COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Sam Moeller was well versed on Texas A&M and its traditions growing up. His parents attended the school, his uncle played baseball there so Moeller grew up an Aggie.
As a walk-on safety from Antonian Prep in San Antonio, becoming the 12th Man was one of Moeller’s personal goals after arriving on campus. He’s done that and then some.
When the Aggies meet Louisville tonight in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Moeller will take the field for the last time as the 12th Man, doing so for a record 39th consecutive time. He broke the previous record for career 12th man starts (30) earlier this season, previously held by Nick Lamantia, who set that mark from 2006-08.
A few of Texas A&M’s previous 12th Men say Moeller may indeed be the standard-bearer.
“There's a lot of great guys [who were the 12th Man],” Lamantia said. “He might be the best one.”
The 12th Man tradition is unique to Texas A&M. Its roots date back to 1922 when Texas A&M played Centre College. Because of injuries, the Aggies were running thin on bodies. Then coach Dana X. Bible recalled a student, E. King Gill, who was a former football player who was playing basketball at the time and called him from the stands to suit up in case he was needed. Gill never entered the game, but stood ready in uniform throughout the game and was the last man standing on the sideline when the game ended. The spirit of the 12th Man became synonymous with Texas A&M.
In the 1980s, then-coach Jackie Sherrill took Bible’s original gesture to a new level, starting a 12th Man kickoff coverage team comprised of walk-ons in 1982. Sherrill’s successor, R.C. Slocum, in 1991 began the tradition of designating a single walk-on to wear No. 12 and play on the kickoff coverage unit as a representation of the student body, and that tradition continues today.
Moeller’s run began at the start of the 2013 season after an impressive spring and training camp. He wore No. 12 playing mostly on kickoff coverage and punt returns that season and became the first 12th man to block a punt that November in a win over Mississippi State.
His play earned him a scholarship prior to the 2014 season. In 2014 and 2015, Moeller served on four phases of special teams: kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage and punt block or punt return. He was elected as special teams captain this year. He forced a fumble in the Aggies’ loss to Alabama in October and blocked the second punt of his career in their November win over Vanderbilt.
“He's probably the best athlete of all the other 12th Men that I've seen,” said Warren Barhorst, one of the 12th man kickoff team members under Sherrill. “The thing I don't think a lot of people realize about that position is it's basically putting a target on your back. You go watch the Alabama game and it's unbelievable how they target him and beat the crap out of him.”
Banks said there isn’t a special-teams coordinator in the SEC who doesn’t mention No. 12 to him.
Dave Coolidge, also a 12th Man kickoff team member under Sherrill, pays attention to who the 12th Man is each year, like most who have been part of the tradition. He said Moeller “may very well be the best” of A&M’s 12th Men.
“What Sam Moeller has done is phenomenal,” Coolidge said. “He's a very dependable, reliable, consistent contributor.”
Moeller has been just as impressive off the field. He graduated this month with his degree in industrial distribution. He already has a job lined up in pipeline construction for Oryx Oilfield Services in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which he’s scheduled to start in February.
His ability to excel on the football field as well as in the classroom with a taxing major is a sign of why he’s been so consistent on the field, Banks said.
“He is driven,” Banks said. “You can see that in his academic work ... you just watch him on the field and you see how competitive he is and what kind of heart he has. He's playing with shoulders that have been injured. He's continued to play through pain and injury. It means a lot to him and he means a lot to us. He's kind of who we are on special teams.”
Moeller said he’ll definitely be a little sad taking the field for the final time, but joked he’s going to work hard to “go out there and get a couple more blocked punts.” Banks anxiously waits to figure out who’s next, knowing it’ll be hard to meet the standard Moeller set.
“It's definitely a great feeling,” Moeller said of his streak. “I feel like I've worked pretty hard and kept my effort up and my work ethic up every day. It's a big honor to have such a nice record here at this school with the background and the tradition of this school.”