.

“As a team, you're always looking to get better and fix problems. Sometimes when you're winning those things are glossed over, but as a coach, you have to be honest with your schemes and honest with yourself. Really, that was the message to players and coaches. Right now is a time where you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and look for and be honest with the deficiencies that have been presented and then be able to fix those during the week or adjust during the week.”

The Aggies’ season-opening win at South Carolina -- which looked much better that day than it does now, knowing what we know about the Gamecocks -- caused many to believe that the Aggies wouldn’t miss a beat after the departure of three of the best offensive players in the program’s history: Quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews.

What these last two weeks have illustrated is that it is difficult to replace players of that caliber, especially with the type of youth the Aggies are operating with. For all the hype he received early on, it’s easy to forget that Hill just made his seventh career start. The same applies for others such as receivers Speedy Noil or Ricky Seals-Jones, two key members of the talented but young group of receivers.

It might take time to fix some of the issues that have crept up, but that’s something the Aggies don’t have much of currently, because a trip to Tuscaloosa for a showdown with Alabama looms on Saturday. If the Aggies want any chance of repeating the success they had in their last trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium, their offensive woes will have to be cured quickly.

A&M's Kennedy the heart of receiving corps

October, 1, 2014
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Malcome Kennedy lay on the turf, trainers tending to his injured left shoulder.

[+] EnlargeEdward Pope & Malcome Kennedy
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M receivers Malcome Kennedy and Edward Pope have combined for 49 receptions and six touchdowns through Week 5 this season.
With 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Aggies trying to march downfield and complete a scoring drive to cap off a come-from-behind win against Arkansas, something was wrong with Texas A&M's senior receiver after he landed squarely on his left side and quickly reached for his shoulder. It was separated.

"I thought he was done," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said afterward.

Kennedy hadn't come this far -- all the way from Cayuga, a small East Texas high school that played in the state's smallest 11-man classification, Class 1A, when he was there and from being a reserve receiver who waited his turn to become a featured target and a senior leader -- to allow shoulder pain to keep him from finishing.

"I felt like I had to go," Kennedy said. "I popped it out of place and the trainers came over, calmed me down and popped it back in. They asked me if I was all right and if I was done. I said 'No. I've got to go.' I just had a lot of adrenaline so it didn't hurt. I still was ready to go."

Moments later, he proved as much, catching a dart from Kenny Hill for the game-winning 25-yard touchdown in Texas A&M's 35-28 overtime win against the Razorbacks.

In many ways, Saturday was a snapshot of what Kennedy means to the Aggies. He usually isn't the first name outsiders think of when discussing Texas A&M receivers. For the past two seasons, that distinction belonged to Mike Evans, a 2014 first-round NFL draft pick who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This season, Kennedy is the elder statesman of the Aggies' deep, young receiving corps, but some were more interested in discussing the bigger (sophomore Ricky Seals-Jones) or faster (true freshman Speedy Noil) young, new toys that the Aggies had to play with.

Meanwhile Kennedy, the dependable "Y" receiver in the Aggies' Air Raid-inspired offense, simply catches footballs -- lots of them -- does his work and speaks up when necessary, leading his group and the offense forward.

"Malcome is the vocal leader of our offense," offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said.

He's also the leading receiver currently. Through five games, he tops the Aggies in catches (33) and receiving yards (378) to go with two scores. His catch total is more than double of the next-best receivers, Edward Pope and Josh Reynolds, who each have 16.

And those who miss the days of Evans, the freakishly-athletic former basketball player who could seemingly catch everything in his stratosphere? Kennedy even showed he has the ability to do that, going up and leaping over an SMU defender on a jump ball on third-and-13 in the first quarter of the Aggies' win against the Mustangs last month. It is the kind of catch few associate with Kennedy, who does the majority of his work across the middle of the field. He has been invaluable to the development of Hill, the Aggies' sophomore sensation quarterback.

"He has helped a lot because he is an easy target to find," Hill said. "He's always getting open. That helps a lot. ...On a third down, he's a guy you can lean on and go to."

