What defensive back Roney Elam did in Texas A&M’s season opener was a breath of fresh air for a sport too often appearing to have adopted free agency.
When so many college football players are transferring because they aren’t playing enough, Elam chose to remain at A&M despite playing sparingly over his first three seasons. Now he’s getting his chance, and the fifth-year senior came up with the first interception and first sack of his career in last week’s 41-7 victory over Texas State.
“I was finally doing something positive for the team,” said Elam, who had only one start in 34 games until getting the nod at nickelback against the Bobcats.
Elam had a game worth waiting for with five tackles, four of them solos. Only junior starting linebacker Buddy Johnson had more solo tackles (four) and total tackles (seven). Elam also broke up a team-high two passes.
“I had a good fall and a good spring coming into the season,” said Elam, one of only six seniors on the team who admits he thought of leaving A&M. “No matter where you go, you still face different challenges in your life, so you might as well just face them.”
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Elam was listed along with sophomore Devin Morris as the backup to cornerback Myles Jones on the depth chart for the Texas State game. Jones started in place of junior Debione Renfro, who was suspended for violating a team rule. Jones also made the most of his opportunity with a pair of interceptions, but Elam’s interception was a gem, a one-handed effort followed by a nifty 24-yard return.
“It was a cover-two and I saw the defender go away,” Elam said. “I knew they were throwing the curl route, so I tried to get underneath his route.”
A&M had four interceptions against Texas State, a major reversal of fortune for a team that had only seven interceptions last season among 11 turnovers, which ranked 120th in the country.
“We focused this season on making more plays on the ball, because last year wasn’t very good in creating turnovers,” Elam said.
The soft-spoken Elam said he earned more playing time in part by speaking up.
“I started communicating more, being more vocal as a person, and [defensive coordinator Mike Elko] liked that,” Elam said. “He saw my ability because I was more vocal. I was able to do more.”
Elam is trying to become the second straight Aggie to flourish during his senior season at nickelback. Deshawn Capers-Smith had nine of his 16 starts last season at the position, making 52 tackles — almost half his career total.
“Me and him are real close friends,” Elam said. “Being behind him, seeing what he did helped me.”
A&M’s secondary, a weak link last season as the Aggies allowed 253.2 yards passing per game and 26 touchdown passes, gets a much stiffer test this week against defending national champion Clemson and sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence, whom many believe is the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy this season. Lawrence, though, threw for only 168 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in a 52-14 victory over Georgia Tech last week.
“I feel just by watching that film we can see what they did right,” Elam said. “[We’ll] try to focus on doing what they did and create more turnovers.”
NOTES — Morris, who is from Caldwell, saw his first collegiate action against Texas State. ... A video clip of Elam’s interception on his Twitter account has almost 4,000 views. ... Elam said his family and coaches offered encouragement during the low times. “They said, ‘Control what you can control and just stick around.’” ... Elam helped A&M limit Texas State to 4.6 yards per pass attempt with only one completion over 18 yards. “I can improve more on my man-to-man coverage, and I need to work on my tackling in open space,” Elam said. ... A&M junior quarterback Kellen Mond was named honorable mention for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award player of the week. Mond threw for 194 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 25 yards and another TD last week. The Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award is given annually to the top offensive NCAA Division I football player with Texas ties who also exhibits integrity, performance, teamwork, sportsmanship, drive, community and tenacity. ... The Pulse, the A&M football team’s weekly show, will be available nationally on Thursday afternoons on ESPNU. The Pulse will continue to premiere new episodes on local CBS affiliate KBTX at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.