21 Texas A&M Program-builder Dennis Franchione has plenty of tools on hand--beginning with an explosive sophomore QB

August 10, 2003

Two scrapbooks lie on a coffee table in Regina and Rickey McNeal's
living room in Lufkin, Texas. One bursts with clips documenting
the high school accomplishments of their son, Reggie, who led
Lufkin High to the Texas Class 5A Division II title. The other
scrapbook is devoted to Reggie's exploits at Texas A&M. It's
nearly empty save for a few articles on the events of Nov. 9,
2002, when McNeal came off the bench as a freshman to throw four
touchdown passes and lead the Aggies to a 30-26 upset of
top-ranked Oklahoma. "By the time I'm done here, I hope the
college scrapbook is filled with a lot of good memories," says
the 6'2", 191-pound McNeal.

With his 4.42 speed in the 40 and his ability to throw a ball 65
yards flat-footed, McNeal is one of the most athletic
quarterbacks in the country, and his development at College
Station is a top priority for new Aggies coach Dennis Franchione.
An established program-builder, Franchione turned losers into
winners at New Mexico, TCU and, most recently, Alabama. He
inherits an A&M team flush with young talent, and his success
hinges on how quickly those youngsters adapt to his two major
changes: an offense that features more between-the-tackles power
running and a defense that has switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3.
"We'll be multiple on both sides of the ball," says Franchione.
"So far the transition has been smooth."

The week after the Oklahoma game, McNeal suffered a high ankle
sprain against Missouri and missed the rest of the season. Dustin
Long, the starter for nine games in 2002, threw 19 touchdowns but
was inconsistent (16 interceptions). Now a junior, Long will
battle McNeal for the starting job, but given the way Franchione
gushes about the kid from Lufkin, don't expect McNeal to languish
on the bench. "There's no limit to what Reggie can accomplish,"
says Franchione. "When I watched him on tape for the first time,
I thought to myself, If I could draw up a quarterback, I'd draw
up Reggie." --L.A.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID J. PHILLIP/AP SOONER OR LATER McNeal's four-TD performance against Oklahoma gave the Aggies a glimpse of what's to come.

FAST FACTS

2002 RECORD 6-6 (3-5, 5th in Big 12 South)
FINAL AP RANK NR
RETURNING STARTERS 14

KEY RETURNEES (2002 stats)

QB Reggie McNeal (Soph.)
Should be ready after June hernia surgery

RB Derek Farmer (Jr.)
Averaged 4.4 yards per carry over two seasons

WR Jamaar Taylor (Sr.)
Led A&M with 760 receiving yards

LT Jami Hightower (Jr.)
Two-year starter impresses with his footwork

LB Jared Morris (Sr.)
Will man the middle in new 4-3 defense

TELLING NUMBER

268.0
Aggies' passing yards per game in '02, breaking the school mark
of 244.6 set in '86; total passing yards (3,216) was also a
school record.

SMART MOVE

New coach Dennis Franchione has installed the A-back position (a
running back-receiver hybrid) that he used effectively in the
Alabama offense--last year A-back Shaud Williams accounted for
921 yards of offense for the Crimson Tide. Former third-string QB
Jason Carter fills the role for the Aggies.

SCHEDULE

AUG. 30 ARKANSAS STATE
SEPT. 6 UTAH
18 AT VIRGINIA TECH
27 PITTSBURGH
OCT. 4 AT TEXAS TECH
11 BAYLOR
18 AT NEBRASKA
25 OKLAHOMA STATE
NOV. 1 KANSAS
8 AT OKLAHOMA
15 AT MISSOURI
28 TEXAS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)