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Behind the Mask

February 14, 2014
Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

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Former walk-on catcher Troy Stein now sets for the Aggies as senior leader

by Rusty Burson
12th Man Magazine

At halftime of the 2009 Class 4A Division II regional semifinal playoff football game, Medina Valley senior quarterback Troy Stein gathered his teammates around him inside the locker room of San Antonio’s Heroes Stadium and made a rather daring—perhaps even outlandish—prediction.

His Panthers trailed Kerrville Tivy 42-10 at the intermission on Nov. 27, 2009, and to many of the 4,903 fans in attendance on the day after Thanksgiving, the game didn’t even seem that close. Led by the masterful performance of a then-junior quarterback named Johnny Manziel (251 passing yards, two passing TDs and two rushing TDs in the first two quarters), Tivy had totally dominated the first half.

The gutsy, hard-nosed Stein, however, wasn’t about to throw in the towel.

“At halftime,” Stein told David Flores of KENS-TV in San Antonio, “I told the guys that we were going to come out and play a second half that we would remember for the rest of our lives.”

Stein then backed up his bold words with his actions. Stein scored on runs of 1 and 5 yards, and the Panthers recovered three onside kicks. With roughly five minutes left in the game, Stein completed what appeared to be a TD pass that would have cut the lead to 45-38. But the Medina Valley receiver was ruled to be just inches out of bounds in the back of the end zone.

Ultimately, Tivy held on for a 45-31 victory. But even in defeat, Stein’s determined effort and never-say-die attitude had made a tremendously positive impression on everyone inside the stadium, including the young man who would eventually become the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy.

“He was everywhere,” Manziel said of Stein, who also played safety on defense. “He did a great job.”

Little did anyone know at the time that both quarterbacks from that game would eventually build quite an athletic legacy on collegiate fields representing Texas A&M. Manziel’s high-profile college football career obviously generated more national publicity than Stein.

"...(A)s great as his knowledge is and as great as he has been for us on the field, it’s his character that makes me so proud to have him out there representing us."

- Rob Childress

But as Stein enters his senior season for the Texas A&M baseball team, it’s apparent that his leadership role and on-the-field presence are every bit as valuable to his squad as Manziel’s intangible traits were to the Aggie football team.

The 21-year-old Stein started 104 games at catcher for the Aggies over the past two seasons, hitting a combined .294 and driving in 48 runs during the course of the 2012 and ’13 seasons. As solid as Stein has been with a bat in his hands, however, he has been especially valuable behind the plate.

Stein has played a huge role in helping the A&M pitching staff compile back-to-back seasons where the team earned-run average for the entire year was less than 3.45.

And then there’s the behind-the-scenes, team-focused, tone-setting, nose-to-the-grindstone characteristics that have made Stein, a former invited walk-on, one of the most respected players in the entire clubhouse.

Brazos Valley Fellowship of Christian Athletes area director Bill Johnston raves about how Stein leads by example and also leads Bible studies among the players. Texas A&M professors praise Stein, a sport management major, for his 3.5 grade-point average and the fact he has made just one “C” during his collegiate career at A&M.

Former Texas A&M assistant baseball coach Mike Clement and current baseball strength and conditioning coach Jeremy McMillan both asked Stein to be part of their wedding-day ceremonies. And A&M head baseball coach Rob Childress points to Stein as an example for his younger players to follow.

“I feel extremely blessed to have Troy Stein back in our program,” Childress said. “To see how far he has come and how much he has developed since he first got here is just a tribute to him, his family and his character. He started here as a recruited walk-on behind two senior catchers (Kevin Gonzalez and Gregg Alcazar). He would hit in the cage by himself at 5 in the morning, every day before class. He didn’t have much of an opportunity to play that first year, but he has had the opportunity to be our guy at catcher ever since his sophomore year.

“I am very comfortable with him handling our pitchers. For us to be together for four years, he knows exactly what we are trying to do as a pitching staff and how we are trying to execute a game plan. He could start for any team in our conference and be a locker room cornerstone, too. But as great as his knowledge is and as great as he has been for us on the field, it’s his character that makes me so proud to have him out there representing us.”

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Stein didn’t necessarily grow up dreaming about representing Texas A&M, but maroon is definitely in his blood. His grandfather, Harry “Boots” Landrum, attended Texas A&M and was a member of the Corps of Cadets. He also has three aunts and two uncles who were Aggies, and a number of cousins preceded Stein in Aggieland.

