College Station, Tex. Texas A&M; quarterback Stephen McGee went where any kid from the state's rolling Hill Country would go to find the perfect metaphor for team bonding: the hardware store.
Before this season, the sophomore bought 140 feet of thick chain in 12-link segments and gave one to every A&M; player and coach. The 12 links symbolize the 11 players on the field, plus the Aggies' 12th Man tradition.
"I told the guys that if we're going to do this thing, we've got to do this together," McGee said. "There's obviously no individual link that stands out any more than the other. They all have a role and they're all important."
The chains reinforced what McGee first proved to his teammates in last year's finale against Texas - that he was ready to lead them.
"He will do anything for this team, loves this team," leading receiver Chad Schroeder said. "He's one of the strongest Aggies in that locker room."
A&M; (8-3, 4-3 Big 12) finishes the regular season today against the No. 11 Longhorns (9-2, 6-1) in Austin.
The Aggies lost last year's meeting 40-29, but McGee felt like he won over the A&M; faithful and his teammates with a gutsy, inspiring performance. He ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start, surprising Texas with efficient command of the option offense.
"It was huge for me, getting those snaps and that confidence," McGee said. "The most important thing, the thing I value the most, is getting in the huddle and having those guys around me believing in me."
This season, McGee has tried to extract a lesson from every start, good and bad.
He threw interceptions and completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma. He also went 19-for-23 with a touchdown in A&M;'s 25-19 win over Missouri, and had two TD passes in wins at Oklahoma State and Baylor.
"I've learned a lot and I've grown a lot," he said. "It seems like every week, I'm learning so much more, whether that's about a character trait, an internal thing, or whether that's something about my game. It seems like I'm learning so much."
McGee ranks seventh in the Big 12 in pass efficiency and eighth in passing yardage. He shrugs off his numbers, though, saying he's most proud of how the Aggies have come together this season.
"I know when I get in that huddle, that I'm getting in the huddle with guys that are going to lay their bodies on the line for the guys next to them. That's pretty awesome," McGee said. "I don't think there are very many teams that can honestly say they don't have any individuals in their huddle. I feel like we can say that."