Ed Jasper loves talking about his hometown. "I came from Troup, Texas, population 1,659," he says. "The biggest restaurant we have there is the Dairy Queen. You have to drive 20 miles to the movies. Then again, I couldn't date anyone there because we're all kinfolk." Indeed, Jasper, who is entering his third season as Texas A&M's starting noseguard, is so identified with the place that he is identified by it—Troup has become his nickname. "A lot of the freshmen don't even know my real name," he says. "I like it all right. Every time I hear it, it reminds me where I came from."
Of course, no one in College Station would dare call Jasper a name he didn't like. A burly 6'4", 302 pounds, Jasper is the anchor of one of the nation's most fearsome defensive front sevens, and he has very specific notions about how to assert his dominance, whether it be over an opposing lineman or an unwitting teammate. "He's a big bully," says senior inside linebacker Larry Walker. "When I was a freshman, I used to walk into his room, and he'd just hit me as hard as he could. I hated him for a while."
Walker got over it, but opposing linemen haven't been so lucky. Last season Jasper set a single-season school record with 14 tackles for a loss. And though he finished the year with only 53 tackles, the double and triple teams he attracted created opportunities for pass rushers like linebacker Keith Mitchell, whose 13 sacks were fifth-best in the nation.
Outside linebacker Reggie Brown, selected 17th overall by the Detroit Lions, was the only starter to depart from last season's front seven. Considering that A&M had the nation's third-ranked defense last year, that bodes well for '96.
The offense will be hurt by the loss of tailback Leeland McElroy but will recover much faster if new quarterback Branndon Stewart (page 82), the highly touted transfer from Tennessee, lives up to expectations. In addition, the team will need to erase memories of last year's 9-3 season, which, until the 22-20 Alamo Bowl victory over Michigan, never fulfilled the high hopes with which it began.
That's where Jasper's leadership will be needed most. "It got to the point last year where we were all blaming each other," he says. "We weren't laughing, we weren't having fun, we weren't close enough. That's going to change this year."