No. 6 Texas A&M kicks off season against Sam Houston

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher has been coaching for more than 30 years and this is his 13th season as a head coach.

Despite those decades of experience, Fisher admitted this week as the sixth-ranked Aggies prepare to open the season against Sam Houston on Saturday that he still gets nervous.

“There’s butterflies for every game,” Fisher said. “Butterflies mean you care.”

The Aggies begin a season where they hope to contend with top-ranked Alabama for the SEC title with what’s expected to be an easy opener.

“First game of the season is always going to set the tone for the rest of the season,” Texas A&M receiver Ainias Smith said. “We are trying to be great.”

The Bearkats, who won the FCS national title in 2020, are playing their last season in the FCS as they transition to FBS next year. Sam Houston is playing an abbreviated nine-game schedule this year as it transitions and is not eligible for the FCS playoffs as the team prepares to make the jump to college football’s top division.

Despite playing a lower division team, Fisher said his team can’t take Sam Houston lightly considering its domination at the FCS level where the team has lost just one game in the last two seasons.

“They are an excellent football team that is coached very well, and we’re going to have to play a heck of a football game,” Fisher said.

Fisher is looking forward to seeing how his new players perform and the ways his veterans have grown since last season.

“To me, that’s one of the most exciting times, to watch them evolve into the team and the players, individually and collectively, that they can become,” he said. “And that’s one of the great joys to me as a coach that you can have, watching that happen. And so, I’m very excited for that.”

The Bearkats know that no one is giving them a chance Saturday, but they are hoping their performance illustrates that they’re ready to make the jump to FBS.

“Just to show that we can compete at the same level as anybody else in the FBS,” defensive lineman Markel Perry said. “Because a lot of people see us coming from FCS (and) they underestimate our abilities because of that.”

Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler doesn’t expect his team to back down from the challenge of facing one of the nation’s top teams.

“We know how good those guys are, but it’s a great opportunity for our guys to say, let’s go play, let’s go test ourselves,” Keeler said. “We’re trying to win this ball game… we’re a very proud program we don’t talk about trying to keep it close or moral victories.”

QUARTERBACK QUESTIONS

Fisher announced Monday that Haynes King would start at quarterback in the opener after beating out Max Johnson and Conner Weigman for the job during camp.

“We felt Haynes had a great camp and puts us in a great spot to be successful going in right now,” Fisher said. “That’s what we believe. There’s no one thing. It’s a multitude of things on a daily basis.”

Keegan Shoemaker and Jordan Yates were competing for the starting job for Sam Houston. Yates appeared in eight games last season and Shoemaker joined the team as a graduate transfer after playing 14 games with six starts for Georgia Tech last season.

Keeler said he has no interest in the two sharing the job and that he’ll decide before Saturday who will get the nod for the season.

“We’ve got to just figure which one is going to go out there,” he said. “But I’m not really interested in trying to play two quarterbacks. Whoever we decide to go with, it’s their job. I don’t want them looking over their shoulder.”

SCORING THREATS

Texas A&M returns two of its top three scorers from last season in Smith and running back Devon Achane. The speedy Achane led the team in 2021 with 11 touchdowns and Smith had seven scores.

DEFENSIVE LEADER

Junior defensive back Antonio Johnson is ready to step into the role of A&M’s defensive leader after a strong 2021 season where he was second on the team with 79 tackles and had one interception and five pass breakups.

He’s working to make sure the team stays focused each week despite who Texas A&M is playing.

“That’s what we’ve just been preaching to each other — no matter who, our opponents are faceless,” he said. “No matter who we play… every team will get our best and we’ve just got to rise to the occasion each week.”

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