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Book Review: No Experience Required by Caleb Pirtle III

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One student comes down out of the stands and suits up to play football for a team depleted by injuries. He becomes a legend.

Ten students come down out of the stands, suit up to play and become as popular as rock stars on campus and grace the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The legendary student, E. King Gill, never got onto the field.

The all-volunteer, non-scholarship students that no coach in the country had recruited or wanted took the field time after time, year after year, and became Jackie Sherrill’s notorious “12th Man Kickoff Team.”

“You could scream, but there was no way you could hear the words you were screaming.” — Jackie Sherrill describing the entrance of the 12th Man Kickoff Team onto Kyle Field.

Pirtle’s fifty-first book is a character study of more than sixty former members of the 12th Man team. Brief but adequate bios on each player and many of the coaches and administrators build a web of commonality, diversity, and desire that result in lifelong, loyal bonds of team spirit and camaraderie. Tight, efficient, and page-turning prose pull the reader into this world of tradition and ritual. When you read about one member of this group, you learn about all of them. When you’ve read all their stories, you’ve got a complete story of one. When you combine the strength of character of sixty dedicated Aggies you get a moral juggernaut that has never been licked. No Experience Required is the most accessible book I have ever read for the non-sports enthusiast. Sure it has football at the core, but the reader will be pleased to discover that this book is short on sports clichés and long on thoughtful and sometimes humorous metaphors.

Sherrill ran an ad in the campus newspaper for the 1983 spring try-outs: 252 students showed up; two of them were girls. Some members of the 12th Man Team had deep roots in football. One was James Barrett whose father was one of Bear Bryant’s famous Junction Boys. The most unlikely member of the first group of forty walk-ons was David Bishop, a 5'11", 150-pound electrical engineering major from Austin who had never played football. "The helmet gives you a headache the first few days," he says, "but I'm starting to get the hang of it." Another was Doug Middleton, a cello player who had never strapped on pads or a uniform before, yet made the team.

The first test of the 12th Man Team would be the University of California, the team that had scored on the last play of the previous season when they returned a kickoff into the Stanford band (an historic play). David Beal, the graduate assistant in charge of the kickoff team was not intimidated. He simply said that if the Aggie band had been on the field, California would not have scored. Cal had no better luck with Beal’s 12th MKOT.

This 252 page hardbound book is filled with action shots from games and many other related photographs from the era. An interesting epilog includes a “Where Are They Now” section to which I referred frequently. The cover painting is by Rick Rush, America’s Sports Artist.

Jackie Sherrill became head coach at Texas A & M in January of 1982 and stayed there until December of 1988. The 12th Man Team took the field for the first time in September of 1983 and during Sherrill’s tenure never gave up a touchdown. Opponents seldom got past their own twenty yard line and only Sam Martin of LSU got past the fifty. Sherrill resigned in an effort to keep the turmoil of an NCAA investigation of the Southwestern Conference away from the field. He eventually went to Mississippi State and led them to unprecedented success. Sherrill was never personally found guilty of any NCAA rules violations at either Mississippi State or Texas A&M. So, like the special team he had originated and cheered on, Sherrill has never been licked.

Dennis Mudd, a twenty year veteran of the Mobil Corporation and a member of the 1983 12th MKOT says, “Opposing players didn’t quite understand why in the world people would volunteer their own time all week just to play football on Saturday. They didn’t understand what it meant to be an Aggie and represent Aggies all over the world.” Once completed, readers of this book will know.

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