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Texas A&M’s Kyle Field makeover shaped by Aggies’ history

Kyle Field renovation shaped by history

Aggie traditions influenced the designers who worked on the new Kyle Field. (Video by Brent Shirley/Special to the Star-Telegram)
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Aggie traditions influenced the designers who worked on the new Kyle Field. (Video by Brent Shirley/Special to the Star-Telegram)

As midnight approached, Craig Kaufman watched around 50,000 people pour into Kyle Field.

The lines filed in, fusing into a maroon mass that followed five yell leaders through ritualistic chants and songs, swaying to “saw ’em off” during the Aggie War Hymn and shouting about beating the hell out of the opponent, top-ranked Alabama. It was a strange sight for Kaufman, a Kansas graduate receiving a crash course in Aggie tradition. That’s when Kaufman, a senior architect and associate principle at Populous, a Kansas City, Mo., architecture firm, knew his task of managing a $485 million Kyle Field redevelopment wasn’t a typical job.

“You can’t understand it until you see it in person,” said Kaufman, reflecting on his first trip to midnight yell practice in 2013 the night before the Aggies lost in a 49-42 shootout. “I realized this wasn’t just another university. This place is special.”

Those traditions impacted every decision between Kaufman’s initial visit and Saturday, when No. 17 Texas A&M (2-0) debuted the new Kyle Field in a 56-23 win against Ball State in front of 104,213 people.

“Everything, even the language, is different here,” Kaufman said. “We immersed ourselves in the culture. The way the Aggies participate in the games is unique. They really affect the outcome. We made a list of the important traditions to the stadium and talked about how to preserve and amplify them.”

For many Aggies, attention to tradition was more important than flashy new features.

“That’s what makes this A&M: the traditions staying the same,” said Dave Conkling, a 1955 Aggie graduate. “The new stadium is big and nice, but I remember when it was nothing but the Corps of Cadets in there. Now they make up just a tiny part of the stadium. I know things will have to be different in some ways, but I hope they don’t change too much.”

104,213 Attendance Saturday at Kyle Field

Populous used some Aggie traditions to its advantage. Benches were updated, but the east-side student decks weren’t replaced. Building codes would have required a 33-inch depth for seating.

“The students stand up the whole game, so they don’t really need that depth,” Kaufman said. “By keeping what was there, we saved money and time and allowed the students to gather in close and maintain the number of people and noise.”

At the beginning of last season, Parsons Mounted Calvary’s cannon wasn’t allowed in for the first time in more than 30 years because of worries that the sound repercussion could cause hearing damage. By mid-October, after fan backlash, the cannon was back, in a new location, where it sat and signaled each A&M score Saturday.

“We’ve watched Kyle change and keep getting bigger, and I think it’s a positive thing, just as long as they are able to keep the cannon,” said Veda Ellington, who has been going to games with her husband Jerry (class of 1958) for nearly 60 years.

Jerry was a member of the Corps of Cadets, as were the couple’s three sons.

“Things like the cannon are a big part of A&M, and we’ve got to keep our traditions,” Veda said.

Sculptures around Kyle Field point back to those traditions. The classic 12th Man, E. King Gill, stands at the northeast corner. Heisman winner John David Crow is at the northwest. A statue of 12 Aggies singing the War Hymn is at the east stands entrance, and a yell leader stands on the west side. The 30,000-square-foot Hall of Champions, which runs the length of the field, features interactive displays designed to honor all of A&M’s athletic history. Even the graves of former Reveille mascots received their own scoreboard.

When you can look up there and see 30,000 students yelling, nothing gives you more energy. It’s unique thing here at Texas A&M, with that many students standing the whole game to show their support. It drives us to play our best on Kyle Field.

Texas A&M defensive line coach Terry Price, who played for the Aggies in the 1980s

Kaufman enjoyed watching comments on texags.com, a popular website covering Aggie sports and recruiting.

“People were watching the live construction cameras online and talking on message boards about what they saw,” he said. “I don’t know how they had the time. I’ve never seen that before.”

For visitors, the rigid adherence to tradition might seem peculiar. The yells, with thousands of Aggies shouting together in booming incantations, often lead to cult comparisons, an observation that will probably elicit grins from most Aggies in acknowledgment of a sliver of truth in the comparison.

“It is a little odd,” said Rodney Fontana, a Ball State graduate in College Station for Friday’s yell practice and Saturday’s game. “It’s overwhelming. But it’s obvious that it’s been handed down through generations. We came with friends who are former students, and they knew all of the yells. Everything. Nothing has changed.”

Texas A&M defensive line coach Terry Price’s first time experiencing Kyle Field’s energy was as a freshman player for the Aggies in 1986.

“It’s a shocking experience to go out there, from playing Texas high school football to playing in front of the A&M crowd,” Price said. “The first time I stepped on the field for a game, I realized how special this place is.”

Price remembers deafening Aggie crowds. Now Kyle Field has more seats, a completely closed in bowl and canopies extending over the east and west stands to direct sound down onto the field.

“The design of the stadium is going to capture more noise than it ever has,” he said.

For years, A&M fought uphill recruiting battles with lagging football facilities. R.C. Slocum, an 17-year Aggie assistant and head coach from 1989-2002, remembers tight quarters in coaching areas and not being able to see all of his players in meetings because of concrete pillars in the middle of rooms.

“Words can’t describe the new stadium,” Slocum said. “There is no comparison to what we had. It’s like the difference between daylight and dark. It’s been a complete change.”

Price hopes the Aggies can return to another Kyle Field tradition: winning. Last season, A&M set its top three attendance records and lost all three games — to Ole Miss, Missouri and LSU.

During Price’s four years playing, A&M lost three home games total.

“When you can look up there and see 30,000 students yelling, nothing gives you more energy,” Price said. “It’s unique thing here at Texas A&M, with that many students standing the whole game to show their support. It drives us to play our best on Kyle Field.”

The rebuilt west side of Kyle Field is previewed at Texas A&M University and will be ready for football this weekend.

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