In 1954, probably to give the rest of college football an extra year to prepare for the destruction that John David Crow was about to bring upon them, freshman were still ineligible for their first year on campus. It was a rule that had basically been common practice on most college campuses prior to World War II, but dwindling college numbers during those years forced freshman into the fray. (Most Aggie fans know the story of the famed "Kiddie Corps" coached by Homer Norton in 1943.)
Some forget just how good Ryan Tannehill was at wide receiver.
It was a rule that basically lasted almost 20 years. But in 1972 freshman become eligible full stop. Then, the adoption of NCAA Bylaw 14.2.1, more commonly known as "The Five Year Rule" allowed for a new type of player, the redshirt freshman. After that, college football has never been the same.
With all of the talk about Texas A&M's current group of true and redshirt freshman making an early impact, I thought it was fitting for this week's edition of the "Wednesday Countdown" to look at the top five Aggie freshman seasons of the modern era.
#5 - Ryan Tannehill - 2008
It's a storyline so old that even A&M fans got tired of it. Yes, we all know that Tannehill moved from receiver to quarterback, but it's not like he ever stopped practicing at quarterback. However, sometimes people need reminding just how good Tannehill was at wide receiver. In his freshman season he broke the freshman records for receptions and yards with 55 and 844 respectively. To frame that, Tannehill's 55 receptions still ranks in the top ten for a single season all-time at A&M and his 844 yards is the fifth most all time in a season.
#4 - Courtney Lewis - 2003
It's easy to forget because the season was a horrible one for the Aggies, but back in 2003 Courtney Lewis gave some A&M fans hope at running back. You could make a good case for Lewis' freshman season actually being better than Hill's. He averaged more yards per carry, and he was splitting carries with both Derek Farmer and quarterback Reggie McNeal. Still, he averaged over 5.5 yards per carry in his 1,000 yard season, and he holds the freshman record for touchdowns scored with 12.
#3 - Dat Nguyen - 1995
It was the mid 90's, and it was a 9-3 season for the Aggies, but the freshman Dat Nguyen was still able to makehis presence felt early. Nguyen had 7 tackles-for-loss (second most among freshman all-time), and 94 total tackles (also second.) He also holds the freshman record for solo tackles with 65. It would be a couple of years before Nguyen became the nation's best linebacker in 1998 and help the Aggies win the Big 12 Championship but he was a force early on.
#2 - Leeland McElroy - 1993
His freshman season from a rushing standpoing is just inside the top ten, but 'Letric Leeland' and his impact on the 1993 season go beyond just his rushing yards. Cyrus Gray may hold the freshman record for season return yards, but that's because the Aggies received a lot of kickoffs in 2008. No Aggie has ever averaged more yards per return in a season than McElroy did in 1993 with a mindblowing 39.3 average per return. That season he also set A&M's record for kickoff returns for touchdowns with three, a record that still stands. McElroy's three return touchdowns, seven rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns combine to make him the highest scoring freshman (non-kicker) of all time. He's also third all time among freshman for all-purpose yards in a season with 1,427.
#1 - Greg Hill - 1991
When you're talking debut seasons in the maroon and white, the list has to start with Greg Hill. Not only was his season total of 1,216 rushing yards impressive (it's still the A&M freshman record, and is the fifth most in a single season all time at A&M), but Hill broke onto the scene in a big way. In the season opener against LSU Hill rushed for 212 yards. To put that number in perspective, only three times has an Aggie running back rushed for more than that since Hill did it in '91.