Aggie seniors fired up for Kyle Field finale Saturday night

Texas A&M senior Keith Ford, center, tries to get past Louisiana-Lafayette's Simeon Thomas (8) in the third quarter on Sept. 16 at Kyle Field. Ford is one of 14 seniors who will be honored Saturday as they play their final home game for A&M.

Eagle photo by Laura McKenzie Content Exchange

After suffering three straight home losses, the seniors on the Texas A&M football team have no difficulty expressing their feelings heading into their final game at Kyle Field.

"Just a W," defensive end Jarrett Johnson said. "We just want to win."

The sentiment was the same throughout for the seniors that attended the Aggies' weekly press conference before the game against New Mexico at 6 p.m. Saturday, when the 14 seniors, a relatively small class, will take the field in Aggieland one last time.

"It's been awesome to be able to suit up in an Aggie uniform the last five years," punter Shane Tripucka said. "It's a little bittersweet, but I'm excited. I think everybody is excited just to get back after it and again to play up to our standard. We are ready to get into Kyle Field for the last time."

Tripucka took over the punting duties in 2016 and this season is up for the Ray Guy Award, averaging 45.5 yards a punt. A&M ranks eighth nationally in net punting at 42.4. Only 13 of his 55 punts have been returned.

Johnson is one of the few seniors who have been at A&M throughout his college career, a class that is 29-19 with three regular season games remaining. The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder is not sure he got on the field in his first game at Kyle Field, but that day remains one of his fondest memories.

"It was probably the first time I ever experienced Kyle Field and the student section being as loud as they possibly could be," Johnson said. "It's an amazing feeling and a different atmosphere from what a lot of people are able to experience, because I am that player they are cheering for on the field. I don't even know if I played in that game -- I just know what I felt that first game."

Senior running back Keith Ford transferred from Oklahoma to A&M after his sophomore season. He felt the magic of Kyle Field immediately.

"Comparing the two, the first time seeing that student section running out the tunnel and I looked to the right and I see everybody in the stands, it was shocking because I'd never seen anything like that," Ford said. "Coming from Norman [Oklahoma] they shut the town down and you can't go anywhere, but here like the whole community, the whole state of Texas, comes to watch you play, and the fan base from our student body I'm grateful to have."

Ford passed the 1,000-yard rushing mark as an Aggie against Florida earlier this season and now has 1,082 rushing yards in an A&M uniform. He owns three 100-yard rushing games this season, while averaging 4.8 yards a carry with nine touchdowns. He's run for 15 TDs in two years at A&M.

But he says his favorite moment at Kyle Field isn't one of his many runs. Instead it involves a fellow senior, safety Armani Watts.

"We played Tennessee and Armani caught the pick in overtime," Ford said. "It was a night game, getting late, and that play ... it was one of those plays where you thought [the Tennessee receiver] was going to catch the ball, and Armani comes out of nowhere. It's the best feeling in the world."

Watts is the most decorated of A&M's seniors.

The 5-11, 205-pounder who graduated from North Forney is the only player currently in a Power Five conference with 300 tackles, 10 interceptions and five fumble recoveries over his career. He is on the watch lists for the Thorpe Award (best defensive back) and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award (defensive player of year).

He has clinched two A&M victories with interceptions in overtime -- the 45-38 double-OT victory over Tennessee last season and this season's 50-43 OT victory over Arkansas.

He has started 38 games, played in 44 and could break the Aggie record held by Jaxson Appel for career tackles by a defensive back. With 312, Watts trails Appel by 36.

Senior Damion Ratley, who is coming off a two-touchdown game against Auburn, transferred to A&M from Blinn, where he caught 20 touchdown passes from Aggie teammate and fellow senior Jake Hubenak.

"I was not expecting it to go by this fast," said Ratley, who says his most memorable Kyle Field moment is his first TD catch against Mississippi State in 2015. "It will be sad, but it will be happy because I know I did as much as I could on the road I took. It's going to be sad playing my last game at Kyle Field, but I know it's time for me to go."

Only eight Aggie seniors have been at A&M their entire career, making for a small but tight-knit group.

"The emotions are high right now," said Johnson, who took the spot of would-be senior Myles Garrett, the Cleveland Browns' No. 1 draft pick. "It's very important to me, very important to this team and the coaches, to make sure the seniors go out the right way. I think the intensity will be at an all-time high, especially from me. I'm going to make sure I bring the juice, and it's probably going to come naturally, this being my last one."

NOTES -- A&M will honor its seniors Saturday, a group that includes: tight end Kalvin Cline, defensive end Qualen Cunningham, offensive lineman Christian Daimler, defensive end David Darley, Ford, defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson, Hubenak, Johnson, Ratley, tight end Tanner Schorp, Tripucka, Watts, receiver Kyle Whitley and cornerback Priest Willis.

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