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

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

The Battalion

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Walking on with tradition

Photo by Provided
Ryan O’Bryant

In the 1980s, under Head Coach Jackie Sherrill, the Texas A&M football team implemented what was known as the 12th Man kickoff team. The special teams squad was compiled entirely of walk-on players in an effort to tangibly embody the spirit of the 12th Man. What was once the kickoff team has since been narrowed down to a single player who wears the number 12 jersey and acts as the 12th Man.

Ryan O’Bryant, class of ‘10, came to A&M as a preferred walk-on with the goal of being a part of the Aggie football program and left A&M having accomplished much more than just making the team. After fighting through the grueling life of a walk-on for his first two years with the team, O’Bryant was named the 12th Man in his junior season.

O’Bryant said the first time he wore the 12th Man jersey was nothing short of memorable.

“They gave me the opportunity to wear the jersey for the first time against Texas Tech,” O’Bryant said. “In that game I had a tackle on Michael Crabtree [who was the 10th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft] inside of the 20 yard line [on kickoff]. They actually called that play back after I made the tackle because one of our players was off sides. So we had to run the play again and I ran down and made another tackle right after that.”

Often times, most of the focus during A&M kickoffs is directed toward whoever is wearing number 12. Something about seeing a player out on the field that isn’t one of the heralded recruits gives the fans a boost of interest. O’Bryant said having all of the eyes on him helped him perform on the field.

“It makes you play better because you know everybody is watching you,” O’Bryant said. “Whoever wears the 12th Man jersey, they go through so much to get to that point just to play that I think that pressure doesn’t affect them in a negative way, it just inspires them to work a little bit harder and dig a little bit deeper.”

O’Bryant said whoever appears in the number 12 jersey becomes an instant fan-favorite.

“Before the games started I would be the first one to come out and they would show me on the big screen and I would do a Gig ’em sign or something to pump up the crowd,” O’Bryant said.

The attention isn’t unwarranted as the path to wearing the jersey isn’t easy to traverse. Walk-on players are in a constant competition with one another to earn the right to wear the jersey. O’Bryant, via his platform as the 12th Man, said he was able to expose his character and determination in a big way to his teammates and coaches and eventually his actions were rewarded.

“Through [being the 12th Man] I was able to become a team captain as well,” O’Bryant said. “Just because you’re the 12th Man doesn’t mean you become a captain but through my playing as the 12th Man my coaches and teammates ended up giving me the honor of being one of the team captains. My senior year I was a permanent team captain and my junior year I was team captain for a game.”

At the conclusion of his senior year, O’Bryant was awarded the Aggie Heart Award, which is known to be the highest honor that an A&M senior football player can earn while at Texas A&M. The recipient of the award is voted on by the players and is a senior that displays the qualities of determination, leadership, courage and desire.

After graduating from Texas A&M, O’Bryant earned his Masters in Sport Management from the University of San Francisco. He has since returned to Aggieland and is now the Assistant Event Manager at Reed Arena.  

O’Bryant said in addition to the Aggie family’s support on the field, he always had support coming from his family at home.
“I would say they’re very proud,” O’Bryant said. “My family isn’t big into football but they believe that whatever is in your heart, you should go after it. They’re more proud that I had something in my heart that I wanted to do and I was able to accomplish that and that was the true blessing, not as much playing football but following your dreams in life.”

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