The Texas A&M football team has experienced veterans yet few seniors.
Cornerback Charles Oliver is the only senior listed as an offensive or defensive starter on the depth chart released Thursday. There are only three more seniors among the 57 players listed for 23 positions — center Colton Prater, cornerback Rony Elam and safety Larry Pryor. The remaining seniors on the 132-player roster are All-America punter Braden Mann and walk-on defensive lineman Mitchell Howard.
It’s an unusually small class. The fewest seniors to start for A&M in a season opener since joining the Southeastern Conference is five in 2013 and ’15. Nine is the most seniors A&M started in a season opener over the last seven seasons and that came in 2012 when the Aggies went 11-2 and finished fifth in the final Top 25 poll.
The Aggies started eight seniors in last season’s 59-7 victory over Northwestern State that jump-started a 9-4 season and No. 16 finish.
Seniors matter, right? Well, as long as they’re also talented.
A&M could be short on seniors this season, but it does return 13 players who have made at least 10 career starts. A&M has a solid junior class with 22 on the depth chart who have combined for 166 starts. That doesn’t include cornerback Debione Renfro, who has 22 career starts but will miss the opener for violating team rules.
Minus the Renfro hiccup and possibly one or two others, the junior class has shown great maturity. They’ve handled the transition from being recruited and weaned by former head coach Kevin Sumlin to playing for Jimbo Fisher, contributing to the program’s best season since ’13.
If the junior class-led 12th-ranked Aggies can build on last season’s success, the foundation for something much bigger would be in place. There’s 30 underclassmen on the depth chart ready to follow the junior class’ lead, nine of them listed as starters, including a pair of true freshmen in offensive guard Kenyon Green and safety Demani Richardson. The 330-pound Green has been physical and consistent enough in practice to join the veterans, while Richardson hopefully is an answer in an area full of question marks.
“Demani’s playing right now and he’s No. 1,” Fisher said. “He’ll be playing, and he does a lot of really good things. He’s had a great camp.”
The secondary might be the most competitive position on the team with three players listed at all four spots on the depth chart, and that’s without Renfro. So call them the lucky 13? You’d expect spots to be up for grabs after A&M allowed 253.2 yards passing per game last season to rank 98th nationally. Sophomore Devin Morris, who is from Caldwell, is listed behind junior Myles Jones at one of the cornerback spots. Morris has yet to see the field.
A&M’s offense lost two potential key contributors when sophomore fullback Ben Miles transferred to Kansas before training camp and true freshman tight end Baylor Cupp broke an ankle earlier this month, but Fisher is counting on production remaining constant from those positions.
Sophomore Glenn Beal and true freshman Jalen Wydermeyer “have been outstanding”at tight end, said Fisher, who also praised the transition of sophomore Camron Horry from defense to tight end.
Junior walk-on Cagan Baldree, a 260-pound fullback, has been a pleasant surprise.
“Baldree has really done a nice job in there,” Fisher said. “I mean he is blocking. He is running. He can catch the football. He does all the things we need to do.”
A&M ran the same plays for those positions in fall camp as they did last season, Fisher said.
“I was very, very pleased with the progress we made at both of those positions.”
Junior reserve linebacker Braden White, who was named the 12th Man earlier this week, is from Florence, Alabama.
“It’s an incredible honor for me, just to be able to represent this great university that at first I didn’t really know that much about,” White said. “The longer I’ve been here, it’s somewhere I call home. I love it so much, and to be able to take place in one of the traditions, it means the world to me.”
White, who graduated earlier this month with a degree in marketing, traded his No. 58 jersey for No. 12 after Fisher told the team of his promotion Tuesday.
“I was stunned,” White said of hearing Fisher’s announcement. “It was a surreal moment.”
White was dressed for success and stood out among the other players wearing shorts or sweats for Thursday’s press conference. He was coming from a mandatory master’s program orientation in the Mays Business School held earlier that day.
NOTES — Sophomore Connor Blumrick, redshirt freshman James Foster and true freshman Zach Calzada continue to battle for the backup quarterback position. “We’re making that decision here pretty quickly but not yet,” Fisher said. ... Junior wide receiver Kendrick Rogers is listed as a starter, though he’s missed practices with a leg injury. “It’s day to day,” Fisher said. “But he’s getting much, much better, so we’ll see.” ... Fisher said he hasn’t determined if Renfro will play in A&M’s game against Clemson on Sept. 7. ... A&M junior quarterback Kellen Mond is among 30 named to the Manning Award’s watch list. South Carolina senior Jake Bentley, LSU senior Joe Burrow, Florida junior Feleipe Franks, Georgia junior Jake Fromm and Alabama junior Tua Tagovailoa from the Southeastern Conference made the list along with Texas Tech sophomore Alan Bowman, Baylor junior Charlie Brewer, Texas junior Sam Ehlinger, North Texas senior Mason Fine and Houston senior D’Eriq King also made the list.