. FAST FACTS
With an enrollment of nearly 50,000, Texas A&M is the sixth-largest university in the nation and ranks No. 19 in the United States among public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report, 2011. Texas A&M is renowned for some of its great college football traditions. Here's a guide to some of their biggest traditions.
THE 12TH MAN: Term used to refer to the entire student body — past and present. The tradition dates to 1922 when then-student E. King Gill stood on the sideline, suited up and was ready to enter the game if his team, which at the time was riddled with injuries, had needed him.
YELL LEADERS: According to tradition, Aggies don't cheer — they yell. Five yell leaders are elected each year by the student body. Their job is to lead Aggies in yells, indicating each yell by a different hand signal. They can easily be found because they wear all white and are located in front of the student section.
CORPS OF CADETS: Texas A&M began as an all-male military institution. Today's membership is completely voluntary, but more than 2,000 members still comprise the largest uniformed body of students outside of the U.S. military academies.
TEXAS AGGIE BAND: The Fightin' Texas Aggie Band is known for its military precision. They step onto the field from the north end of Kyle Field.
GIG'EM: Aggies fans can often be seen flashing a thumbs-up and saying "gig'em." This tradition dates to 1930 before a game against TCU when a yell leader rallied the crowd to "Gig'em, Aggies." A gig is a sharp-pronged tool used for hunting frogs.
Bryan-College Station Convention and Visitors Bureau
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The time had finally arrived and Taylor Odlozil and Tyler Chumet could hardly contain themselves.
Like thousands of other Texas A&M students, the two have eagerly awaited the day their school would begin playing football in the Southeastern Conference. Thursday afternoon, as fellow students withstood temperatures right at 100 degrees standing in line for student-ticket pickup, the two friends sat in a black truck in front of Kyle Field with tickets secured for this afternoon's inaugural SEC game against No. 24 Florida.
"I've been anticipating this year for a while," said Odlozil, a junior. "For a while, we've been in (the University of Texas') shadow, so it's time for us to move out and have a little spotlight of our own. And now it's here. (ESPN's College) GameDay is going to be here, everybody's excited. It's awesome because we've got some of the best fans here and camaraderie that you could ever ask for."
Throughout campus and around College Station, that sentiment was echoed this week. Signs throughout the campus bar and restaurant district, Northgate, recognized the inaugural game and urged the Aggies to BTHO of the Gators (that's "beat the hell out" if you're wondering).
"Nothing like it," Chaumet said. "It's so much crazier. There's just a bunch of anticipation, so it's been really, really crazy. Everybody's fired up to play in the best conference in college football."
Shirts and posters indicating both their excitement over joining the SEC and their ability to jump into trash-talking are all over. Among the best? "Texas A&M/SEC/Kyle Field. The best time you will ever have with 82,600 of your closest friends. HOME OF THE SEC'S GREATEST FANS."
"The move to the SEC, I think it just kind of re-energized us," said Christopher Ryding, assistant manager at Logan's on campus in Northgate. "The last decade has not been kind to A&M football, it just hasn't. And I think the move to the SEC has given a new hope to a lot of Aggies fans in general. And then it's the fact that the SEC is currently the premier college football conference, that's straight up, nobody's arguing about that. How long that will last, I don't know, but right now it's incredibly exciting to watch. And so being part of that is very exciting."
It's not just Aggie fans that are excited about today. Florida fans are making the trek in large numbers to be part of history.
Bill Turner and four of his good friends — all Florida graduates who live in Fort Myers — are among them.
"It's extremely special for us because we're all college football junkies, and we have always wanted to be part of the 12th man experience at Kyle Field," Turner said. "So it's extremely exciting for us. Quite honestly, it's a little bit of a reciprocal kind of thing. We want to invite them to SEC-land, and they've invited us to Aggieland, so it's been a lot of fun so far. … I'm expecting a very, very raucous crowd because it's their first SEC game ever, and I think they are going to be just crazy out of their minds, which is wonderful. We want to be part of that."
Florida makes its first appearance in Texas in 30 years, which has added to the excitement.
"I've never been to Texas at all, so I'm looking forward to it," Florida offensive lineman Jon Halapio said. "I heard it's loud over there. That's basically the main thing I've been hearing about how loud they are. It'll be fun and interesting to actually experience it."
Both Florida coach Will Muschamp, a former Texas defensive coordinator, and offensive coordinator Brent Pease know firsthand what the Gators are about to experience. It won't be easy, Pease said.
"We played there twice and the thing I do remember you look up there in the third quarter and they are all swaying," said Pease, a former assistant at Baylor. "You can't look for long, you're going to get vertigo. Those stands start moving, it can get loud. They're into it, and they have their little yell, people going and all the kissing going on if they are scoring. It's a great atmosphere to play in, and there are going to be a lot of people there, and it's steep. The stadium is very steep, that's something you can't get caught up in. It's a distraction you've got to block out as a player and a coach."
Several Gator players downplayed the atmosphere.
"We've played in a lot of stadiums that are loud," senior linebacker Jon Bostic said. "We've played at LSU, we've played at Alabama, played in Tennessee. We play here (Gainesville) however many weeks of the season. We know it's going to be loud, either way. So basically we've got to be sound in all our assignments, make sure everybody knows all the signals, make sure everybody stays together."
Muschamp said he has told his players to expect what they've come to know.
"We've talked to our players. It's a very SEC-like atmosphere," he said. "It won't be a whole lot different than places we're going to walk into. We've been to Auburn last year and been to Baton Rouge, our players, other than the freshman, have been exposed to hostile environments, and that's certainly what we're expecting on Saturday."
Hurricane Isaac's appearance in the Gulf Coast last week postponed A&M's game against Louisiana Tech, making today's game not only the inaugural SEC game, but the Aggies' opener.
"The fans will create a big-time energy with it being the first game of the year, an SEC opponent, national television, GameDay," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "There will be a new entrance for the team this Saturday. There are a lot of things surrounding this whole game that I think will be really positive for our players. One of the reasons why I think our practices have been so good recently is because we're just so excited to get on the field and play. There have been a lot of great players here and a lot of them would love running out on Kyle Field on Saturday with all of the history-making things that are going on."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.