Outland Trophy history: Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M, 2012 recipient

This is the seventh in a series of stories on Outland Trophy winners from 2006-2020.  From 1946-2005, the first 60 Outland Trophy winners were profiled in the book 60 Years of the Outland Trophy by Gene Duffey. In celebration of the Outland Trophy’s 75th Anniversary we are catching up with the last 15 recipients.

(Luke Joeckel came out a year early and made himself eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft.  Selected No. 2 overall by Jacksonville, he wound up starting 39 games on the offensive line for the Jaguars from 2013-2016. He started 11 games for Seattle during the 2017 season after he signed a free-agent contract with the Seahawks. Joeckel retired from pro football after the 2017 season and went back to school. He received his business degree from Texas A&M in 2019 and is now in private business.)   

By Gene Duffey, Author

Luke Joeckel had never seen anything like it. The Texas A&M buses were returning from the airport to the Bright Complex on campus near midnight. Joeckel expected a bunch of students to be there greeting the team, but nothing like this.

“When we got off the bus we were swarmed,” said Joeckel. “It was total madness. It was the craziest experience of my life.”

Thousands awaited the triumphant Aggies return from Tuscaloosa where they had beaten Alabama, the nation’s No. 1 team and defending national champion, 29-24.

The way the upset unfolded made the victory even more dramatic. A&M raced to a 20-0 lead after one quarter. “Just going in there, with 102,000, and jumping on them like that was incredible,” said Joeckel. “I can’t ever describe it.”

But the Aggies needed Deshazor Everett’s interception of a fourth-down Alabama pass at the goal line to preserve the win. Texas A&M had proven conclusively that it could compete in the Southeastern Conference.

The Aggies announced Sept. 26, 2011 they were officially leaving the Big 12 to join the SEC. “I was definitely excited about the challenge,” Joeckel said of joining college football’s most dominant conference.

Then Joeckel went to the SEC Media Days in August 2012 in Birmingham, Alabama

“It was hard to listen to all the doubters,” he said. “No one gave us a chance. We were picked to finish 12th (out of 14 teams), I think. It’s all a bunch of stuff I wasn’t expecting. We knew what kind of team we had, and we had a chance to win every game.”

Luke Joeckel

The Aggies were an unknown commodity, with a new coach, a new offense and a new quarterback, a pinball wizard named Johnny Manziel.

Even without Manziel the Aggies showed they belonged in the SEC the year before when they faced Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium. A&M led, 35-17, at halftime, but fell apart in the second half and lost, 42-38. This was an Arkansas team that finished 11-2, losing only to Alabama and LSU who played for the national championship.

“We should have won that game,” said Joeckel. “We had 330 yards rushing in the first half.” A&M outgained Arkansas 381 yards to 71 on the ground and finished the day with 628 yards of total offense.

A&M kept right on rolling after beating Alabama. Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Joeckel became the first Aggie to win the Outland Trophy, and the Aggies routed Oklahoma, 41-13, in the Cotton Bowl.

Joeckel understood the importance of winning the Outland. He grew up in a family of linemen. His father, David, played offensive tackle at Texas Tech from 1979-82 and went to camp with the Denver Broncos before heading to law school. His older brother, also named David, played on the offensive line at Division III Depauw and began his coaching career as an offensive line coach at North Mesquite High School near Dallas.

“The Outland is a big deal in our family,” said Luke. “I grew up knowing about that award. It was a huge blessing (to win it).”

“That’s the peak,” said Matt Joeckel, Luke’s fraternal twin who played quarterback at A&M and later at TCU. “Offensive linemen aren’t going to win the Heisman. You want to be the best offensive linemen in college football, and winning that Outland Trophy let him know he was the best.”

Luke and Matt are as close as can be, but often fight like, well, like brothers. Luke always won.

“We’ve always gotten along really well,” said Matt. “We definitely have our fights. I always had something on him to get under his skin, to girlfriends, something football, a bad play in a game. Whenever we started arguing it turned into a fight. I don’t think I ever won, but I’m not afraid to fight him, and he knows that. I can get in his head real easily. If it’s a verbal battle, I’ll win that.”

“He’s been able to talk the trash,” Luke said of Matt. “He had this mouth on him and he always got in my head. I had the fists. When it got physical, I beat him up.”

Some mistook them for identical twins when they were young.

“We look a lot alike,” said Matt. “He’s just a lot bigger than me. Growing up he was maybe an inch taller and 10-15 pounds bigger. It didn’t really start changing until high school. He gained like 100 pounds. He started eating more, lifting more. I wanted to be a quarterback.”

Both boys played quarterback on separate teams in junior high. Matt admitted that Luke could throw the ball farther. “There’s not much talent in throwing the ball really far,” said Matt, quick with the needle. “Eighth grade he was thinking about trying out for quarterback and competing with each other because there’s only one team. Then he’s like, ‘No, I just want to hit people.’ ”

Luke Joeckel

“Being the biggest guy on the team, I always got moved back to the offensive line,” said Luke. By the time he was a sophomore he was starting on the offensive line at Arlington High School.

He suffered a broken leg in the third game of the season. “My Dad taught me not to lie on the field, so I got up and walked off,” he said. “I knew I had to go through a bunch of rehab, but it didn’t put me down that much.”

He returned stronger for his junior year and played a little defensive end as a senior in addition to offensive tackle. “I got chopped block playing defensive end and hurt my ankle,” he said. “I was done with defense after that.”

The Joeckels were definite college prospects by their junior years when their father began taking them to games around the state. “He told us when we were little if we go to A&M he’d disown us,” joked Matt.

David took them to a game at College Station  to see the Aggies play Miami, Florida. It made a huge impression on Luke.

