It would seem that the two-steps-forward, one-step-back dance continues for Texas State football. Just 10 years ago, Bobcat football relevance outside of San Marcos was only a vision. In 2015, Texas State is starting to put a dent into their lack of popularity among outsiders.
Last week, NFL decision-makers certainly didn’t forget about Texas State. Craig Mager was taken as the 83rd overall pick by the San Diego Chargers. The Panthers selected David Mayo — who led the nation in tackles last season — with the 169th pick, in the fifth round. After the draft concluded, the Houston Texans signed Will Johnson, the St. Louis Rams nabbed Terrance Franks and the Arizona Cardinals signed Michael Orakpo as undrafted free agents.
These five players were certainly the pulse of Bobcat football over the last few seasons. Seeing Mager get drafted and stand at a Chargers’ press conference to answer questions was such a great thing to witness. It’s neat having had a chance to talk to all of these players multiple times over the years, one-on-one, face-to-face. Mager’s energy is unmatched. Mayo’s commitment and focus has always been there. Franks is just plain fast, and Orakpo has his brother, NFL veteran Brian Orakpo, to look up to.
It was the first time ever two Bobcats were selected in the first five rounds of the draft. The team has been bowl-eligible two straight years — 6-6 in 2013 and 7-5 in 2014 — when the team was unfairly snubbed only because the conference-affiliated bowl game was in Alabama and not Texas ... just one columnist’s opinion, politics ruled that decision, even though Texas State had already beaten South Alabama that year and the Armed Forces Bowl picked Pittsburgh to play Houston in January instead of the local Bobcats.
The fact that five players were selected this offseason or that linebacker Joplo Bartu — who was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2013 draft — has started 27 games in two years in the NFL (he was third on the team in total tackles last season) proves Texas State is on the right track with personnel and proves that coach Dennis Franchione and his staff are bringing in athletes who can be next-level guys.
This year is huge for Texas State. If the team can’t get in a bowl game, talent could start turning the other way. Everyone wants to play on a big stage, wants to be noticed. It’s harder to get noticed when not playing a bonus game over the holidays, and it’s hard to get noticed when television shies away from putting Texas State on the air.
Last year’s 12,264 attendees weren’t disappointed at Bobcat Stadium to watch the Bobcats upset Arkansas State 45-27 on ESPN2. But the attendance figure was the lowest at a Bobcat football home game since 2010, when 10,120 watched the Bobcats get blasted by Central Arkansas — before the stadium expansion and before Franchione even walked back through the Texas State doors.
That figure stunted the ability to use the fan base as a turning point for Fort Worth to take the smaller guys over the bigger ones. Despite the Armed Forces Bowl Facebook getting overflowed with Texas State support, the hard numbers were already in, and they said: When the Bobcats play, people don’t show up.
Texas State made a poor choice this spring, making it difficult for fans to support the team’s Spring Game, which was wedged in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
This is a crucial season to go 8-4, to become bowl-eligible for the third year in a row and for Texas State to be able to stand up and say they are a legit program, a program that should be noticed by those around the country. Providing more entertainment — from 30 minutes before kickoff to the final whistle — must be a priority. Texas State starts the year off at Florida State, where No. 1 pick Jamis Winston just departed. The Bobcats will likely take that one on the chin, but have taken down all of their next three opponents — Prairie View A&M, Houston and Southern Miss — all in the last three years. The recent draft picks will soon prove their worth to NFL clubs. Texas State fans need to prove they care, and Texas State needs to prove they’re in it to win it, and in it to leave fans trying — and failing — to compare a Texas State football game in 2015 to an experience they’ve ever had before. Thanks for the memories Mager, Orakpo, Mayo, Johnson and Franks. It’s time for everyone involved to make some new ones and to hopefully stop taking steps backward, only capitalizing on momentum.
Cameron Irvine is sports editor of the Herald-Zeitung.