Each year when the Texas A&M game rolls around, Texas Tech receiver Austin Zouzalik tries to tell himself it means no more than any other Big 12 Conference game. For it to be true in his case, he’d have to tune out his family.
And there are about as many Aggies in his family as Red Raiders.
“My dad’s dad was in the Corps (of Cadets) at A&M,” Zouzalik said. “My mom’s dad studied ag science at A&M. I’ve had two cousins in the Corps. Another one ran track there. One of my cousins ran for (student body) president of A&M. Another one was in a fraternity at A&M, just graduated. It goes on down the line. They’re everywhere.”
Ray Helm, the Tech player’s maternal grandfather, has bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from A&M, but he said there’s still more scarlet-and-black influence in Zouzalik’s family.
“My daughter and I were discussing that the other night,” said Helm, a San Marcos resident who taught agriculture courses for 17 years at Texas State. “We were counting up, but I think he’s really got a few more relatives that graduated from Tech.”
In any event, friendly family bragging rights are at stake when No. 24 Texas A&M faces Tech for the last time in the foreseeable future at 6 p.m. Saturday in Jones AT&T Stadium.
How did Zouzalik not get caught up in the swirl of maroon? Being born and raised in Lubbock had a lot to do with it. The clincher was watching two of his cousins, former Tech defensive backs Greg and Ryan Aycock, play for the Red Raiders.
“I came to all these (Tech) games and was just a fanatic,” said Zouzalik, a junior from Coronado who has 71 career catches for 950 yards and four touchdowns. “I went to the (1999) Sugar Bowl when A&M played Ohio State, a couple of A&M-Texas games and an A&M-Notre Dame game, but I always wanted this a lot more than that.
“My grandpa had seats in ‘The Zone’ (at A&M’s Kyle Field). They’re all just huge A&M people, but somehow I kept gravitating toward Tech and this offense and finally, when I had a chance to come here, I was like, no question.”
Zouzalik’s parents, Mark Zouzalik and Cheryl Aycock, met while they were students Texas State. They didn’t push A&M on him, Zouzalik said, but his grandparents and cousins are proud Aggies.
“Oh man, whenever I was growing up, my grandparents would put (A&M gear) in my room,” he said. “They’d go to the (Aggie) bonfire and bring back shirts and stuff like that, and my mom would try to hide all the stuff. It’s a rivalry within our household for sure.”
Helm says his grandson’s recollection is spot on.
“I have a trash can that I have in my office that we gave Austin, and T-shirts,” he said. “Of course, he wanted it when he was growing up. We thought we had him sold. But he always had a tendency — with Tech being the home team, and he went to a lot more Tech games than he did A&M — Tech was his first choice. When they offered him a scholarship, there was no way to get him to go anyplace else.”
One of his grandfathers, Vic Zouzalik, lives in Lubbock, but remains loyal to his alma mater downstate.
“He lives at the Raider Ranch, ironically,” Austin Zouzalik said, “and he’s go all his A&M stuff in his room.”
Helm said he’s attended the last two Tech-A&M games, but he and his wife, Leida, won’t be able to make it to Lubbock this weekend.
Regardless of the outcome Saturday night, he says he’ll have a reason to be happy.
“I find it kind of hard to root against the Aggies,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation either way for me. ... We do have ties, but I just have to root for my grandson.”
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