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The Junction Boys is the name given to the “survivors” of Texas A&M Aggies football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s 10 day summer camp in Junction, Texas beginning September 1, 1954. The ordeal has achieved legendary status and has become the subject of a 2001 book The Junction Boys by Jim Dent and a television movie produced by ESPN.
Texas A&M University hired Bear Bryant as head football coach in 1954, replacing former coach Ray George. Bryant arrived in College Station on February 8, 1954 and began cleaning house. He felt that many of the players on the team were weak and not properly trained or coached. He decided that his players needed a camp away from the distractions on campus; thus, he arranged for the camp to be held in the small Hill Country town of Junction, where Texas A&M had a 411-acre (1.7 km²) adjunct campus (now the Texas Tech University Center at Junction).
At the time of the camp, the Hill Country was experiencing an epic drought and heat wave. The drought, the worst in the recorded history of the region, had lasted four years and would last another two after the camp was over. According to the National Climatic Data Center, all 10 days of the camp saw hot temperatures with a couple of days topping 100 °F (38 °C).
Practices began before dawn and usually lasted all day with meetings in the evening until 11:00 PM. The oppressive heat combined with the brutal practice schedule was too much for many of the players. Each day, there would be fewer and fewer players at practice, as many players quit the team from illness or disgust. The situation was compounded by Bryant's refusal to allow water breaks. This practice, which is now widely recognized as dangerous, was at the time commonly employed by athletic coaches in an attempt to "toughen up" their players. The only relief provided the players were two towels soaked in cold water; one towel was to be shared by the offensive players, and one by the defense. One of the Junction Boys, future NFL coach Jack Pardee, would later say in an interview that it was not unheard of for players to sweat away 10% of their body weight.
By the end of the 10-day camp, only a fraction of those that started were left. The list of “survivors” varies from 27 to 35. The Junction Boys listed by writer Jim Dent were:
It has often been portrayed that over 100 players made the trip to Junction. In fact, a smaller number actually went to the camp. Although Bryant started out with over 100 players on the roster, many had already quit or been cut by the time of the Junction camp. Accounts of the exact number that left for Junction vary, but all the survivors insist that it was less than 100.
In 1954, Richard Vick had his photograph taken with Bear Bryant. The photo was featured on the cover of the Houston Chronicle magazine. Today, the photo of Richard Vick and Bear Bryant, as well as Vick's uniform, can be seen at the Texas A&M Sports Museum at Kyle Field.
In 2008, nineteen of the Junction Boys had a 54th anniversary reunion at a ranch in Brenham, Texas. The remaining members have agreed to have a reunion every 5 years.
In April 2010, the surviving Junction Boys were by The Texas Children's Cancer Center at "An Evening with Texas Legends" in Houston, Texas at the Hilton Americas Hotel. They were interviewed by legendary sportswriter Mickey Herskowitz at this special event.
Although the "survivors", as they came to be called, were mentally tougher after the experience, this new strength did not translate into immediate success on the field. In 1954, Texas A&M won only one game against nine losses, the only losing season in Bryant's 38 years as a head coach.
In 1955 Texas A&M went 7-2-1, and in 1956, the team went 9-0-1 and won the Southwest Conference.
Many of the Junction Boys went on to great success in various fields after college. Jack Pardee and Gene Stallings would go on to become head coaches in the NFL. Pardee was a two-time All-Pro with the Los Angeles Rams (1963) and the Washington Redskins (1971). Stallings would also become the head coach of Texas A&M and later took over Bryant's Alabama Crimson Tide and won a national championship in 1992.