For a team that starts two freshmen (Noil and Seals-Jones) and a sophomore (Reynolds) alongside him at receiver, Kennedy is the heart of the receiving corps. He displayed as much Saturday when the Aggies' trailed the Razorbacks by 7 points at halftime and he delivered an inspired speech to his teammates in the locker room.

"At halftime, I walked in with something I was going to say," Sumlin said. "When I got to the door, I'm the last guy there, but Malcome Kennedy was standing at the door, talking to everybody as we're going in. And then he looked at me and said 'I have something I've got to say.' So we went back in, I listened to him for about 30 seconds and I said 'Yeah, that's better than anything I can say.' So we started looking at adjustments offensively for the second half."

Kennedy, a member of the team's leadership council, also has a knack for making big catches. His first such one came in one of biggest games in recent Texas A&M history, the 2012 upset of Alabama. With the Aggies clinging to a six-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, Johnny Manziel launched a pass toward the front left corner of the end zone where Kennedy beat Dee Milliner and hauled in the final points the Aggies would score in their 29-24 landmark victory.

So it's no surprise that when the Aggies need a big catch to move the chains or change the game, he's the one they turn toward.

"When the game's on the line," Spavital said, "Malcome's the guy we're going to."

He knows that. That's why two plays after the shoulder injury, he subbed himself in on third down before the clock expired in regulation. When the Aggies got the ball first in overtime, Spavital called a play that he said he woke up thinking about, one that they called earlier in the game, but didn't work.

Kennedy manned his spot at the "Y" receiver, saw what he liked and the rest is history.

"It was finally the look we wanted," Kennedy said. "The two high safeties; they were playing pretty far off the hash and the linebackers were tucked in the box and they were ready to stop the run so I went in there like I was blocking and I came out full speed and Kenny hit me."

Said Spavital: "I knew that play was going to eventually score for us in this game and it was the perfect opportunity to get it in there to Malcome. ...He made a great misdirection and made a big-time play and won the game for us."

Examining SMU candidates: Spavital, Beaty

September, 19, 2014
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Texas A&M travels to SMU for a nonconference clash on Saturday, which will be the Mustangs’ first game under interim head coach Tom Mason after June Jones resigned from the post on Sept. 8.

Last week, Chris Low took a look at possible candidates that SMU might consider as it searches for its next head coach. Two potential candidates are on the Aggies’ staff: offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital and receivers coach/recruiting coordinator David Beaty.

While it’s unclear if either Beaty or Spavital would have interest in the job (or how much interest SMU has in either of them) and there's a long way to go in the coaching search, let’s look at each of their coaching backgrounds and what kind of fit they could potentially be.

David Beaty

Experience: Beaty is in his third year as the Aggies’ receivers coach and second as their recruiting coordinator. He also spent time at Rice as an offensive coordinator (under Todd Graham) and receivers coach and at Kansas as a co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach. His roots are in Dallas high schools, though -- he got his coaching start in Garland, Texas, at Naaman Forest High School and coached at four different high schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Pros/cons: Beaty has a reputation as a stellar recruiter. Ask the high school coaches in the Dallas area and they’ll tell you he’s one of the most respected around and he’s a big reason the Aggies have had significant success getting top-flight players out of that fertile area. Having experience at Rice, a private school that plays in a Group of 5 conference, would help at a place like SMU, which falls in that category. The one thing Beaty doesn’t have is extensive experience as a coordinator, though he does have some.

Analysis: SMU hasn’t recruited its own area well and Beaty would fix that in a hurry. He would be a good fit and would be able to utilize his strong relationships with the local coaches.

Jake Spavital

Experience: Spavital is in his second year as the quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M and his first as the sole offensive coordinator for the Aggies. He’s young (29) but has stops at Tulsa (2008), Houston (2009), Oklahoma State (2010) and West Virginia (2011-12), though the first three were as a graduate assistant or quality control coach. He was the quarterbacks coach at West Virginia.

