Texas A&M has produced two Heisman Trophy winners, a handful of national titles, the greatest walk-on tradition in college sports and the most envied student body in America. But perhaps the school's most legendary contribution to college football lore was born in the small Texas town of Junction, the site of coach Bear Bryant's famously exhausting preseason training camp in 1954.
The Aggies' brutal workouts that summer have been the subject of numerous stories, books and movies, and the Junction Boys--the players who survived those hellish days--have become intertwined in the fabric of sports in the Lone Star State.
In the six decades since those heat-seared workouts, the Junction Boys continue to have a profound impact on Texas A&M. Perhaps no one recognizes and appreciates that legacy more than Jay Graham, Class of 1992.
During his days as a petroleum engineering major in College Station, Graham had the good fortune of taking classes from a former student named Billy Pete Huddleston. Huddleston also happened to be a Junction Boy who became A&M's team captain in 1955. Huddleston eventually began a wildly successful career in the oil and gas business and served from 1981-98 as a visiting professor with A&M's Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering.
Huddleston's wisdom in the classroom instantly made an impact on Graham, who soaked up every lecture from his new teacher.
After Graham graduated and landed in Hobbs, N.M., for a four-year stint with Halliburton, it wasn't long before he felt the itch to return closer to Aggieland and his high school home of Tomball.
Graham's first call went to his former professor. Huddleston hired him on the spot.
Founding donors to the Kyle Field redevelopment were paramount in Texas A&M's ability to produce such an awe-inspiring stadium. The Graham family has also been exceptionally generous across campus, leaving an indelible mark on both athletics and academics.
And several years later, after studying his mentor's every move, Graham decided it was time to try his hand at running his own business. Just like before, his first call went to Huddleston.
"I'm ready to start my own company," Graham said.
"It's about time," Huddleston quickly replied.
"What do I do next?"
"You're going to need some money."
"I don't have much of that."
"Well, I'll give you some."
And just like that, Huddleston provided the seed money to what eventually became a family of oil and gas companies with a market value that eclipsed $10 billion in recent years.
In return, the Grahams have become some of Texas A&M's most generous donors.
"(Huddleston) didn't ask me for a business plan, what we were going to do, or how we were going to do it," Graham said. "To him, he had taught me at A&M, employed me for four years and we were both Aggies. He believed in us, got us going and introduced us to the right people. The rest is history, and a lot of our giving is because of the example he always showed us."
Part of that history and legacy includes being Founders donors to A&M's massive redevelopment of Kyle Field. Jay, along with his wife, April, have also been exceptional supporters of men's basketball, baseball and men's golf, among other sports. Much of their philanthropy has come at a crucial time, as A&M transitioned in 2012 into the most intimidating athletics conference in the nation.
The rocket ship ride his career experienced has come as quite a surprise to Graham, who was a standout baseball player in high school.
Graham grew up on a farm in southern Oklahoma. The son of a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Graham spent many fall Saturdays wearing crimson and cheering on the Sooners. But when a new job opportunity for his father sent the family to the Houston area in the 1980s, Graham quickly took notice of a deeper shade of red.
In 1985, he gathered with some of his newfound friends on Thanksgiving night to watch the annual Texas A&M-Texas game. As an avid OU fan, Graham had no problem cheering for the team in maroon.
"One of my first introductions to the state of Texas was watching that game on TV, and that was the game where it was so loud that the Longhorn players refused to snap the ball," said Graham, recalling A&M's Southwest Conference-clinching, 42-10 victory. "I thought to myself that if they hate the University of Texas like I do, then I kind of like these people. It was very much along the lines of the old saying that says the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
The next year, Graham's father brought him to College Station to watch A&M defeat Southern Miss. Like many newcomers to Kyle Field, he was hooked after his first game.
"I remember looking up into the student section from the old (north end zone) horseshoe and seeing everything that was going on," Graham recalled. "I had gone to OU games my whole life and always noticed the students leaving at halftime. Well, the Aggie students stayed in the stands to support their team. It was such a different atmosphere. It only took one game, but I started thinking this was the place for me."
That moment 30 years ago marked the beginning of what has blossomed into a life-changing relationship for both parties.
Graham earned his degree in 1993, and, thanks to his unyielding work ethic and fortuitous relationship with Billy Pete Huddleston, started WildHorse Resources in 2007 along with longtime business partner Anthony Bahr '91. WildHorse, which focuses on oil and gas exploration and production in Texas and Louisiana, was the first of three companies spawned by Graham and Bahr that eventually became publicly traded. Graham currently serves as CEO of one of those companies, Memorial Resource Development Corporation.
As business has boomed this decade, Texas A&M has become a tremendous beneficiary.
In addition to athletics, Graham and Bahr helped fund the creation of an entrepreneurial training program to better prepare A&M students who plan on going into the oil and gas industry. The Petroleum Ventures Program ties together students majoring in finance or petroleum engineering who plan to enter the oil and gas business.
The partnership was extra special to Graham, as the idea was something Huddleston had pushed for many years.
A&M athletics has been similarly touched by the generosity of the Graham family. The 12 Founders donors to the Kyle Field redevelopment accounted for roughly half of the $225 million raised for the project. Simply put, A&M's exquisite stadium would not have happened at its current magnitude without the significant contributions of that unique group.
"For me, a lot of who I am today is as much driven by athletics as it was academics," said Graham, who attempted to walk on to the Aggie baseball team as a student. "You have to work very hard to be successful in athletics, and once you get in the real world, you have to work pretty hard there too if you want to succeed. Scoreboards show you who is winning and losing, and that is what drove that attitude for me."
A&M has certainly ended up on the right side of many scoreboards in recent years, thanks in part to the tremendous support offered by donors like the Grahams.
When they decided to become more involved in supporting Aggie athletics, Graham had the benefit of working with a familiar face. 12th Man Foundation vice president for major gifts Brady Bullard was an acquaintance of Graham's in college, and the two quickly reconnected.
"It has been a unique and rewarding experience for me as we don't often work with major gifts donors who were friends during college," Bullard said. "Jay and his family are great people, and they absolutely love Texas A&M. Jay will humbly tell you he is just a country boy from south central Oklahoma, but in reality he is a very successful business owner who knows how to get things done. And he and April have supported--and hope to continue to support--this university and Aggie athletics for a long time."
In the meantime, the Grahams, along with their two sons, Jacob (future A&M Class of 2024) and Jackson (Class of 2028), enjoy coming to College Station often to support the university Jay first visited for a football game three decades ago.
"I want A&M to be the best at everything, whether it's academics or sports, so we enjoy supporting both sides to do our part to make that happen," Graham said. "It is a blessing to be able to do it."
To those who support student-athletes by giving, I want to say thanks and gig 'em.
Without them, many young people who aren't financially stable or can't provide an education for themselves have a great opportunity. It makes A&M a better place."