COLLEGE STATION – By Jack Holmes/Contributor
Cagan Baldree said he can fit into some of his old clothes now that he has dropped over 20 pounds since early this year. The Texas A&M junior walked-on to the football team as an offensive lineman, but he transitioned to fullback in January. Baldree said he still has to pinch himself when he puts on an Aggie uniform.
"It's been a wild ride this year," Baldree said. "It's been a blessing. I've wanted to be at A&M my entire life, and that's why I walked on here. It's why I stuck it out to this point. It's been an unreal experience, and I've enjoyed every bit of it."
Baldree said he decided to make the move because he wanted to contribute more. At around 275 pounds, head coach Jimbo Fisher said Baldree simply was not big enough to play on the offensive line in the SEC. Baldree spoke with the coaching staff, and when the opportunity to transition to fullback arose, he said the choice was easy.
"It was a no-brainer because it was another way to get a chance to get some playing time and be on the field," Baldree said.
COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS - AUGUST 29: Bryan London II #9 of the Texas State Bobcats celebrates with Justin Madubuike #52 after an interception against the Texas State Bobcats during the first half at Kyle Field on August 29, 2019 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The first key for the new fullback was to lose enough weight to play at the position. Baldree said he focused on changing what he was eating more than his workouts. He stands at 6-foot-4 and said he dropped from above 270 pounds in January to around 250 pounds right now.
"It was more changing my diet," Baldree said. "The training stayed the same, and because of how hard we train, the weight that I had kind of came off … I started slowly and surely doing that the way I needed to do it. It's worked out."
While weight loss was his early focus, Baldree said he also had to learn to think about the offense from a completely new perspective. Some aspects of that were more difficult than others.
"It's been a lot different," Baldree said. "It's a lot more working out in space and doing little things … I was able to draw [on] some of those things that I knew about the offense as an offensive lineman and how the fullback would fit into those things. That part of it hasn't be as hard. The pass concept is something that I've had to learn quite a bit about. It is totally different the way things match up and kind of [move] around more."
CLEMSON, SOUTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 07: K'Von Wallace #12 of the Clemson Tigers reacts with the crowd against the Texas A&M Aggies during their game at Memorial Stadium on September 07, 2019 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Baldree's teammates have taken notice of his almost seamless transition. Quarterback Kellen Mond said he always thought the move was easy for Baldree, and junior running back Jacob Kibodi said he appreciates what he does for the Aggies' rushing attack.
"He plays a big role," Kibodi said. "He does a great job blocking … On inside zone plays, he's moving bodies and making it easier for the running backs."
"He picked it up right away," Kibodi added. "He didn't have a learning curve really … One day he was [offensive] line weight, and now he's slimmed down … That shows his hard work."
Junior linebacker Buddy Johnson even noted that Baldree is helping defensive players improve their skills at practice.
"He is a big blocker," Johnson said. "One thing with him is he's not afraid of anyone, and he'll go and put his head on someone. That's what I like about him. At practice he'll come hard. At practice I feel like he's good competition for me to go against because he's getting me ready for the game. He's a hard worker and a great player."
With fullback Ben Miles (son of head coach Les Miles) transferring to Kansas in early August, the Aggies lost a player they had hoped would contribute on offense this season. During camp, Fisher said how pleased he was with Baldree, and on Monday the head coach gushed about what his new fullback has done for the team.
"He's tough, he's smart, he's physical and he has really good ball skills," Fisher said. "Those guys are hard to find, especially at fullback … It's a selfless role in my opinion, because most of the time it's just going to be blocking. He is a tremendous human being. He really is. I'm very proud for him making a role, and he's done a heck of a job. He's really helped us."
That is high praise from Fisher, who also pointed out that, to his surprise, Baldree has some strong hands.
"It's really good package," Mond said. "We haven't really shown it much, but he can catch the ball out of the backfield. That's a really good advantage for us."
COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 14: Ainias Smith #17 of the Texas A&M Aggies scores on 13 yard pass as Anthony Ruffin #17 of the Lamar Cardinals is late on the play during the fourth quarter at Kyle Field on September 14, 2019 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Baldree has not been given a chance to touch the ball during a game just yet, but he said he will be ready if that moment comes.
"If I get a chance to get my hands on it, then I'm not going to let myself get denied," Baldree said. "You might not get too many opportunities, who knows? That would be unreal … I'll just try to be ready, make sure I hold onto it and don't make a mistake."
Baldree's uncle went to Texas A&M, and maroon always ran in the family. He said he remembers going to a few games each season when he was younger, watching Ryan Tannehill connect with Cyrus Gray and Von Miller sacking opposing quarterbacks, all the way through to the Johnny Manziel years.
Baldree said he always knew he wanted to go to school in Aggieland, and he never had any doubts when the opportunity to walk-on the football team came about. Now, he is just enjoying the chance that he has been given.
"That was always the way it was," Baldree said. "You're an Aggie, you bled maroon and there weren't any other questions about it. I never had any questions about it … Having the opportunity to play ball is just icing on the cake."