Former A&M trainer reflects on Bryant

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Many of the memories are fuzzy now for Billy Pickard. Time can do that to a person.

Today marks what would have been legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's 100th birthday. Pickard, who was once a student trainer under Bryant when he was at Texas A&M, will turn 80 next month. While some of the memories of his time with Bryant -- including the well-documented, grueling 10-day training camp trip to Junction, Texas -- are vivid, Pickard is careful not to embellish or say things that he's not absolutely sure happened or that he witnessed.

Pickard, who began his association with Texas A&M as a freshman in 1952 and has been working there ever since, mostly at Kyle Field and under a number of different titles over the years, still remembers details about that trip to Junction, a town that at the time was dusty, hot and in the middle of a West Texas drought.

"The first day ... we gave [the players] a glass of orange juice, five salt tablets and a multivitamin," Pickard said. "It wasn't 15 minutes before the orange juice and the multivitamins were back on the ground. That was the end of that."

One of Pickard's duties was to look after Bryant's son.

"All I did was try to work for him and take care of things," Pickard said. "One of my jobs at Junction was to take care of Paul Jr. I was just about getting ready to take my nap and Coach Bryant hollered at me. He goes, 'Take him to town and get him an ice cream.' Paul Jr. was 12 years old when we were in Junction."

Pickard recalls dealing with players who struggled to deal with the heat and even suffered heat stroke as Bryant tested their wills. A large number of players who made the trip to Junction quit, and Bryant left camp with about 35 players to start the 1954 season with.

"We were practicing about 30 minutes and [Jack] Pardee went down," Pickard recalls. "It got hot and I'm working on him and I saw Coach Bryant come up -- he always wore long pants -- and I looked up and Coach Bryant said, 'What's the deal?' I said, 'Coach, he's getting a little hot.' He said, 'I'm getting hot looking at him.'"

Pardee was one of the survivors of that camp -- a group that was dubbed "The Junction Boys" -- and eventually became an All-American who was part of the turnaround from a 1-9 year in 1954 to an undefeated 9-0-1 season in 1956.

Of course, in 1958 Bryant went on to Alabama, where he won six national championships and 13 SEC championships. Pickard, who officially retired in 2009 but still volunteers and shows up almost daily each morning to work at and care for Kyle Field, remembers Bryant fondly.

"He and I had a great relationship," Pickard said. "He was great to me."