Jimbo Fisher describes tight end Jace Sternberger as a throwback to 1955.
“He’s so fun to coach in practice,” the Texas A&M coach said, “and like I’ve said, he should have played in 1955. I joke about that, but the way he’s like, ‘Get on me; I like you getting on me.’ Just play hard. The more you get on him, the harder he plays. He doesn’t have a slow-down button and loves the game.”
The tight end became a niche position in the 1950s, once teams moved away from single platoon football. Enterprising NFL coach Paul Brown figured out that a heftier receiver with soft hands could cause an intriguing mismatch against a defense.
In 2018, Fisher has reintroduced the position to the Aggies, specifically with Sternberger, his throwback of a tight end. Sternberger caught five passes for 56 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s season-opening 59-7 win over Northwestern State. He was honored as the John Mackey national tight end of the week.
Count on the tight end to be a key part of the game plan when A&M hosts No. 2 Clemson on Saturday night.
Sternberger was Fisher’s first commitment last December when the coach left Florida State to take the A&M job. Dameyune Craig, an offensive analyst on Fisher’s staff at Florida State, discovered Sternberger’s recruiting video. Once some of the staff migrated to College Station — including Craig, now A&M’s receivers coach — Sternberger earned an official visit. He quickly committed.
He could be the star of the 2018 recruiting class, providing a feel-good story of a small-town kid eventually making it big. He was a tight end/defensive end in Kingfisher, Okla., a town of about 5,000 that’s 45 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.
He first signed with Kansas, becoming part of David Beaty’s first Jayhawks’ recruiting class. Beaty, coincidentally, had just left A&M, where he was the receivers coach, for Lawrence. Sternberger was a two-star prospect eager to play for any team from a major conference.
After two seasons in Kansas, one of which was a redshirt year, Sternberger transferred to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Community College, where he caught the attention of more college recruiters with a season in which he caught 21 passes. The 247Sports recruiting composite had him as a three-star prospect.
Sternberger was the star of A&M’s spring practice and one of the standouts in the season-opening win, albeit against an FCS team. He joked that the attention he’s received from A&M fans has “been a little excessive.”
For perspective, Sternberger’s five catches were two fewer than the total for all Aggie tight ends in 2017. No Aggie tight end has caught more than one touchdown pass in a game since 2010, when A&M was still in the Big 12.
In the season opener, Fisher said he probably had a tight end on the field for all 96 snaps. All four tight ends on the roster are new to the program.
“I never really noticed A&M didn’t use a tight end that much, but I’m very aware now,” Sternberger said. “It’s a great situation to be in. It’s been a little excessive, but I’m not complaining.”
Sternberger also is a key blocker. He took out two Northwestern State defenders downfield on Traveon Williams’ 71-yard touchdown early in the first quarter. The Aggies rushed for 503 yards, the second-highest total in school history.
“I feel like coach Fisher has a lot of trust in him,” quarterback Kellen Mond said. “A lot of plays are not necessarily called for him but give him a lot of opportunities to get matched up with a lot of linebackers. I have a lot of confidence in him. Really looking forward to him having another great game this week.”
Sternberger is happy that he’s re-emerged at a Power Five program, which is rebooting an offense that’s tailor-made for his skills. It doesn’t matter that it’s 2018, as opposed to 1955.
No. 2 Clemson at Texas A&M, 6 p.m., ESPN, 1370