Pros/cons: He has worked with great college quarterbacks (Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith, Johnny Manziel) and has worked under highly-regarded offensive minds (Gus Malzahn, Dana Holgorsen, Kevin Sumlin) and has worked with and maintains a strong relationship with Kliff Kingsbury. He’s highly thought of and the early returns on the job he’s doing as A&M’s offensive coordinator are good. The primary drawback is his youth and inexperience -- he has only been A&M’s offensive coordinator for four games.

Analysis: Sumlin himself said Spavital “no doubt” has qualities of a future head coach but it might serve him best to gain more experience. Texas A&M is on the rise and if the offense continues to roll like it has, other opportunities will come. If Spavital were to end up at SMU, he would likely be able to get the offense on track quickly. He doesn’t have the recruiting reputation that Beaty does but Spavital is considered a good recruiter.

Assessing A&M QBs Hill, Allen

September, 10, 2014
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- On the first play of Texas A&M’s 73-3 win over Lamar, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital dialed up a deep pass play for his sophomore quarterback, Kenny Hill.

In the second quarter, when true freshman Kyle Allen entered the game for his collegiate debut, Spavital did the same.

The intentions were the same in both instances, even if the results were different: Hill underthrew the pass but connected with Speedy Noil for a 44-yard gain; Allen overthrew his attempt, intended for Jeremy Tabuyo, and it fell incomplete.

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Kyle Allen was sharp in his debut, going 12-of-16 for 122 yards with 2 TDs and an INT.
But it was a growth opportunity for both quarterbacks, who battled tooth-and-nail in the offseason for the starting job that Hill won but Allen continues to nip at his heels for.

“It's fun,” Spavital said. “You look at the quarterbacks in that room and say 'Hey, we're going deep the first play of the game.' It kind of brings some excitement in there and know that we're still going to be out there attacking and we're trying to score as many points as we possibly can.”

Hill, who became an overnight star after his record-breaking debut against South Carolina, played well for his second time out. The sophomore from Southlake (Texas) Carroll turned in a solid performance Saturday: 17-of-26 passing, 283 yards and four touchdowns in roughly two quarters of work.

He remains the starter now and for the foreseeable future (coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t the type to rotate quarterbacks) but even though he smashed some of Johnny Manziel’s records in his first start, that doesn’t mean that he can’t improve.

“I thought he was not as accurate with those intermediate-to-deep balls as what he should be, but going into that game, I wanted to kind of break some tendencies and kind of take some shots downfield with it,” Spavital said. “We ended up taking a lot and I thought he did all right with it … It'll change up the rhythm of your offense and I just kind of wanted to see how he'd handle adversity but he'd throw an incompletion and come back and answer with it pretty cleanly [with a completion]. But I definitely think taking shots downfield we need to get some more work on.”

While Hill works on improving his deep ball, Allen must work on decision-making. His first collegiate drive ended in an interception after he scrambled away from pressure and forced a ball into traffic. Still, he finished 12-of-16 passing for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

“We went out that first drive and he executed it pretty cleanly until that third-down-and-2 call,” Spavital said. “We did a play-action pass and he got caught in a bad situation and he just needs to be a little bit smarter with the ball and just chalk up his loss and throw it away. But after that I thought he came out and consistently ran the offense pretty well.”

Sumlin noted that even though the two had a heated competition in camp, the two remain close. He cited Hill’s eagerness to greet Allen after the true freshman threw his first touchdown pass and Allen showing genuine happiness for Hill when he succeeded. Teammates echoed that sentiment, as did Hill.

“We've been cool since the day he walked in here,” Hill said of Allen. “He's a great kid. I love him. You want to see your teammates do well. When he threw that first touchdown pass, I think I was just as happy as he was.”

It’s something Sumlin is happy to see: two talented quarterbacks making each other better and sharing in each other’s success.

“That's genuine,” Sumlin said. “In a situation that we're in, I think that says a lot about the competition, I think it says a lot about the respect for each other's ability and that's why I said they both deserved to play and they're comfortable. Kenny's probably a little more comfortable because he has played more. Kyle got better as the game went on.”

Kenny Hill managing newfound fame

September, 4, 2014
9/04/14
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video
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- When fall classes began Monday at Texas A&M, Kenny Hill found himself in an unexpected position.

