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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The evolution of a tradition

Photo by File

Sam Moeller served as the 12th Man during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

In 1922, a tradition began — but it would take almost 70 years before it would become what it is today. The story of the 12th Man begins with E. King Gill standing on the sidelines, ready to play if his team needed him, and continues today as Cullen Gillaspia dons the No. 12 jersey.
As the story goes, the Aggies were playing Centre College in the Dixie Classic and the team was down to 11 men. Head coach Dana X. Bible called Gill to the sidelines to suit up and be ready to play if needed.
“He never actually went into the game, but the 12th Man represents that. [It’s] why the whole student body stands,” Gillaspia, the current 12th Man, said “It’s because at any point in time, they’re ready to go in the game. It’s kinda the sense of the student body being part of the game.”
While Gill’s story is widely circulated in Aggieland, little is spoken about how the tradition evolved into what it is today — a walk-on special teams player wearing the No. 12 jersey to represent the student body.
The first time this kind of 12th Man entered the game was in the fall of 1983, when then head coach Jackie Sherrill implemented the 12th Man Kickoff team, a group of 10 students who would play at home games. This team covered kickoffs at Kyle Field until the 1991 football season, when then head coach R.C. Slocum changed it to a one-man job.
According to Slocum, the rules for kickoff returns changed, moving the kicker back from the 40-yard line. This allowed players to run the ball more often and made the need for strong kickoff coverage important.
“We went through two changes, two successive changes, where they moved the kick off restraining line back and I didn’t want to sacrifice winning, or our ability to win by maintaining that, so I thought a good compromise and I talked to the whole staff, to be able to keep the concept, which we still have now, of having the 12th Man out there wearing No. 12,” Slocum said.
The players were still students who walked-on to the team and Slocum said this provided the opportunity for them to be part of the game.
“It gave some guys who were not good enough athletes to have been recruited as college football players, it gave them a role that they could still get into the games and go down and be involved in the game,” Slocum said. “That was fun, to see them and see the excitement they had.”
In the 1991 season opener against LSU, Jay Elliott was the first player to wear the No. 12 jersey and play as the 12th Man. Elliott said the 12th Man Kickoff team remained intact and certain players were voted on each week to wear the No. 12 jersey.
“In ’91, we had about 10 on the squad, total, and I was the first one to be singled out on the kickoff team,” Elliott said. “I probably played four or five games that year and then some of the other guys played the other games. Much different than the way they do 12th Man now.”
Elliott said there is a connection between the 12th Man and the student section, which can be felt from the moment the team runs out onto the field.
“When you walk out there and they know you’re the 12th Man, you know everyone can run out but when the 12th Man waves the towel, in my personal opinion, the crowd gets much more loud and boisterous with the 12th Man going out there,” Elliott said. “If the 12th Man makes a tackle or gets a hit, the crowd erupts, probably twice as loud as they normally would get. There is a connection, because … we were playing for them.”
From there, the tradition became a walk-on player earning the position each week. In 2016, Gillaspia earned a scholarship and the Friday before the season opener against UCLA, he was named the 12th Man, wearing No. 12 in each game since then. He said he worked to become the 12th Man each day in practice.
“I called my mom walking into workouts at 5 a.m., dang near crying, and I’d be like, ‘Why am I here? Why am I doing this, I know I’m never gonna play,’” Gillaspia said. “That moment when they pulled my number out, that was the light at the end of the tunnel. It changed my life forever. It’s put its mark on me and I’ve put my mark on the 12th Man jersey.”
Gillaspia said being the representative of the student body is an incredible experience, especially with how loud the student section can get.
“You look up and you see ‘Home of the 12th Man’ and you see a student section that’s 35,000 students strong and they’re all yelling in unison, or swaying in unison, whatever they’re doing, there’s no place in the country like it,” Gillaspia said. “We’ve played in some of the best places in the country and there’s not a student body that’s as involved, has as much pride, stay ‘til the end of the game and loves their team as much as the 12th Man.”
There are three moments which Gillaspia said stand out for him during his time as the 12th Man, so far.
“The first was the first play I made against UCLA, and then really just the Tennessee game [in 2016] as a whole, that was a really cool thing,” Gillaspia said. “Probably my most favorite moment is blocking the punt against Alabama [in 2017].”
A friend once told Gillaspia the stadium goes crazy when the 12th Man makes a tackle, and he was able to experience that in his first game wearing the No. 12 jersey.
“In the third quarter of the [2016] UCLA game I made a solo tackle and I got up — I just got goosebumps, actually — I heard the stands and I heard the student body yelling and that’s one of the coolest, best moments I’ve ever experienced,” Gillaspia said. “You get up and you look and see ‘Home of the 12th Man,’ the place is going crazy and it’s over something that a walk-on [did], something that you earned that you did. An unreal moment.”
Gillaspia said it is an honor to be part of Aggie history as the 12th Man and to represent the student body.
“I will be getting a degree from Texas A&M in May, I got my Aggie Ring, I got to play on one of the greatest football fields, football stadiums in college football and I got to represent the greatest tradition in college football,” Gillaspia said. “It’s an honor that I don’t deserve and it’s something that I’ll be grateful [for] and indebted to Texas A&M forever. ‘Til the day I die, Texas A&M will have a place in my heart.”
Slocum said he is pleased with how the tradition has continued and how the coaching staffs have maintained it over the years.
“We’ve had some great players represent the student body and wear that number 12,” Slocum said. “I think it’s one of the prized positions on the field now, is the guy that gets to put on that jersey and wear the number 12. I really enjoyed watching those people over the years run down and see the pride that they take in being that person to represent the student body.”

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  • 12th Man Student Section

    Photo by File
  • Cullen Gillaspia celebrates a defensive play against Auburn on Nov. 4, 2017.

    Photo by Photo by Cassie Stricker
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    Photo by Photo by Cassie Stricker
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