“With so many family connections, I ended up watching football games here as I was growing up,” said the engaging Stein. “I loved the atmosphere of Kyle Field. You come when you are in seventh and eighth grade and you watch those football games. You realize, wow, this is a pretty special place. I wouldn’t say I was a diehard Aggie fan as a kid, but I knew there was something special about being here. I also had the opportunity to come to some baseball games while I was growing up, so I had a good feeling about A&M long before I ever thought about coming to school here.”

Growing up, Stein primarily thought about following in his older brothers’ athletic footsteps. Stein is the youngest of three boys in his family, and his older siblings, Tyler and Travis, were both outstanding football players at Medina Valley High School. One of his brothers even played college football at Tarleton State before transferring to Texas State, where both Tyler and Travis earned their college degrees.

Troy was also a star football player throughout his middle school and high school days, and his goal was once to play both football and baseball on the collegiate level. But as he grew older, it became more and more apparent that he was especially gifted on the baseball diamond.

"Obviously, (Omaha) is where we want to be, especially with this being my senior season. I’ll do whatever it takes for us to get there and stay there until we win the whole thing."

- Troy Stein

His father, David, coached Troy beginning in Little League, and since Troy had spent so much time at the ballpark watching his older brothers play, he seemed to have a better understanding and feel for the game than most of his peers. David placed Troy behind the plate as a third-grader, and the youngster developed an instant appreciation for the position. 

“At catcher, I loved being involved in every single play and pitch,” Stein said. “It is not a position where you are just standing around, which I especially liked when I was younger. A lot of people refer to it as the quarterback of the baseball team because you get to see everything and it’s a natural leadership position where it helps to be vocal.

“My dad stuck me back there when I was pretty young, and it just felt right. I played four years of high school ball, and I caught every game for four years. I didn’t want to find another position. I have always loved catching.”

In four seasons on the Medina Valley varsity baseball team, Stein helped the Panthers compile an overall record of 113-20-1 record. He was a four-time all-district selection, and as a senior in 2010, he hit .463 with six home runs, 50 runs scored and 31 RBI. During his sensational final year at the high school level, Stein was first team all-state, academic all-state, the district MVP, the FCA-Athlete of the Year and a state finalist for the Wendy’s High School Heisman.

Despite all of those honors, however, Stein did not attract an abundance of attention from major college programs across the state. He wanted to stay in the Lone Star State and he wanted to play in the Big 12 Conference, so he initially visited the University of Texas. The campus in Austin did not feel like a good fit to Stein, who lists his hobbies as hunting, fishing and golfing.

“When he left Texas that day he said, ‘I will never go to school here,’” recalled Stein’s mother, Beverly. “We were like, ‘Why would you say that?’ It was close to home, and it was a pretty good program. But Troy felt like he would only be a number at Texas. We then went to A&M, and I can still remember sitting in Coach Childress’ office and him telling Troy that he would be treated honestly at A&M and would receive a fair shot. That is exactly what he has gotten.

“When we left the visit at A&M he was just on Cloud Nine. We didn’t get to see a game because it snowed and it was canceled. He came back to school that Wednesday and he called his dad and me from the athletic director’s office Thursday morning. He said I have made my decision, and I’m going to be an Aggie. I have already called Coach Childress. We were both like, ‘Wait, you have already called him?’ But we now know what my dad and other family members have known: The Aggie family is something very special. We have seen that and learned that. I just wish my dad was still alive to see Troy out there in maroon and white. He loves playing for A&M.”

And he loves the fact that he as one more shot to help the Aggies return to Omaha this year for the College World Series. Stein was primarily a reserve player as a freshman (14 games played, 26 at-bats) when the Aggies made it to the 2011 CWS. He’ll never forget the magnificence of Omaha in the first year the CWS was held at TD Ameritrade Park, and he longs for a return trip, along with a much more extended stay.

The Aggies lost their first two games in Omaha in 2011. Stein envisions a much different scenario in 2014.

“Man, it was unbelievable just getting to go,” he recalled. “I didn’t play a big part of that team. I got to go along for the ride. I got to experience it. The past two years have been somewhat of a disappointment from the standpoint that we want to end up in Omaha every year. We think that at Texas A&M we can get the guys that we need to go and compete at Omaha every year.

“Obviously, that is where we want to be, especially with this being my senior season. I’ll do whatever it takes for us to get there and stay there until we win the whole thing.”

 If Stein can help lead the Aggies to a national championship this summer, he will take Texas A&M to greater heights than any other baseball team in school history. And he’ll also one-up the other quarterback he played against in the high school playoffs in 2009 in one extremely meaningful category.

Follow the 12th Man Foundation on Twitter @12thManFndtn and Rusty Burson @12thManRusty

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