Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is entering his fifth season at College Station and he’s breaking in, essentially, his fifth quarterback.
Since Johnny Manziel skyrocketed expectations in Sumlin’s first season and in A&M’s amazing debut in the SEC that included the hearth-thumping win at Alabama, well, nothing has really been the same.
Manziel dazzled for a second season in 2013, but visions of national championship contention never materialized. In Johnny Football’s wake came Kenny “Trill” Hill, Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. A&M seemed set for a good, long time. Of course, it didn’t work out quite like that.
Hill is competing to be TCU’s starting quarterback in 2016. Allen will spend a year satisfying transfer rules at Houston, and Murray will do the same at Oklahoma.
Next up for A&M and Sumlin is no high school hotshot. Those days are well behind the former four-star dual threat quarterback out of San Antonio Reagan. These days former Oklahoma starter Trevor Knight is the humbled veteran whose star seemed destined to rise after his own pulsating victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl following the 2013 season.
Sumlin tabbed Knight as the Aggies’ opening-day starter Monday, two days after his impressive showing in A&M’s spring game.
Back then, who could have seen Sumlin and Knight ever needing one another? But these two, each boasting victories against Alabama on their first tries, need each other now. Sumlin has a reputation as quarterback whisperer to repair. Knight seeks to end his derailed college career with dignity, and potentially one more shot at glory.
Sumlin, a former Oklahoma offensive coordinator, will employ a senior signal caller for the first time at A&M. He picked Manziel to start as a redshirt freshman. Hill, whose parents prematurely trademarked his nickname, “Trill,” following his record-breaking 2014 debut at South Carolina, Allen and Murray were all sophomores and younger.
Each also seemingly had issues dealing with setbacks. Hill was benched and eventually suspended. Allen and the prima donna-ish Murray had their own troubles negotiating Sumlin’s decisions to go with one or the other.
With Knight, flash and fireworks might not be the first thing that comes to mind. After all, his own mediocre and inconsistent performances led to his 2014 demotion with the Sooners.
What Knight does bring is credibility. He’s not above the fray. He’s blue-collar. He puts in the work and goes about his business the right way. He sets the example. Those characteristics have plainly been absent for the Aggies at the game’s most important position.
The beauty for Knight is he shouldn’t have to be a superhero to net positive results. The Aggies have a stellar stable of wide receivers, arguably the best group in the SEC. And the backfield should be bolstered by Knight’s old Sooner teammate, Keith Ford. A defense led by stud defensive end Myles Garrett, and now in a second year under the guidance of coordinator John Chavis, should be a salty unit that will aid its offense.
All hell broke loose for A&M last season. Quarterbacks transferred. Rumors of Sumlin standing on shaky ground surfaced. The athletic director abruptly resigned.
Now, with new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, a longtime developer of quarterbacks, calling the shots, and Knight bringing a steady hand, just maybe the Aggies aren’t in the dire straits that end of 2015 suggested.
Just maybe the Aggies, no longer with the next great quarterback under center, will actually be better off.
Sumlin and Knight would love nothing more than to make that true.