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November 13, 2013

Swagcopter gives Sumlin, A&M a boost

This week is the second of two bye weeks for the Texas A&M football team in the 2013 season, and coach Kevin Sumlin has a few ideas on how to use it.

"We're going to be getting back healthy, get a quick jump on LSU and a week of recruiting," he said Tuesday.

In other words, crank up the Swagcopter.

Since Sumlin and the Aggie coaching staff began to use the maroon-colored Bell 429 helicopter (maximum speed of approximately 180 mph, range of more than 400 miles) last year, the Swagcopter has become a subject of national attention and a minor Aggie celebrity. It even has its own Twitter feed. When a "very, very generous" A&M booster offered its services to Sumlin last year, it made an immediate impression as a national television audience saw it land at the Houston St. Pius X - Sealy matchup.

"We had the hurricane that postponed the first game (against Louisiana Tech) and Florida became the first game. We had two guys playing that Thursday (WR Ricky Seals-Jones and QB Kohl Stewart) night, and it just so happened that the game was on ESPN," Sumlin recalled. "We didn't know that at the time, when we started planning that, but the two guys involved in the game signed with us."

The visual of the helicopter circling the field at Pius X and Sumlin being on the sidelines moments later caught the attention of not only the press, but recruits as well. Even though Sumlin has never publicly referred to his upscale form of transportation as anything but "the helicopter," the name Swagcopter was attached before he even headed home that night.

The chopper may be a fancy form of transportation, but Sumlin argues it is a necessity, given College Station's location.

"We practiced that Thursday (of the Pius X - Sealy game) and by just sheer need to get to the game, there's only one way to do it," he said. "You can't drive; it's in north Houston, and you can't get through north Houston at 6 in the evening because of traffic. You can't fly into Bush, because you have the same problem with traffic. But if you land at the baseball field right next to it, you don't have that issue."

The speed and versatility of the helicopter has benefitted both the coaching staff and the current team, as it allows time for coaching a full practice and recruiting in the same evening.

"The ability for me to go to a practice or the coaches to go to a practice and practice until 6 and then there's a game at 7, the ability to get into that stadium (in Houston) in less than an hour is unbelievable. Or, to Dallas in an hour and 40 minutes, or go to two or three games," he said. "People think it's for show, but it's also for necessity if you're going to complete practice with your own team and see more than one game."

The Swagcopter hasn't been used all that much over the past two seasons, but its reputation precedes itself. It has flown Sumlin to see 2013 signees Seals-Jones and Stewart (who is playing professional baseball in the Minnesota Twins organization), Kyrion Parker and Tavares Garner; 2014 commits Hoza Scott and Myles Garrett and heavy 2015 lean Kyler Murray. A&M's head coach is very well aware of its track record.

"It seems to be working, because the helicopter is undefeated when it comes to signings and commitments," he quipped. "We're going to keep it going, I know that. You change a lot of things, you evaluate and update your program all the time, but that's one thing we'll just keep going."


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