He had been a firsthand witness as his predecessor, Johnny Manziel, became the center of attention in College Station and throughout college football. Hill remembers walking around with Manziel as people flocked toward him requesting pictures, autographs, a piece of his time.

"I was just walking with Johnny [last year] and he got that," Hill said Tuesday. "I thought, 'That won't happen to me.'"

Guess again.

The 19-year-old Aggies quarterback is the new big man on campus in Aggieland following his historic starting debut, a record-breaking 511-yard performance in the Aggies' 52-28 season-opening win over South Carolina.

Now Hill is the one Aggies want to talk to, want a picture with and are bestowing nicknames upon. ("Kenny Trill" is the one that has been currently settled on.)

"It's been nuts walking around with everyone looking at me and all that stuff," Hill said. "It's been crazy. It's kind of fun. I'm just trying to live my life like I always had."

While Hill manages his sudden surge in popularity, the Aggies are managing expectations after their eye-opening debut. A team that much of the college football world assumed would take a step back post-Manziel (and Mike Evans and Jake Matthews) suddenly looks like a team to be reckoned with in the SEC West.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images"It's been nuts walking around with everyone looking at me and all that stuff," said Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill, who completed 44 of 60 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns in the season opener against South Carolina.
How good the Aggies can be will be determined by several factors, including a defense that showed signs of improvement from last year but still has plenty of work to do after allowing 366 passing yards and seven yards per play to the Gamecocks.

But make no mistake, the Aggies are about scoring points, and Hill will be the linchpin to that objective. After a 44-for-60 passing performance that included three touchdowns and zero interceptions, the bar is set high. Can he replicate it?

"I can shoot for it," Hill said. "I'm just going to do as much as it takes to help our team win, whether it's 511 yards or 11 yards, that's what I'm going to do."

Hill wasn't perfect, but he was awfully close. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said that of the 99 plays the Aggies ran, he graded Hill negatively on 12 of them while reviewing game tape.

Spavital is comfortable with Hill running everything in the offense, and it will continue to evolve as Hill improves. As a natural fit for the Air Raid-inspired attack, Spavital is now interested in how Hill reacts when things go wrong.

"I'm curious to see how Kenny handles adversity, because there's going to be times like that," Spavital said. "It could be this week vs. Lamar. If we go three-and-out or he throws an interception, that's naturally going to happen in a game. I just want to see how he can overcome that and how he handles that situation."

Hill's teammates weren't surprised. They became accustomed to his poise and demeanor.

"Extremely high football IQ, always asking good questions, asking if there's a better way to do things," third-string quarterback Conner McQueen said of Hill. "Coach Spav does a good job of giving us options going into the game, and I really think Kenny used that to his advantage and not checking to the same thing, exploring the offense and doing things that really outdates the time that he's been here in two years."

While he continues to evolve as a player, dealing with the spotlight that accompanies his play might be as important as his on-field play. Hill is already showing maturity in that regard.

When asked if he stops to pose for pictures with students on campus, he told reporters, "Coach [Kevin] Sumlin won't let me take pictures. ... Johnny got himself in so much trouble with pictures. He doesn't want me to get in trouble with pictures."

Sumlin was somewhat surprised to learn that, because he claims he didn't tell Hill that. What he did say is if Hill wants to say no, blame Sumlin, a service Sumlin offers to all his players if they feel the need.

Hill has seen the negative side of the spotlight. This spring, when he was arrested on a public intoxication charge, the incident made national headlines and he received immense criticism. He said he deserved the criticism and that it was embarrassing.

"I can't take any day for granted," Hill said. "I have to come out every day and work hard. I can't take days off, plays off, or for that instance, a night off. I have to be smart, always."

There was evidence of that Tuesday. After a media swarm that saw reporters peppering him with nearly 50 questions in a roughly 15-minute span (all of which he handled as smoothly as he did South Carolina's defense), Hill retreated afterward to the third-floor coaches' offices in the Bright Football Complex to watch more video on Lamar, the Aggies' next opponent. As the world around him changes rapidly -- he wasn't even named the starting quarterback until Aug. 16 -- Hill is trying to carry the same demeanor he always has.

