Stallings' first team at Texas A&M celebrates 50th anniversary

Gene Stallings (center) and members of his first team at Texas A&M gather Saturday at A&M's Lettermen's Club to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

Not many know there was a successful sequel to coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's 10-day training camp in Junction. The 1965 Texas A&M football team had its own memorable makeover without ever leaving campus.

The team had 132 players when first-year head coach Gene Stallings arrived in December 1964. When the Aggies played Houston in its home opener, they had just 57 players listed in the program.

They were the survivors of a rigorous offseason conditioning program in DeWare Field House and G. Rollie White Coliseum under Stallings, one of the Junction Boys.

"He didn't run us off, because he couldn't run us off," center Jim Singleton said of the 57 who didn't quit. "We wanted to play football for Texas A&M. We wanted to play football for Gene Stallings. So we stayed."

Members of Stallings' first team are celebrating their 50-year reunion this weekend. The squad went just 3-7 overall, including a 1-6 in the Southwest Conference, but they began laying a foundation that led A&M to greater success under Stallings.

"It was a lot of hard work," end Tuffy Fletcher said. "The spring before that season was murderous. It was one of those times you just really didn't know if you had the desire to hang in there.

"Jimmy and I would visit pretty regularly and think about quitting, but then we'd be saying, 'Where do we go?' We had no place to go, so we just stuck it out. I think that's what happened to most of the Junction Boys that stayed, too."

Stallings, like Bryant, was hired to change a losing attitude. A&M had seven straight losing seasons after Bryant's 8-3 swan song in 1957. After that, A&M won three games or less in five of seven seasons before hiring the 30-year-old Stallings, who had been an assistant coach at Alabama under Bryant.

"Those were sort of hard times for the players," Stallings said. "I'd just been to Junction and I'd coached for Coach Bryant. I was feeling my oats, really. And I was probably a little too young to have the head job at A&M, but we had some great kids. They just needed a little discipline. They needed a little toughness to 'em, and I tried to give it to 'em both. I thoroughly enjoyed that first team that I had."

At Saturday's luncheon at the Lettermen's Club, Stallings was most popular with his former players who didn't always enjoy his company 50 years ago.

Stallings had the players sign up for a physical education class he taught to those wanting to learn how to become a coach.

"Junction was two weeks," said Singleton, who ramrodded the reunion. "But we had to put up with Stallings for a whole semester."

Stallings also converted four rooms on the second floor of G. Rollie White into workout stations for spring drills, tackle Jim Kazmierski said. Players had to run in place for 15 minutes in the fencing room, then run 15 minutes of drills in one of the wrestling rooms, then 15 minutes of actual wrestling in the second wrestling room. They started the third station by head butting each other, said Kazmierski, a sophomore in 1965 who had been part of coach Hank Foldberg's final recruiting class. The last 15-minute station was in the weight room, where he said they "rested" by lifting weights.

The Junction Boys had to deal with grass burrs, rocks and blisteringly hot temperatures for less than two weeks, but Fletcher said the players in 1965 were tested mentally and physically for the full semester.

"The physical demands of the practices, of the drills, everything we did, it was just pretty incredible," Singleton said.

It was even hard on the upperclassmen.

"It helped us decide who was going to keep on playing and who wasn't," senior lineman/fullback Tom Murrah said. "And I think it helped me appreciate what a group of people can do when they're working together and how they can get to where they can depend on each other. You know what each of them can and can't do, and it's all about teamwork. I think that's the message we got."

By 1967, Stallings had the Aggies winning the SWC title.

"There's more than one way to skin a cat," said Loyd Taylor, offensive backs coach in 1965 who also played for Bryant at A&M. "It seems like at the time we kinda lost sight of that."

Taylor wore his 1967 SWC championship ring Saturday as well as his Cotton Bowl watch the Aggies won for beating Alabama and Bryant to end that season.

"These guys really worked hard," Taylor said. "They really wanted to win, but there wasn't a lot of overall talent in the group. It was tough, but for the ones that hung around, I think they really gained a lot from it."

They are all winners to Stallings.

"The real joy I got out of coaching was seeing them graduate," Stallings said. "And I felt I had a little something to do with them getting that degree and encouraging them to go ahead and study and be what ever they wanted to be. This group of guys turned out extremely well."

Fletcher is eternally grateful to Stallings and his teammates.

"I couldn't live with myself [if I hadn't stayed]," Fletcher said. "It was a great experience and I love Coach Stallings for putting us through it."

NOTES -- Of the 50 players still living from the 1965 team, 38 attended Saturday's luncheon. ... The 1965 team had two all-conference players, end Ken "Dude" McLean and linebacker Joe Wellborn, who were seniors. ... The 1965 team included punter Steve O'Neal, who played in the NFL from 1969-73, a local dentist who kicked a record-setting 98-yard punt. O'Neal also ran track at A&M, causing him to miss those legendary football workouts. "I lived in the track dorm," he said. "I really only saw the guys in uniforms, so I didn't even know what a lot of them looked like."... Another two-standout on the team was end Ted Nelson, who came to Aggieland on a track scholarship. Nelson was a track coach at A&M from 1966-2004, the last 15 seasons as head coach. ... David Harvell, a sophomore end in 1965 who graduated from A&M Consolidated, was a rare walk-on back then. He served as the backup fullback at 160 pounds.

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(1) comment

Florida Mike

Remember this well as was my fish year...had several players in my classes and they always looked tired, beat down...funny how we were all rewarded by the trials and challenges to win the cotton bowl beating AL @ Bear Bryant on New Years...remember well the bear hug Bryant gave Stallings at mid field...great memories indeed!

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