Thousands of white towels swirled and flickered through the air Tuesday night in a Robertson County pasture as a mass of current Texas A&M students, Aggie alumni and fans watched Student Bonfire 2019 light up the sky.
As attendees waited for the ceremonial lighting of the stack that would pump up the crowd for Saturday’s game against LSU, this year’s keynote Student Bonfire speaker, former 12th Man Kickoff Team member Warren Barhorst, Class of ’88, shared the story of his time playing football for A&M. He recalled the year he and 12 fellow students were selected by then-Aggie football coach Jackie Sherrill to support the team’s main players, an experiment by the coach.
“This is where I first experienced what Coach Sherrill was building here in Aggieland,” Barhorst said. “At the time I didn’t know what was driving Coach, and he was really driven ... but today I can tell you it was the spirit of Aggieland. It was the spirit he felt when he was working on the stack, and the spirit that makes him love A&M way more than he loves Alabama, Pittsburgh or Mississippi State; the spirit that he poured into his players, that never quits and that makes you believe in yourself.”
Barhorst told the crowd that during his time as a student, he often worried he would be unable to play football for various reasons. However, he had the chance to significantly contribute during the 1988 Cotton Bowl against the University of Notre Dame and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown. Barhorst relished the fact that he was able to tackle Brown during that game — a 35-10 Aggie win — and take a towel from Brown’s pants. That towel continues to symbolize a treasured time in Barhorst’s life, he said, and Thursday night the men and women standing before Brown twirled thousands of athletic towels.
Barhorst said he felt the Aggie spirit running through him, just as he has felt whenever stepping onto Kyle Field.
“You can see the Aggie spirit in the Aggies who gave their lives [in war],” he said. “... It’s the drive that pushed Congressional Medal of Honor [recipients] to take action when no one else would, and it’s the 12 Aggies 20 years ago who gave more than anyone else by building this stack; it’s the spirit left by all Aggies that have come before us, and it’s the drive that makes us all great.”
Aggie sophomore and transfer student Landry Dacke stood and watched the bonfire ignite, flanked by her boyfriend’s parents, Anthony and Cornelia Hawes. All three were attending Student Bonfire for the first time, while Dacke’s boyfriend, fellow sophomore and Bonfire crew member Benedict Hawes, watched on from the other side of the stack with his peers.
“I think it’s so cool,” Cornelia Hawes said. “I love all the excitement. ... I was kind of expecting the traditions, and it’s neat joining in.”
“Our son helps with the stack, and he’s now in his second year,” Anthony Hawes said “It’s a great event, being out in the field with a lot of enthusiasm and great spirit. You can see the unity of the student body.”
Dacke said although she recently transferred to A&M, she already feels excited to be an Aggie. She was able to assist with “cut,” an important preparatory step for the Student Bonfire crews.
“It’s satisfying [to see], even though I feel I didn’t do much,” she said. “Just seeing the composition of everyone’s hard work, it’s very well deserved.”
The atmosphere was saturated in enthusiasm and pep, but the fans did not neglect to take time to remember the 12 students who lost their lives to the Bonfire’s collapse 20 years ago. A solemn roll call was recited for those who died.
“I think the original spirit of Bonfire is intact,” said Connor Hull, class agent for the class of 2020. “... The university has done a great job acknowledging that it is the 20th anniversary. I would say there were more people at the memorial service this year than in years past.”
Hull said he has attended Student Bonfire every year since he was a freshman, and he’s grown to love Texas A&M more and more as time passes.
“Every year there’s a new spirit of the crowd,” he said. “This year feels a little more energized than past years, and I guess it’s a little different depending on where you are in your progression as a student. As senior, for me it’s about memories. That’s why I’m here tonight. I didn’t want to miss the last one for myself.”