"It's unreal how fast it happened," Hill said. "I honestly did not expect it to happen like that. Like I said, it's something I've got to deal with. I can't think about it too much. I just have to keep working every day."

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 1

September, 3, 2014
9/03/14
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The SEC appears to be loaded with true freshmen who will make immediate impacts with their teams this season. Let's take a look at five who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from the first weekend of the fall.

NICK CHUBB, GEORGIA

What he did: Chubb ran like a grown man against Clemson, particularly on a 47-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that essentially put away the Bulldogs' victory. Chubb took a pitch right and burst through a pile of Tigers -- literally dragging linebacker Stephone Anthony for 5 yards after Anthony grabbed him by the left ankle -- before breaking into the open field and outrunning all defenders. Chubb finished the day with four carries for 70 yards.

What it means: Chubb and Sony Michel proved against Clemson why they generated preseason buzz, with both freshmen making plays that helped the Bulldogs earn a key opening win. Chubb is going to be a superb complement to Todd Gurley in Georgia's backfield, as both players have shown the ability to run with speed and power. Gurley might be the nation's top tailback, but the freshmen have proven that the Bulldogs have more than one dynamic weapon in the backfield. -- David Ching

MYLES GARRETT, TEXAS A&M

What he did: The five-star defensive end showed why he has received so much offseason buzz, having an immediate impact in the Aggies' win over South Carolina. Garrett had a sack and two quarterback hurries and came close to hitting Dylan Thompson several more times. Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said Garrett's stat line didn't show his total impact, and forcing Thompson into errant throws is “as good as sacks.”

What it means: He has the look of an All-SEC Freshman Team selection right out of the gate. The Aggies had virtually no pass rush last season (they were last in the SEC in sack percentage), but the addition of Garrett remedies that immediately. Combined with returning defensive end Daeshon Hall, the Aggies have speed on the edge to pressure quarterbacks and Garrett looks poised to live up to his lofty status as the No. 4 player in the 2014 class. -- Sam Khan Jr.

JALEN HURD, TENNESSEE

What he did: Freshman running back Hurd enjoyed his introduction to the Neyland Stadium faithful, scoring a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 15-yard screen pass from Justin Worley. Hurd struggled to find much running room out of the backfield, rushing 11 times for 29 yards, but his touchdown pushed the Volunteers' lead to 31-0 in a momentum-building 38-7 victory against Utah State.

What it means: Tennessee needs to develop a more dangerous running game, so the shifty moves Hurd displayed on his touchdown might be a positive sign of things to come. He was a U.S. Army All-American and former Mr. Football in Tennessee in high school, so Vols fans expect big things from the freshman back. Last Saturday provided just a small taste of his capabilities, but he looked awfully natural slipping tacklers and exploding into the end zone for his first career touchdown. -- David Ching

SPEEDY NOIL, TEXAS A&M

What he did: Noil didn't have quite the explosive start that some expected, but still performed well in his collegiate debut. He caught five passes for 55 yards and served as the team's primary punt returner. He did drop a pass, but that's easily corrected, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. Spavital said he was impressed with Noil's physical ability as a blocker when the Aggies ran the football.

What it means: As long as drops don't become a trend, Noil should be an impact receiver for the A&M offense. The Aggies have plenty of receivers to go to and Kenny Hill threw to 12 different players on Thursday night, but Noil's speed and physicality are going to make him a factor in the Aggies' offense. He won a starting job for a reason, so while Thursday didn't blow anybody away, expect him to prove his worth sooner rather than later. -- Sam Khan Jr.

CAM ROBINSON, ALABAMA

What he did: He had his freshmen moments -- at one time Blake Sims had to literally move him into the proper position -- but Robinson more than held his own against West Virginia. Neither he nor the entire Alabama offensive line allowed a single sack in Atlanta, helping the offense stay balanced with 288 yards rushing and 250 yards through the air.

