The Sternberger family is a gambling clan.
It’s not the kind of gaming one might find in the casinos throughout their home state of Oklahoma. Time and time again the family has been willing to wager immediate success for future gains as it pertains to the eldest son and Texas A&M tight end Jace.
“I think he’s kind of been that kid that’s always bet on himself,” his mother Jackie Sternberger said.
The die has been cast. The junior college transfer announced a day after the Aggies’ 52-13 win over North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl that he would leave Aggieland early for the NFL draft.
Leaving the comfort of Aggieland, where Sternberger exits after a record-setting season, is a gamble, but he has one ace in the hole: growth. At a young age, it was his ability to grow physically. A 6-inch growth spurt between his sophomore and junior seasons at Kingfisher High School made a move from quarterback to tight end a natural decision.
In one season at Kansas then another at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, he honed his natural talents to improve from a relatively unrecruited high school senior to the top junior college tight end prospect in the country.
In his one season at A&M, he proved to himself that he can hang with the best college football players in the country, while leading the Aggies in receiving yards (832), catches (48) and receiving touchdowns (10).
Sternberger began counting his chips after dragging South Carolina safety Steven Montac 25 yards on a catch over the middle in the Aggies’ 26-23 win over the Gamecocks on Oct. 13 in Columbia, South Carolina.
“It was like, ‘Man, I’m doing this and I haven’t even been here that long,’” Sternberger said. “Just imagine what I can do at the next level.”
From then until the Aggie’s bowl game, Sternberger said he had at least 10 meetings with A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher on what his future should look like. Fisher’s pitch to Sternberger was the likelihood that the tight end would become a top 20 draft pick with another year of college football under his belt, Sternberger said.
The difference between Sternberger’s current second- to fourth-round evaluation and a high first round selection lies in his ability to block and add weight to his frame, shortcomings of which he is fully aware.
In high school, Sternberger was utilized mostly as a slot receiver. He saw limited playing time in Kansas’ air raid offense and was a downfield threat in junior college. Blocking is a skillset he only has been asked to master since arriving at A&M, he said.
“I had to work at it, but that was one of those things that just came natural,” Sternberger said.
Former A&M tight ends coach Tim Brewster told Sternberger to give the draft a shot this season, Sternberger said. Brewster’s main concern was the 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end’s ability to gain muscle weight, Sternberger said.
But with only two SEC-ready tight ends on the Aggies’ roster this season, Sternberger and Arizona transfer Trevor Wood, the duo took all of the Aggies’ practice snaps during the season, Sternberger said. Cutting the excess cardio at the next level will allow him to gain weight.
Some young athletes need the structure and discipline the college game provides to reach the pinnacle of their abilities. Sternberger has proven time and again that, when the chips are down, he will grow into whatever role is needed at any level. There’s no reason not to take that gamble again.
“I’ve kind of bet on myself my whole life,” Sternberger said.