I moved out of College Station a month ago and it’s taken me about that long to realize that I'm not going back this week to start a new semester. It took almost six years and two degrees but, for the first time in my adult life, College Station is not my home anymore.
But College Station will always be there, with its five major streets, four (good) non-chain restaurants, and three decent bars that still let me in. I don't know if it is possible to miss terrible drivers or long 2 A.M. lines at Whataburger but I’m sure I will be finding out soon enough.
And Texas A&M will always be there. It was there before any of us (a.k.a when we actually won a National Championship) and it will be there long after all our names are read at Muster. A&M will continue to shift and grow, maybe into something unrecognizable. And in the midst of a complaining fanbase and a stubborn resilience to change, Texas A&M has evolved into a school thrust into the national spotlight, for good and for bad (but mostly bad right now.)
It's not a huge stretch to say that the Texas A&M of my freshman year (2010) and the Texas A&M of 2016 are radically different. During the time I've been a student, I yelled at games in the Old Kyle Field, the Kinda-New Kyle Field, and the New Kyle Field. I’ve been a student for big wins at Alabama and big losses at Alabama.
I've been a student for seven starting quarterbacks: Jerrod. Ryan. (Jameill.) Johnny. Kenny. Kyle. Kyler. Jake. (And now Trevor, probably.)
My freshman year was the Fall of 2010. We were still in the Big 12. Our head coaches were Sherman and Turgeon. The last home game of that season was Nebraska and the towels flew and I was in love. People still lined up for basketball games, riding the high of BJ Holmes and Khris Middleton. And that was the last year we won a game in the NCAA tournament.
I remember the move to the SEC and the excitement and the nervousness. I remember how sad it was in Kyle Field after we had lost the last Thanksgiving game. We just sat there in the bleachers, people slowly filing out. I had skipped going home for the break. And when we finally did get up to leave, someone started whisper-singing the War Hymn as we walked down the cement ramp. It was like a funeral. It was the saddest day of my adult life.
But then I remember seeing Johnny strut out there for the Florida game, sloppily wheeling around defenders and I screamed and yelled because this never works for A&M Football and he should stop. I remember watching Johnny win the Heisman, nervous but poised, just a kid from Kerrville, and I screamed and yelled because this never happens for A&M Football. But this was happening now.
During my Junior year I went out on a limb and applied for a Marketing Internship for the Athletics Department. They made a huge mistake and hired me and I will be forever grateful. For almost three years, I got to give back a little bit to the Football and Basketball teams. I got to work next to my heroes. Acie Law. Mike Evans. Johnny Manziel. When Johnny came back this past season for the Auburn game, I was assigned to escort him around the field. I’m pretty sure I blacked out because of excitement.
(I can't really say anything too bad about my time in Athletics because I still have them listed as references. But give it a couple years. One time they made me wear a bunny suit for baseball and softball games on Easter and I had to hop out to home plate.)
College athletics is so special because it is so temporary. Each year's team is so drastically different from the year before, kids graduating or transferring or quitting (or helicopter parents making them leave.) We're seeing that right now with, suddenly, two quarterbacks and an offensive coordinator all gone within a month (not to mention an Athletics Director.) This A&M football team is no longer the team of my time as a student. It didn't take very long.
My little brother started his freshman year at Texas A&M this past fall. We shared one semester together at the university where our parents met, where our grandpa taught. The next four years (or five or six) of his college career will be marked with change and shifting, just like the career of every single student who has come before him. Each one of these changes will be followed by a negative response by somebody. Every single shift will be marked by a grandiose: "This will be the end of A&M as we know it." A&M is a really special place and sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that, especially when our offense isn't performing or the Board of Regents is building another hotel on campus (stop that.) But to a lot of current students, it will be the only A&M they have ever known.
It is no longer our A&M.
I'm excited to go back next fall and sit up at the very top with all the other recent grads in the only seats we can all afford. I’m excited to watch the student side pass it back and sway and wave their towels for the first time. I'm excited to tear up during "There's a Spirit", chant during "POWER", and then sit down. I'm excited to bring my kids here in twenty years and whisper about Johnny and Von and Spencer and Ryan. I'm excited to come back and not recognize campus and talk about the old days and remember when things were easy and good. I'm excited to be an Aggie for the rest of my life, with all the heartbreak it entails. I'm really excited.
But until then, I'm back where I belong: on Twitter and Facebook and certain message boards and Good Bull Hunting, trying to, just for a second, capture what it felt like to be there for real.