What it means: The former five-star prospect showed all the tools that earned him the job of starting left tackle: ideal size, great feet and good hands. Granted he'll make some mistakes this season, but his ceiling is off the charts. As he begins to play with more confidence, he could become a real road grader for the Tide. -- Alex Scarborough

Other notables:

Leonard Fournette, LSU: Ran eight times for 18 yards and returned five kickoffs for 117 yards (23.4 ypr, with a long of 33 yards) against Wisconsin.

Mikel Horton, Kentucky: Ran seven times for 45 yards and scored touchdowns of 18 and 14 yards against UT-Martin.

Sony Michel, Georgia: Ran six times for 33 yards, caught three passes for 20 yards and made two tackles on special teams against Clemson.

J.K. Scott, Alabama: Only punted twice, but one of them was a booming 62-yard effort that led to West Virginia taking over at its own 7-yard line. That helped the freshman average 50.5 yards per punt in the win.

Armani Watts, Texas A&M: Started at safety and had an interception, two pass breakups and three tackles in a win over South Carolina.

Aggies QB Hill groomed for new role

August, 18, 2014
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Kenny Hill knows plenty about pressure.

From the time he became a varsity quarterback at Texas high school football power Southlake Carroll to preparing for the unknown as a true freshman at Texas A&M, to engaging in an offseason battle for the right to succeed Johnny Manziel, Hill has met and conquered his fair share of challenges.

Now, his biggest one awaits.

After being officially named the Aggies’ starting quarterback by coach Kevin Sumlin on Saturday, Hill prepares to lead Texas A&M into its post-Johnny Football era on Aug. 28 when the Aggies visit South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeHill
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesKenny Hill was named the Aggies' starting quarterback on Saturday.
It’s a moment that Hill has been groomed for.

Hill is no stranger to following a rich legacy. At Southlake, the standards are high -- especially if you’re a quarterback. The program owns eight state championships and is a factory for Division I quarterbacks. Chase Wasson, Chase Daniel, Greg McElroy, Riley Dodge, Kyle Padron and David Piland, who all preceded Hill, went on to play college football.

“Is there pressure? Yes,” said Southlake Carroll coach Hal Wasson, who coached several of the aforementioned players, including Hill. “Every quarterback since '02 has gone D-I.”

But Wasson and those close to Hill never compared him to his assembly line of predecessors. They pressed him to create his own identity -- a concept he embraced.

“Like Kenny would say, he can't be anybody but himself,” said Ken Hill Sr., Kenny’s father. “He's not trying to be somebody he’s not. You have to create your own opportunity and your own legacy.”

Kenny Hill did. In 2011, Hill guided the Dragons to a 16-0 record and a state championship as a junior. Whether by air (3,014 passing yards, 25 touchdowns) or on the ground (1,400 yards, 24 touchdowns), Hill was dominant. As a senior, he accounted for 3,196 offensive yards and 42 touchdowns en route to Gatorade Texas Player of the Year honors.

"He handled that well,” Hill Sr. said. “Like I always tell him, just go out there and do your deal. ... People can talk all they want but your play on the field will speak [for itself]."

Living up to a high standard comes natural to Hill because of his bloodlines. His father, Ken Hill Sr., had a 14-year Major League Baseball career as a pitcher, one that included an All-Star season in 1994.

Kenny Hill continued Carroll’s tradition of Division I quarterbacks by signing with Texas A&M in 2013 and before long, he was thrust into another potential pressure situation. As questions about Manziel’s eligibility loomed amid an NCAA investigation into a pay-for-autographs controversy, Sumlin had Hill, then a true freshman, battle for a chance to start in the event Manziel was suspended.

Manziel wound up serving only a two-quarter suspension, but Hill’s camp performance earned him playing time later, as he appeared in four games as a freshman. That experience proved invaluable entering yet another training camp quarterback race this month with prized recruit Kyle Allen.

Hill’s ability to assimilate the Aggies’ Air Raid-style offense can also be attributed to his prep days; Southlake Carroll ran similar concepts. Texas A&M quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital immediately noticed Hill’s comfort level with the offense.

“You can tell he was raised in a spread, no-huddle system,” Spavital said. “That comes pretty much second nature to him.”

The journey wasn’t without hurdles. Hill missed the final week of spring football practice after an arrest on a public intoxication charge in March.

