A Willingness to Serve: Never Fail to be the 12th Man

    Posted on Tuesday, Dec 06, 2016
    In many ways my nephew Clay is a typical seven-year-old boy. He goes to school, plays sports, and usually has no idea where he last left his shoes. One of his favorite playmates is my niece Beth. She is the same age as Clay and they enjoy playing with toys and watching movies together anytime they get a chance.

    Several weeks ago, I called my mom on a Sunday evening to see how her weekend had gone. She explained Beth had started playing youth basketball. The day before, she had taken Clay to watch one of her games. Several members of Beth’s team were absent for this particular game and the lack of players jeopardized whether her team would be able to participate in the game at all. If just one more player could be located, Beth’s team would be full and they wouldn’t have to forfeit the game. Luckily, the coach spotted one of her former players, Clay, in the stands and called upon him to lead the game to victory. Clay gladly rushed down to the court, borrowed a jersey, and was happy to serve the team he knew nothing about only minutes before.


    My mom wrapped up her story about how well the two cousins played that day and I could tell that she was very proud of both of them. As an Aggie, I couldn’t help but to think how familiar this particular story began to sound. Before we ended our conversation that night, I reflected on the weekend’s events and explained to my mom what I was thinking. “You know, Clay was the 12th Man that day,” I told her. She agreed and that night I gained a whole new respect for my young nephew.  

    The Texas A&M tradition of the 12th Man traces its roots all the way back to 1922 when the Texas Aggie football team was playing Centre College in the Dixie Classic. The team had suffered many injuries and the coach began to notice that the bench was quickly emptying. So, he called a squad player named E. King Gill down from the press box. Gill borrowed a uniform and stood ready to play for the rest of the game until the Aggies pulled off a comeback victory. Since then, Gill’s commitment to his fellow team members has come to symbolize the acts of selfless service all Aggies are committed to. Today, the 12th Man represents a united student body who is willing to not only serve fellow Aggies, but anyone who is in need.

    While I walked through campus the two days before Thanksgiving break, it was easy to feel the spirit of the 12th Man. I witnessed several long-standing university traditions being held amongst the most treasured university landmarks. Yet, as I headed home for the break, I began to think about what it means to be the 12th Man off of campus as well. There are times when I feel as if my positive spirit and commitment to courtesy isn’t with me when I’m stuck in traffic or in the line at the grocery store. As a graduate student, sometimes I feel like I have a million commitments that will override any time that I might have to serve others. Then, I thought back to several individuals I knew of who gave themselves through selfless acts when they were called upon to do so. The noble actions taken by E. King Gill as well as my very own seven- year-old nephew are examples of what it means to be the 12th Man on the field. Yet, their commitment to selfless service now motivates me to represent the values of the 12th Man the best I can, on and off of campus.

    My sister and brother-in-law took Clay and his siblings to watch the Texas A&M vs. UTSA football game earlier this month. My sister described to me the thrill he felt as he took in all of the excitement that encompasses an Aggie football game. Clay had many questions about halftime and the numerous Aggie traditions. He even shed a few tears at the grave sites of all the former Reveilles. Because of this experience, I know Clay will continue to work his way at becoming an Aggie one day. He’s already figured out what it really means to be the 12th Man.


    As I look beyond my time as a graduate student here at Texas A&M, it is hard to be sure what the future has in store for me. When my last class day is upon me, I hope I can look back and know that I did the best I could to serve the university I hold in such high regard. It will then be up to me to embody the spirit of the 12th Man and serve my world to the best of my abilities. My hope is that Clay’s graduating class will find the Texas A&M of the future to be just as united as it was in the days of E. King Gill. Yet, I feel pretty confident that the 12th Man will never allow the Aggie spirit to ever be forgotten.

    Matthew Pfeifer | Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications

    Howdy!  My name is Matt Pfeifer and I am pursuing a Master of Science in agricultural leadership, education, and communications; I hope that by furthering my understanding of leadership and workforce training I can improve the lives of people in rural America.

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