The oldest and newest legends of college football could meet on the first play this afternoon when Texas A&M sends 10 "12th men"--none with trombones--to contain the California kick return unit that used a five-lateral return to beat Stanford and its band last season.
Aggie Coach Jackie Sherrill decided last spring to let 10 A&M students play on the coverage team to reward the student body for its near-maniacal support over the years. The tradition of the 12th Man began in January 1922 when A&M Coach Dana X. Bible called a basketball player out of the stands and had him suit up because so many players had been injured. E. King Gill never played, but the legend was started.
"Ever since then, our student body has stood the entire game, showing that they're ready if we need to call on them," said David Beal, who coaches "The 12th Man" for Sherrill.
Tom Bumgardner, a senior, is a 12th Man who is so good he is now third on the Aggie depth chart at cornerback. "I'm sure we're going to go wild," he said yesterday. "That first kickoff, there's going to be some people getting knocked down. Hopefully, it will be some of Cal's people."
After cutting the 12th Man roster from 160 to 75 to 40 at the end of spring practice, Beal put the players through two-a-day practices this summer, and made the final cut to 16 last Friday. Kicker Alan Smith will be the only scholarship football player on the field when he kicks off to Cal.
"I know they're nervous. I am, too," said Beal, who has coached the 12th Man unit every day since March 1. Two of the students who made the final 40 had never even played high school football. "One of them didn't even know how to put the pads in his pants," Beal said. "There were so many people, I didn't know who was who."
It's interesting that the 12th Man should have to face the Golden Bear return unit that beat Stanford last year by making five laterals, then knocking down several band members to get into the end zone on the final play of that game.
"We've put them through every trick play imaginable," Beal said. "They're ready for just about everything." Sherrill said he would be content to have Smith kick the ball out of the end zone and have Cal begin from its own 20.
There will be no gimmicks in Charlottesville, where 32,000 are expected to see Duke quarterback Ben Bennett, a preseason all-America, when his team visits Virginia tonight at 7 in an Atlantic Coast Conference game.
Duke doesn't have much of a running game, and the defense allowed 420 yards per game last year. But as Virginia Coach George Welsh said yesterday, "When you talk about Duke, you have to talk about Bennett. He's a senior, he's seen everything. Our defensive secondary has been good against our offense. But we haven't presented the problems for our secondary that Duke is going to present . . . They've only seen about half of what they're going to see Saturday night."
Even though Virginia lost nine games last year, it may be stronger than Duke at running back and defensive secondary. But the Cavaliers also have obvious weaknesses, including the quarterback position, where Wayne Schuchts will start.
It's doubtful that Schuchts will throw much because Welsh said he wants to "establish the running game first and control the ball to keep our defense off the field." With sophomore Antonio Rice (McKinley Tech) at tailback (764 yards last year) the Cavaliers can do more than control the ball on the ground.
It will be the debut for Duke Coach Steve Sloan, who is expected to let Bennett throw as many times as necessary. Against Virginia last year, Bennett completed 21 of 30 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns, as Duke won, 51-17.
Just 100 miles south of Scott Stadium, Howard will open its first season under Coach Joe Taylor in Lynchburg against Liberty Baptist which has won seven straight.