On the desk of Texas A&M Coach Gene Stallings there is a maroon headgear stained with the colors of the Aggies' 10 opponents last season. A smudge of burnt orange for Texas, a pinch of green for Baylor—and something for each of the others. The headgear belongs to A&M Linebacker Robert Cortez, but Stallings wouldn't think of parting with it now. "When I'm feeling low, I just take a good look at that helmet," says the coach. "It reminds me that I know where I can find at least one contact football player."
Stallings is too much of a pessimist. The Aggies may have had little more than the sort of spirit displayed by players like Cortez during the coach's first two seasons, but 1967 promises to be a lot different. For the first time since Bear Bryant left College Station for Alabama in 1957, the old military school has enough determined, rugged players to rate among the top contenders not only in the Southwest Conference, but in the nation.
Stallings, who was one of Bear Bryant's prized pupils at A&M and coached under him at Alabama, talks a great deal about "hitting," and "second effort," and "courage." He talks in a slow drawl, √† la Bear, and has in his possession something that any young coach would probably pay a squadful of blue-chip athletes for. It is a gigantic notebook filled with "everything I've ever heard Coach Bryant say in the 13 years I've known him."
Stallings' notebook does not say anything about the likes of Maurice Moorman, Wendell Housley, Edd Hargett, Rolf Krueger, Tom Buckman or Ross Brupbacher, but it doesn't need to. Their abilities speak adequately enough. They form the hard core of especially talented Aggies who are apt to have thousands of former Cadets dragging out their old cavalry hats and boots and hollering, "Gig 'em," so loud they will make rivers back up throughout the whole state of Texas.
A&M may return to the big time on one play alone—a power slash to the strong side with either Housley, a junior, or Brupbacher, a sophomore, taking a hand-off from Quarterback Hargett and crashing into enemy tacklers behind the 6'5", 242 Moorman, 6'4", 225 Krueger, and 6'3", 212 Buckman, who play guard, tackle and end, respectively.
Housley gained more than 500 yards last season and is already being compared with that Aggie immortal, John David Crow. Brupbacher is just as big at 6'2" and 200 pounds, and he showed so much speed and shiftiness as a freshman that Stallings has pondered using him with Housley in the same backfield.
There is little question about the kind of blocking cither Housley or Brupbacher will receive. Mo Moorman, now a guard, was an All-America tackle last year, and Stallings says, "He's 50% improved. He wants to be the greatest player A&M ever had—and he has a chance to make it." In addition to his offensive duties, he will be used on defense during goal-line stands.
Moorman's blocking mates for anything moving toward the right—Krueger, the younger brother of ex-Aggie All-America Charley Krueger, and Buckman—are so devastating that a respected Texas sportswriter, Bill Van Fleet of The Fort Worth Morning Star-Telegram, has called the play "an automatic four yards, even when the defense knows that it's coming."
When a defense loads up in an effort to stop the Aggie power, Edd Hargett gets his chance to take over. Hargett passed for 1,532 yards last year as a sophomore and was so impressive that Arkansas Coach Frank Broyles called him, "one of the best passers we've seen." Stallings smiles and says, "Well, Hargett's very coachable. I sent him in against SMU and told him to throw a touchdown pass, and he did."
Hargett has the ability to throw long or short, and A&M has good receiving. He has also promised Stallings he will run more this year. "If I see a chance to make four or five yards, even though a receiver is open 15 yards away, I'll take the four or five. That's what I didn't do enough of last year," Hargett says. The reason Hargett did not run was that he was still recovering from a knee operation and a brace hampered his movement. Now, as Stallings says, "tape and a prayer" are holding the knee together, a combination that seems good enough for Hargett, who ran very well in spring practice. He will have to come through and stay healthy for A&M to have a big year.
Texas A&M's strength is in its offense and its attitude. It is a relatively young team, loaded with juniors and sophomores—no less than 12 rookies may wind up earning starting berths on offense and defense—and how it fares early will be very important. The Aggies must prove quickly that they are not stage shy. Their opener on Sept. 16 with defending conference champion SMU will be televised nationally. They follow this one by facing powerful Purdue in what is sure to be a packed Cotton Bowl at Dallas. "If we get by those two," says Stallings, "then folks will have the right to rate us pretty high. But doing it is something else. We do have good backs, but we can't afford any injuries in the offensive line, and our secondary will have to keep its poise. If it doesn't, the old Aggies will still have a long way to go."
The chances are that the Aggies are not as far away as Stallings would like to have his rivals believe. After scouting them in the spring, an LSU assistant coach, Bill Beall, said, "They'll be the surprise team in the country."
If so, more Aggies than Robert Cortez will end up with paint stains on their headgear.