When Blaize Foltz was a freshman at TCU, he would sometimes wander off campus and journey into the nearby neighborhoods of Fort Worth. Foltz was just a first-year football player from Rose Hill, a redshirt offensive lineman who had gone unrecruited by Kansas and Kansas State.
TCU had provided an opportunity. And if he was going to play college football, he would have to do it at program with a smaller budget in a smaller league. Foltz, of course, had no problem with any of this. But looking back now, four years later, it all seems so odd.
Whenever he and his teammates went anywhere in Fort Worth, they never saw a soul wearing purple Horned Frogs gear.
“You couldn’t find a TCU shirt in Fort Worth,” Foltz says, “unless you were on campus.”
On Monday afternoon at Big 12 Media Days in Dallas, just 40 miles from Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, this story served as another example of where TCU football used to be.
Now, after years in college football’s middle class — TCU has been a member of the Western Athletic Conference, Conference USA and the Mountain West since 2000 — the Horned Frogs have a seat at the grown-ups table. No more midseason conference matchups at UNLV. No more campaigning to be included in the BCS. No more “We’re the little guy” mentality when taking on a school like Baylor or Iowa State.
TCU coach Gary Patterson can tell a story about how his teams used to walk a mile to practice every day — as far as we know, it wasn’t uphill both ways — and then follow with a story about how the program moved from a 8,000-square-foot weight room to a 20,000-foot palace this year. Or how TCU, a private school of 9,500 students, has gone from 4,000 yearly applications to 22,000 applications since he arrived as an assistant to then TCU coach Dennis Franchione in 1998.
“We better play with a chip on our shoulder,” Patterson says.
This has been the Patterson way: Mine the fertile Texas recruiting grounds, find the ones not hauled in by Texas or Texas A&M, and play the “nobody respects us” card for all its worth.
Need an example? Listen to quarterback Casey Pachall.
“We wanted to be in this conference,” Pachall says of the Big 12. “Regardless of what we’re ranked, nobody still doesn’t give us any respect.”
But how will this play out in the Big 12? That is, perhaps, the storyline that will underline the Horned Frogs’ season in 2012.
For his part, Patterson would like to take the long view. This won’t be a short race, he says. The Horned Frogs have gone 36-3 during the past three seasons, including a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin in 2010, and taking a few lumps this season won’t change that.
“I don’t think it’s one of those situations,” Patterson says, “where we’re going to define TCU on what happens in 2012.”
Still, Patterson, a native of Rozel, is a man with Big Eight roots, a K-State grad who once coached for a season at Pittsburg State. So this is a man who understands Big 12 football. And he is mostly confident that TCU will climb this next hill.
“Our goal (four years ago) was same as it is now,” Foltz said. “Get to a bowl game every year. Try and win the conference championship, and go from there.”