Around the Horned with Brian Estridge
Nov. 13, 2005
I couldn't help but think of one guy on a night when we honor one of TCU's finest. LaDainian Tomlinson revived TCU football beginning in 1998. Not a coach, an administrator or even that win in the Sun Bowl. No, the credit for the resurgence of the Frog football program should go to the Waco native and current San Diego Charger. The good news is he keeps hauling the football program to greater heights every time he steps on the field in the National Football League. As his popularity grows, so does TCU's. LT, thanks for bringing back the pride of the Horned Frogs!
But LaDainian isn't the only Frog on my mind today. The final game of this historic and magical regular season will also mark the final game of one of the Frog fans' favorites, and I can't help but wonder about what might have been. We could have been talking about him the same way we brag about LT. I could have been writing this column thanking LT for reviving TCU football and thanking this Frog for taking the ball from LT and elevating the Frogs to rarified air. In a way, I still can do that; it's just that the transition from LT didn't happen exactly how we would have hoped.
When Gary Patterson became the head coach of the Frogs in 2001, his first recruiting class was pieced together in a short amount of time. He had to hustle in order to hold on to commitments secured by the previous staff. Those players could have easily decided to follow that staff or to opt out for other universities. Some did, but one didn't. He stood by his word and became a Horned Frog.
His legend would soon grow, when, as a redshirt freshman, he was thrust into the starting lineup and calmly led the Frogs to a 4-0 record. But an unfortunate injury cut his season short, and he watched his teammates put together a 10-win season and a Liberty Bowl win.
In 2003, it was supposed to be his team. But this time, just two games into the season, he suffered a separated shoulder. Then two weeks later, it was a groin injury that ended his year. His partner at the position, Brandon Hassell, would lead the Frogs to 11 wins and a Fort Worth Bowl bid. Two seasons into his career he had started a total of just eight games in a Frog uniform, but the faithful still believed.
In 2004, it was an ankle injury at Texas Tech and some knee complications that limited him to just four starts. And then, this year fell right in line with the last three. Finally healthy, the now senior was set to take his team into a new conference, and at the same time, he was ready to put to rest all of the talk of his bad luck. But once again it wasn't to be. A shoulder injury suffered at BYU cost him another season. Frog fans everywhere were left to think about what might have been. And so was Tye.
The first question you and I might ask if we were in his situation would be, "Why me?" But not this Frog. Once again this year, all Tye Gunn asked was, "How can I help this team win?" In 2002, he spent time with Sean Stilley, serving as an extra set of eyes for the veteran quarterback who had suffered through some bad luck of his own in his career. Then, in 2003 and 2004 it was his good friend Hassell.
Then came this season, and I personally hoped it would be Tye's year. Instead, it was Jeff Ballard who joined a long line of Frogs who stepped up. And once again, there every step of the way with Jeff was Tye-spending extra time in film sessions, pointing out things when he came off the field and leading the high fives on the sidelines. Simply put, he was just doing whatever he could do to help his team win. I asked Jeff this week what Tye meant to him and to the rest of the team. He paused, collected his thoughts and rattled off the longest paragraph I have ever heard from the junior from Friendswood.
"He's been there next to me every step of the way. When I had a bad play or what I thought was a bad game, he was always the first to offer encouragement. He's been a big part of my success. He's meant a lot to me, and I hate the fact that I have benefited from his bad luck. He always has something for me when I come off the field, he's on the headset with the coaches, encourages tempo, tells me about the coverage that he sees. He is always trying to make the team better. He might not feel like he has been a part of the team, but all of us to a man look at him as a leader. Just him being on the sidelines makes a big difference to all of us. We wouldn't be Mountain West Conference champions without him."
Not only would TCU not be Mountain West Conference champions, the Frogs would not be household names in the college football world without Tye Gunn. It has been a difficult four years for the LaGrange native with the perfect quarterback name, but I, for one, am not going to forget his contributions-his run with the torch, his desire to see the Frogs win.
Now it's up to Ballard and others to make sure that all of the work that the LT's and Tye's have put into this program doesn't go to waste in the future. The good news is Jeff learned from one of the best in Tye Gunn.