With our without Johnny Manziel at quarterback, Texas A&M will take the field Saturday against Rice at noon at Kyle Field.
That’s a very good thing.
Saturday’s noon game will shift the focus from a troubling summer that has included the NCAA investigation into Manziel and the tragic death of defensive lineman Polo Manukainiu to football.
It couldn’t come at a better time.
“It probably hasn’t affected us as much as people think,” Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said of the off-the-field issues. “The structure of camp has been a good thing for everybody and a way to really handle the message within the team. I’ve been pleased with our energy and focus in camp and continue to be pleased with it. Our guys have handled the situation very, very well and in some ways are looking to getting out on the field and playing football instead of dealing with other stuff.”
Sumlin reiterated Wednesday during the Southeastern Conference teleconference the policy set forth by athletic director Eric Hyman and didn’t comment on the Manziel situation.
The Heisman Trophy winner has taken the first-team snaps since practice began earlier this month and will likely be the starter against the Owls.
Manziel, who according to reports met with the NCAA last weekend to discuss the investigation into whether or not he solid his signatures, has handled the situation well.
“I thought from the beginning, from a practice standpoint, from a meeting standpoint he’s been very focused,” Sumlin said. “On the field and how he’s handled things meeting wise, locker room wise, everything around football he’s been extremely sharp and focused.”
If Manziel doesn’t start because the NCAA or Texas A&M steps in, that could open the door for true freshman Kenny Hill to make his college debut. Hill is vying for the backup job with junior Matt Joeckel, who saw limited action behind Manziel last season.
Hill is one of 31 newcomers on the A&M football team this season and Sumlin said half of them could see action this year.
One of the losses from a year ago is Manukainiu. The defensive lineman was killed in an automobile accident in July. The Aggies wear a helmet decal throughout the season with his number on it and his family will be on hand for Saturday’s game.
Sumlin said his death has been overshadowed by the Manziel investigation.
“What’s lost in this is the death of a teammate that also started the season which I think had a lot bigger effect on our whole team,” Sumlin said. “To sit there in the first team meeting and look at an empty chair I think that was a real, real eye opener to a lot of guys, particularly when that happens right before camp starts. You have basically because of the summer bridge program you have all your players there. To come back and see an empty chair it took a lot of conversation, a lot of emotion and a lot of inner thought from our football team. In a way, I think that had a bigger impact on our football team as far as being pulled together and being able to communicate than anything in regards to Johnny Manziel.”