“The fans were incredible,” he said. “They stood the whole game. Miami won big, but no one left early.”

The Joeckels didn’t sell themselves as a package deal, though they took all their official visits together, including Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Baylor and Arkansas.

Luke received more attention than Matt starting their junior year, and the boys thought about going their separate ways for college. “It wasn’t a must, but we always kind of knew we’d go to the same school,” said Matt.

Surprisingly, Texas never actively recruited Luke. “I didn’t put (a chip) on my shoulder about it,” he said. “You come here (Texas A&M), you end up hating Texas.”

Because of their father, Texas Tech appeared to be the early favorite. But Luke didn’t like Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense in Lubbock. He favored A&M’s pro-style attack. “I fit the mold a little better,” he said.

The day after the Joeckels made their official visits to College Station, they committed to A&M Coach Mike Sherman, the former Green Bay Packers coach.

“We came here for Coach Sherman,” said Luke. “He was an offensive line guy. He had a higher priority on the offensive line. Our (recruiting) class was the top offensive line in the country.”

Matt, knowing that the other two quarterbacks in that recruiting class were going to enroll early, decided he needed to be there in January. Luke followed along. “It was one of my best decisions,” said Luke. “It helped me a ton in the fall.”

David Joeckel slowly accepted his sons becoming Aggies. “It took him a while to soak it in,” said Luke “(He changed) when he started coming down to the games and saw the fans. They’re almost cult-like. There’s not a better fan base in the country.”

The first day of spring practice Luke lined up at left tackle against junior Adren Dorsey. “I was playing against a guy with a full beard and balding,” said Luke.

The worst part was lining up against A&M’s future All-American defensive end Von Miller. Luke will never forget his first play against Miller, who ended up being the No. 2 player taken in the 2011 NFL Draft.

“I didn’t even touch him,” said Luke. “He ran right by me. I freaked. ‘This is what college football is like?’ I realized later that Miller was a freak of football. There was no one like him in the country. I had to block Von every day. I just tried to get in front of him. I wouldn’t call it blocking.”

Joeckel learned as much from Miller as anyone.

“He’s the biggest reason I am where I am today,” he said. “I couldn’t take too much pride in it because I didn’t do a good job blocking him. It was cool going against a guy who was No. 2 in the draft.”

Damontre Moore, who succeeded Miller at defensive end, provided Joeckel with another good challenge every day.

It didn’t take Sherman long to realize he had something special in Luke Joeckel, who wound up starting all 37 games he played in College Station from 2010-12.

“He was No. 2 for two days,” Sherman said of Joeckel’s first spring. “Let’s stop fooling around and we moved him up (to start). He’s a high character kid. He could process what was happening during the course of a game. If anything wasn’t working, he could figure out what he needed to do.

“He was as good a player as I’ve seen in high school for an offensive lineman. He had big hands he wrapped around you (when you shook hands). His demeanor. You just knew he was going to be good. Winning the Outland Trophy was something else.”

Joeckel started at left tackle his first game as a true freshman against Stephen F. Austin, an easy 48-7 victory.

“I was psyching myself out for the first two series,” said Luke. “I was pretty nervous. Playing in front of 90,000 is different than Arlington High School. I began to realize it wasn’t that hard. I’m good enough to play with these guys. It was a good first step. I graded out all right. I got better each game.”

Joeckel quickly found a kindred spirit that fall in another offensive lineman, Jake Matthews, the son of former USC All-American and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews.

Jake Matthews had finished his final semester of high school and enrolled that fall. Matthews broke into the starting lineup at right tackle in the fifth game. They pushed each other in practice and they pushed each other in the weight room. They turned everything into a competition.

“Being offensive linemen was what really strengthened our relationship,” said Matthews. “He was just a great guy, worked real hard. We’re basically the same guy. Everything with us is a competition. He’s a great teammate. I just enjoyed being around him. We’re both pretty quiet. We don’t say much. Naturally I was drawn to him because I don’t like big mouth people.”

By their junior year they were regarded as the best pair of offensive tackles in the country.

“He and Jake work harder than anybody I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said Matt, who appeared in five games in 2012. “Those guys go extra every day. They’re technicians.”

“They definitely wanted to be the best offensive linemen on campus and in the league,” said Sherman. “They continuously competed against each other in a friendly sort of way.”

Matthews took pride in Joeckel winning the 2012 Outland Trophy and being referred to as the top two offensive tackles in college football.

“That’s a big statement right there,” said Matthews. “That made us work even harder. I’m real grateful for it. It’s very humbling. We got put in this new situation with the SEC. We made the most of it.”

The arrival of Manziel changed A&M’s offense for the 2012 season. He had been recruited to College Station the year before by Sherman, then redshirted.

“He came in as a great athlete with a strong arm,” said Joeckel. “He was always very confident, never arrogant.”

No one could predict that Manziel would become a national sensation his first year playing college football. But he didn’t make the job of the offensive line easy. No one was sure where he would be.

“He’s a wild one,” said Joeckel. “You have to hold your block a little longer and play backyard football. Johnny’s moving everywhere.”

Joeckel, whose escape from football is playing golf, usually with his twin brother (“He’s a really good golfer,” said Matt. “He can shoot in the 70s when he’s playing consistently”), didn’t waste his junior year worrying about the NFL. He never considered leaving early until A&M completed its regular season 10-2 and began preparing for the Cotton Bowl.

“I was dead set on coming back,” he said. “I started thinking about (leaving)   before the bowl game. My Dad did all the research. Everyone who gave me advice said make your own decision, and don’t look back. I figured it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Joeckel, a business marking major, understood there is more to life than football. “The NFL is just a job, not a career,” said Joeckel who made himself eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft and bypassed his senior season at Texas A&M.