It was an eye-opener for the 19-year-old. Not only was he suspended from team activities, cell phone photos of Hill passed out in a planter box circulated on social media.

“He was embarrassed,” Hill Sr. said. “Not only did he let his family down, he let the university down, coaches down, teammates. It wasn't a good moment. It was an embarrassing moment. Hopefully he'll continue to learn from it."

Once reinstated for summer workouts, Hill bounced back.

"He's a completely different person now,” said Texas A&M receiver Sabian Holmes, who was also a high school teammate of Hill’s. “You can tell he wants it and he takes everything more serious, not just football but off-the-field decisions and he takes the film [study] more serious.”

If there’s one thing that has carried Hill to this point, it’s his toughness. Whether it's from a mental standpoint (dealing with the daily grind or off-field noise) or a physical standpoint (carrying the ball 382 times in his final two seasons at Southlake Carroll or adding muscle to prepare for the rigors of an SEC schedule), Hill has displayed the necessary fortitude.

“I always admired his toughness,” Hal Wasson said. “I admired the way he commanded a huddle. ... [I remember a game he] didn't play as well as he wanted to, he walked into my office and said ‘Coach, I wasn't at my best, I apologize and it'll never happen again,’ and it didn't. He always took ownership in everything he did.”

When reporting day for Aggies training camp approached this month, Hill was excited and confident. After a year of spot duty and watching Manziel work his magic, his opportunity called and he grabbed it.

Yes, succeeding Johnny Football is a tough task. But Hill was groomed for it.

“With Kenny, his composure, there's really no situation that's too big for him,” Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Conner McQueen said. “Pressure doesn't ever seem to faze Kenny.”

Lessons from spring: Little clarity at QB

April, 17, 2014
4/17/14
9:00
AM CT
It would be easy to assume that 15 spring football practices would bring some clarity to the Texas A&M quarterback race.

Instead, there were seemingly as many questions coming out of spring as there were when it began.

The arrest and subsequent suspension of sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill, one of three Aggies who entered spring competing for the right to succeed Johnny Manziel, complicated matters in the final week of spring practice as senior Matt Joeckel and true freshman Kyle Allen spent the final week of spring drills splitting reps.

The announcement Wednesday of Joeckel's decision to transfer cleared things up somewhat, but it's still a marathon until the Aggies pick a starter.

Hill, who was suspended on March 28 following an arrest for public intoxication, has since been reinstated to the team and will have to stay out of trouble moving forward. He has experience on his side, having appeared in five games last season and having plenty of experience in a no-huddle, up-tempo spread-style offense like the Aggies run.

Allen, who went through customary true freshman growing pains in the early portions of spring practice while working to grasp the offense, came along nicely toward the end of spring drills, throwing a quality deep ball and handling the entire menu of plays that offensive coordinator Jake Spavital threw at him.

Joeckel's departure thins out the quarterback depth, leaving the Aggies with just two scholarship players at the position (look for walk-on Conner McQueen to be the third-string quarterback). Joeckel was still in the race when he made his decision, and the Aggies would have liked to have his veteran presence around, but he clearly felt his chance to start in 2014 was better somewhere else than Aggieland. And keep in mind, the Aggies continue to look for a quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class, with the focus currently set on ESPN 300 prospect and two-time Texas Class 5A Division I state champion Kyler Murray, son of former Aggies quarterback Kevin Murray.

With Joeckel out, it's a two-man race between Allen and Hill until mid-August, but it's too early to call a winner just yet. That's not the way A&M coach Kevin Sumlin works. He prefers to wait until approximately two weeks before the season opener before calling the quarterback competition, something he stayed true to in 2008 (his first year at Houston) and in 2012 (his first year at Texas A&M).

So Hill and Allen will continue to battle it out this summer and when preseason training camp begins in late July or early August. Speculation will run rampant as it did in 2012 (when many observers felt Jameill Showers led Manziel coming out of spring ball, though Manziel ultimately won the job), but the bottom line is we won't truly know who's trotting out into the offensive huddle first on Aug. 28 against South Carolina until Sumlin says so in about four months.

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