Jimbo Fisher
Kellen Mond
Nick Starkel
Landis Durham
Texas A&M Football

Aggies take positives from Maroon & White game to cap off spring

April 14, 2018

Depending on perspective, Kyle Field was either half full or half empty on Saturday afternoon.

Coach Jimbo Fisher did not see 100,000 fans — as requested — attending Texas A&M’s Maroon & White football game. However, he and the announced crowd of 48,129 did see a rare sight at Kyle Field.

No, that’s not a reference to Johnny Manziel fielding a short field goal just before halftime and running out of the end zone as Cullen Gillaspia converged.

Perhaps even rarer was the sight of a tight end making catches and making plays.

That was more significant than the fact that the White team posted a 30-24 victory over the Maroon.

It was even more significant than the fact that Nick Starkel of the Maroon Team passed for 373 yards and appeared to take a lead over Kellen Mond in the quarterback competition. Of course, Starkel had an advantage. He had tight end Jace Sternberger on his side. Mond did not.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Sternberger, a junior college transfer, was arguably the most impressive player in the game. He caught eight passes for 147 yards and scored two touchdowns.

He caught passes in the flat. He caught passes down the seam. He caught a pass, collided with several defensive backs, kept his feet and rumbled for another 10 years. He had more receptions and covered more yards in the spring game than any A&M tight end had all of last season.

Justin Oster, TexAgs
Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher saw many positives in the Aggies' spring game performance and was particularly impressed with tight end Jace Sternberger.

“Jace Sternberger … you see why he was our MVP of the spring,” Fisher said in a postgame press conference. “He’s kind of done that every day. He’s been a work horse as far as his attitude and work ethic. He brings it for us every day. When your tight end can get vertical and make plays down the field, it really can change you on offense.”

Usually, this is where you’re cautioned to slow down. Spring football can be extremely deceiving. An individual might have a spectacular showing in an intra-squad game but might barely show up in the fall. In fact, tight end Kalvin Cline had a productive game last spring but caught no passes last season.

Fisher all but guaranteed that won’t be the case with Sternberger.

“We have some other things planned there for tight end,” Fisher said. “We feel like that can end up being a real strength for us going into the fall.”

Aggies will applaud that. Actually, they did. When Sternberger made his first catch — a seven-yard out that resulted in a first down — the Kyle Field crowd roared. Seven plays later, the crowd roared louder when Sternberger beat safety Derrick Tucker to haul in an 11-yard touchdown pass.

“I figured some people were pumped up that we were throwing to the tight end,” Starkel said. "(Sternberger) has been making those plays every day since he got here. Coach (Tim) Brewster is on him really hard every day because he sees the potential in him. I see the potential in him. I tell him every day: ‘You’re a great tight end. Let’s go be great out there.’”

If Sternberger can be similarly productive in the fall, he’ll surely emerge as a fan favorite. By October, local restaurants may be adding a Stern-burger to the menu.

Yet, as good as Sternberger was, he was by no means a lone star.

Kendrick Rodgers had eight catches for 90 yards for the White team. That included a brilliant 32-yard grab against heavy coverage that set up the game-winning touchdown — which he also scored.

Justin Oster, TexAgs
Wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon recorded six catches for 124 yards for the Maroon team, consistently making plays down the field.

Jhamon Ausbon of the Maroon team had six catches for 124 yards. Jacob Kiboi ran strong. So did walk-on Kwame Etwi, who had a 55-yard touchdown run.

Linebackers Buddy Johnson, Tyrel Dodson, Anthony Hines and Ikenna Okeke were extremely productive.

Defensive tackle Daylon Mack posted a sack on the first play of the game when he dragged Starkel down with one hand. Fellow defensive tackle Kingsley Keke only had two tackles, but both resulted in lost yardage.

Donovan Wilson returned from the injury that forced him to miss almost all of last season and played at the level Ags are accustomed to seeing from him.

Spring games can be confusing, though. Did a receiver have a strong game because the defensive backs struggled? Was the defensive line dominant or was the offensive line dormant? Did the running game sizzle or did the run defense fizzle?

Actually, there were enough strong plays made on both sides to feel good about the progress the team has made. Fisher certainly seemed pleased.

“I like the progress we made as far as understanding how we wanted to compete, deal with adversity and deal with success and play in the game,” he said. “I think you saw that in the second half of this game. One team was down and battled right on back. The other, it didn’t faze them when the momentum changed. They went back down and executed and came back.”

He acknowledged there is still much to work on. Improvement is needed. Trayveon Williams fumbled a pitch close to the goal line. Starkel was intercepted on an ill-advised pass when backed up deep into his own territory.

But overall, he was optimistic.

The glass — and the stadium — was definitely half full.

Discussion from...

Aggies take positives from Maroon & White game to cap off spring

rocky the dog
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He caught a pass, collided with several defensive backs, kept his feet and rumbled for another 10 years.
Isn't that an NCAA violation?
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Did tight ends McZeal and Horry ever see the field for the Whites? I only saw an hour of the game but I saw a walkon tight end playing for the Whites.
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Weird. I thought the offense looked really bad.
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I am cautiously optimistic
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