HARD WORK PAYS OFF
Aggie football walk-ons make the most of their opportunities
by Abby Drake '15
Most are familiar with the story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger as portrayed in the movie of the same name. A lowly college student aspires to play football for his dream school. As he perseveres through the strenuous tryouts and practices, his dream is finally realized the last game of his senior year of college.
For three Texas A&M players, the dream came true much sooner than it did for Rudy.
Sophomore defensive back Sam Moeller walked onto the team his freshman year. He didn’t see any playing time that year, but he got his big break during his sophomore season as the Aggies headed into their second year in the Southeastern Conference.
- Sam Moeller
One of the many traditions Texas A&M is known for is the legend of the 12th Man. Students stand during the entire game to symbolize the willingness of the student body to be at the ready for their team. To show appreciation for this tradition, one walk-on player is designated to wear the No. 12 jersey, and represents the student body on the field during kickoffs and returns.
This year, the 12th Man representative is Moeller.
“I love it. It is an honor,” Moeller said of representing the 12th Man. “It is something that I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid. Getting that privilege was a dream come true.”
Being the 12th Man representative guarantees playing time on special teams, but not all who wear the historic jersey see action otherwise. Moeller has earned playing time with the Aggies’ defense and has even recorded two unassisted tackles this year.
Another walk-on who has had an impressive season so far is sophomore Josh Lambo, who joined the team in 2012. Unlike the rest of his teammates, however, he had virtually no experience playing football.
Lambo started playing soccer at the age of four and was invited to play in the Under-17 U.S. National program in Florida, eventually earning his way on to the National U-20 team. In 2008, he was drafted in the Major League Soccer (MLS) first round to FC Dallas as the team’s goalkeeper.
After playing with the team for several years, Lambo felt the opportunities in soccer weren’t right for him and began looking for new prospects.
“I knew I was going to go back to college to finish up my education,” Lambo said. “I had gotten my Associate’s degree when I was still playing for FC Dallas. I contacted a friend of my brother, Taylor Mehlhaff (a former NFL kicker and a two-time All-Big 10 kicker) and asked if he could teach me how to kick a football. I met with him in New Orleans, made a few slight tweaks to my soccer swing and the kicking came naturally for me. I sent some good highlight tapes out to a number of schools and Texas A&M was the only one that was interested.”
Lambo decided to attend Texas A&M and walk on the football team as a kicker. Though he never entered a game in 2012, this season has proven to be Lambo’s time to shine.
The sophomore was called from the sidelines during the SMU game, in which he made a 35-yard field goal. Lambo’s longest field goal so far has been for 40 yards, and he has made an impressive 32-of-33 extra point attempts. His defining moment, however, came in the last few seconds of the game in Oxford, Miss.
- Josh Lambo
The Aggies were tied with Ole Miss and the time came for Lambo to seal the win and clinch another victory for the Aggies. As the football sailed 33 yards through the uprights, Lambo brought the soccer pitch to the gridiron, sliding on his knees toward the A&M bench in traditional soccer style before he was surrounded by his teammates and lifted in celebration.
Later on that night, Lambo was awarded the first game ball of the season by head coach Sumlin. The memory of the last-minute triumph is something that the former goalkeeper will always cherish.
“Kicking that game-winning field goal against Ole Miss is going to be a tough memory to forget,” Lambo said. “What was even better was the celebration with my teammates afterwards. The elation and the joy after that game of pulling something off were really special.”
While Moeller and Lambo have made great strides in their careers as walk-ons, senior wide receiver Travis Labhart has reached the point that every walk-on works toward: earning a football scholarship.
Labhart originally came to Texas A&M as an everyday student, and played on the men’s practice squad for the 2011 National Champion women’s basketball team. Still, Labhart longed to play football.
“Walking on was something I’ve always wanted to do,” Labhart said. “I’ve always wanted to play football and I’ve always been a big A&M fan. Growing up, there are a lot of people that don’t have an opportunity to be a Division I athlete through a scholarship. That was me. The idea of a walk-on was something that was new to me. Both my dad and my brother were scholarship football players. It was new territory for our family in general. However, I have always wanted to play college sports. That’s really what pushed me to walk on and the experience has been great. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
While he played a few minutes here and there in 2012, Labhart did not see very much action. Like Lambo, Labhart’s defining game also occurred in Oxford.
Labhart led the team in receiving yards against the Rebels with eight catches for 97 yards, the longest catch for 35 yards. His momentum has continued as he currently averages 12.6 yards per catch and 37.8 yards per game. Additionally, he has scored three touchdowns for the Aggies, two of which came against UTEP last weekend.
Still, Labhart is not letting his surprising prominence in the game cloud his focus.
“I feel like there are some things that I could have done better,” Labhart said. “It is something that I need to build off of. I have had some fumbles and some dropped passes. It’s uncharacteristic of me, but I let them get in my way. I think the thing to do is just to keep pushing forward and moving and building on that confidence and greatness of getting to be out there contributing and starting. You have to keep building off of it and moving forward.”
- Travis Labhart
His leadership does not occur just on the field. As one of the team’s seniors, Labhart tries to set an example off the field as well.
“I’m more of a quiet leader,” Labhart said. “I lead by example. Sometimes that can be seen as something that may not be a real leader. When you are out there running hard and pushing guys that are faster than you and you are out in front of them, you are pushing them. You are leading them. You are showing them that you are willing to work and get better, so they better maximize their potential.”
That leadership and hard-work has not gone unnoticed by the coaches. Although he came to the team as a walk-on, Labhart was awarded a scholarship at the beginning of this year.
“It was one of the best feelings you can have as a walk-on, to know that you stuck it out,” Labhart said. “A lot of guys come in as walk-ons and they never make it. I see guys drop off. I saw guys drop off this year. One of my good roommates two years ago wasn’t able to finish either. To prevail all the way to the end to the finish line was very humbling and a great experience to be a scholarship guy and have your school paid for and some of the cool things that go along with it.”
Joining Labhart on the list of former walk-ons who have stuck it out to scholarship-player status are senior wide receiver Gaston Lamascus, sophomore tight end Caden Smith and junior deep snapper Alex Freeman.
Each of these men put in the effort, exhibiting the Aggie core value of excellence, and was able to distinguish himself. Moeller, Lambo and Labhart all began their A&M football careers as walk-ons, but each has seen his career shine in ways different from the others.
Therein lays the true value of Texas A&M. No matter where one comes from or how he gets to College Station, if he dedicates himself to achieving his goal he can find himself carrying the Texas A&M flag onto the field, leading the team in receiving yards or even kicking the game-winning field goal.
Much like Rudy, the perseverance of Moeller, Lambo and Labhart has paid dividends as they have each excelled in their respective areas. It seems goals can be achieved without the help of Hollywood.
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