Researchers at Texas A&M-Kingsville have produced two varieties
of grapefruit over the past 20 years: the Star Ruby and the Rio
Red. They're hard at work trying to come up with a strain of
thornless prickly pear cactus--cattle could eat it during
droughts, and without prickles the pads would make great
pickles. But Texas A&M-Kingsville's best-known crop is
professional football players.
Forty-six players from the Division II school that until 1993
was known as Texas A&I have been selected since the first NFL
draft, in 1936. Offensive tackle Jermane Mayberry, taken by the
Philadelphia Eagles with the 25th pick in last spring's draft,
was the eighth first-round selection in school history. Other
first-round picks were quarterback Randy Johnson (Atlanta
Falcons in '66), offensive lineman Gene Upshaw (Oakland Raiders
in '67), defensive back James Hill (San Diego Chargers in '69),
wide receiver Eldridge Small (New York Giants in '72), defensive
tackle Ernest Price (Detroit Lions in '73), fullback Don
Hardeman (Houston Oilers in '75) and cornerback Darrell Green
(Washington Redskins in '83). Kingsville has had more
first-rounders over the last 30 years than any other school
outside Division I and many inside it. Kansas State, for
instance, has had only two.
In addition to Mayberry, four players from the 1995 Javelinas
(pronounced haav-uh-LEEN-uhs) signed with NFL teams as free
agents, and two more joined the CFL. That's a typical yield for
the school, which has 6,500 students. Besides Green, it has
cultivated such current pro standouts as Green Bay Packers
offensive tackle Earl Dotson and Minnesota Vikings defensive
tackle John Randle. "Almost every day last fall we had a couple
of scouts at practice," says Mayberry. "And this isn't the kind
of place you can just drop by."
There is no easy way to get to Kingsville (pop. 25,000), which
lies 100 miles north of the Mexican border. The quickest way is
to hop a flight into Corpus Christi, 39 miles northeast of
campus. From there, follow Highway 44 west to Highway 77 south.
The biggest town you'll pass through is Robstown, Upshaw's
hometown. "We played some good football in Kingsville," says
Upshaw, a member of the NFL Hall of Fame and now the executive
director of the NFL Players Association. "So we knew the scouts
would find us."
Upshaw almost saw to it that the scouts missed him. He didn't
much like football in high school and hadn't planned to play in
college. In 1963 he was at freshman orientation when he paused
to watch football practice. Coach Gil Steinke, who led Texas A&I
to six NAIA titles in 23 years before retiring in '76, spotted
the 6-foot, 200-pound spectator and invited him to join in.
Three days later Upshaw had a scholarship, and four years later,
having added five inches and 55 pounds to his frame, he was the
17th pick in the draft.
Suiting up bystanders isn't standard procedure for the
Javelinas. Free safety Tyrone Marshall, linebacker Chris Hensley
and offensive tackle Todd Perkins, seniors all, are more typical
of the players who make up Texas A&M-Kingsville's roster.
The 6'1", 175-pound Marshall, a native of Austin, signed with
BYU in 1994 after spending two years at Trinity Valley Community
College in Athens, Texas. But since he didn't graduate from
Trinity Valley, he was ineligible to play in Division I. So he
headed for Kingsville largely because of the Javelinas'
reputation for developing pros. "Darrell Green is one of the
best out there, so people still come down here and look for
defensive backs," says Marshall. Although he missed all of last
season because of a torn ligament in his right knee, Marshall
appears to be back in the form that made him Lone Star
Conference defensive back of the year in '94.
Hensley, who's from Bandera, played junior college baseball for
a year at Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas, before transferring
to Kingsville. He walked on to the football team and immediately
impressed the coaches with his speed--at 6'3" and 230 pounds, he
has covered the 40 in 4.53 seconds--and aggressiveness. He's
planning to redshirt this season after a spring knee injury, but
Javelinas coach Ron Harms expects him to get a shot at the NFL
The 6'4", 290-pound Perkins seems destined to become the fourth
member of last season's offensive line to make it to the NFL.
(Jorge Diaz and Kevin Dogins signed as free agents this April
with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys,
respectively.) When he was a high school senior, TCU and Texas
A&M invited Perkins to walk on. But he decided to follow in the
footsteps of his father, Ken, who played for the Javelinas in
1963 and '64 and then for the Cowboys and the Edmonton Eskimos
of the CFL.
How does Harms convince would-be NFL players to come to
Kingsville? For 17 years he has been telling recruits that the
steady stream of NFL scouts would counter the team's lack of
national exposure. And while he makes them no promises, Harms
does let players know that they won't be overlooked. "When they
talk about their hopes after college, we point to many of our
successes," says Harms, literally pointing to the framed
portraits of the school's All-Americas that line the walls of
the lounge in the athletic department. "The evidence is there."
Harms and his assistants are dedicated to piling up the evidence
and molding more NFL players. Running backs coach Don Pittman
has participated in internship programs with four NFL teams,
including a stint with the Cowboys this summer. Juan Castillo,
who spent nine years as an assistant to Harms, was an intern
with three NFL teams; he tutored the Javelinas' offensive
linemen using film from pro training camps. "I think the insight
they've brought back helps us know what the pros are looking
for," says Harms. Castillo is now in his second year as an
assistant with the Eagles. For a college player with pro
aspirations, the only thing better than being tutored by a
former NFL assistant is to know a current NFL assistant.
Despite all the talent that has blown through Kingsville, the
Javelinas haven't won a national title since switching from the
NAIA to NCAA Division II in 1982. They reached the semifinals
last season before losing 28-25 in overtime to Pittsburgh State.
In '94 they lost 16-10 to North Alabama in the championship
game. "I'm sure everybody around here feels we're long overdue
for a national championship," says Harms, who still wears a gold
ring the size of a Rio Red grapefruit to commemorate the
Javelinas' 1974 title, when he was offensive coordinator under
Steinke. He has another, the size of a Star Ruby, from the
school's last national title, in '79.
This could be the year that Harms gets yet another ring. Perkins
is the only starter back on the line, but the rest of the
offense is solid. The quarterback is 6'2", 210-pound junior
Oktay Basci, a Kingsville native, who was named all-conference
last year. Three other starters are back from that unit, which
averaged 39.6 points per game last season. And six players
return from a defense that gave up an average of just 15.3
points per game in '95.
A title would help boost awareness that old Texas A&I is now
part of the Texas A&M system. Alums didn't accept the new name
warmly, and many still refer to the school as A&I. Still, the
Javelinas will always be the Javelinas--the only team in the
NCAA named after the beagle-sized relative of the wild boar.
When the school was founded and the mascot chosen in 1925,
javelinas roamed the area. (One bit the school president in
'29.) Today you could spend years on campus without seeing a
javelina, except for the team mascot, Porky, who is brought to
games in a cage. Nowadays, at Texas A&M-Kingsville you're much
more likely to run across future NFL players. They're all over
COLOR PHOTO: PHIL HUBER When recruiting, Harms (opposite) can point to successful alumni such as Randle, Green (28) and Hall of Famer Upshaw (63). [Ron Harms]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO [See caption above--John Randle]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: WALTER IOOSS JR. (2) [See caption above--Darrell Green; Gene Upshaw]
COLOR PHOTO: PHIL HUBER Marshall (16), Hensley (45) and Perkins may be the next Javelinas to step into the pros. [Tyrone Marshall, Chris Hensley and Todd Perkins]