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Johnny Manziel Becomes 1st Freshman to Win Heisman

11:34 PM, Dec 8, 2012   |    comments
Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel kisses the 2012 Heisman Trophy. (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)
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George Schroeder, USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK -- Johnny Football might need a nickname change. How about Johnny Heisman?

Johnny Manziel, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Thursday, became the first freshman to win college football's most prestigious award.

The Texas A&M quarterback received 474 of a possible 928 votes and a total of 2,029 points, well ahead of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (321 first-place votes, 1,706 points) and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein (60 first-place votes, 894 points).

"This is a moment I've dreamed about since I was a kid running around the back yard, pretending like I was Doug Flutie, throwing Hail Marys with my dad," said Manziel, who redshirted in 2011.

Manziel set the Southeastern Conference's record for total offense with 4,600 yards, and led the league in rushing and scoring. More important, he led Texas A&M to 10 victories during the Aggies' first season in the league, including a stunning upset Nov. 10 of then-No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

He did it all with a swaggering unpredictability that made for plenty of so-called "Heisman moments." And by the time the Aggies had finished celebrating in Tuscaloosa, the legend of "Johnny Football" had become established.

"What a journey. It's been a long, winding road since the spring," Manziel said.

You don't even have to go back that far. And it is perhaps a sign of how radically college football has shifted that the Heisman winner not only wasn't on any preseason lists of potential candidates, his ascension to Texas A&M's starting quarterback was a bit of an upset. But as expected contenders like USC's Matt Barkley or Oklahoma's Landry Jones fell away, Manziel zig-zagged his way through defenses and into the race. He overcame voters' historic bias against choosing freshmen.

"I don't know what it says," Manziel said. "It says something about our team."

Although his highlights from Kerrville (Texas) Tivy High School remain YouTube staples, he wasn't initially highly recruited. After Oregon offered a scholarship, Manziel was set to join the Ducks until former Texas A&M assistant Tom Rossley talked head coach Mike Sherman into offering a scholarship. He redshirted last season, then competed for the starting job last spring, with a new coaching staff in place.

Manziel's ability seemed a better fit in the wide-open spread offense run by head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. But heading into preseason practices, he wasn't expected to win the competition. It didn't help that Manziel was arrested around 2 a.m. last June 29 and charged with disorderly conduct and presenting false identification. He spent a night in jail after the misdemeanor charges, which are still pending.

Saturday afternoon, Manziel said he worried that night whether his career might be over before it had gotten started.

"At the time, I didn't really know where I was gonna go from there," he said. "My fate was kind of up in the air."

He thanked Texas A&M officials for helping him work through the issue, called it a "dramatic mistake" and said it was "uncharacteristic."

"The incident has changed me," Manziel said. "I think I'm a better person as a result."

Manziel said the other offseason development that might have changed the course of his career was an offseason visit to quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. He worked on footwork and other fundamentals, and when practices began, Kingsbury said Manziel was much less reckless and better at making simple plays.

Saturday afternoon, Manziel said he worried that night whether his career might be over before it had gotten started.

"At the time, I didn't really know where I was gonna go from there," he said. "My fate was kind of up in the air."

He thanked Texas A&M officials for helping him work through the issue, called it a "dramatic mistake" and said it was "uncharacteristic."

"The incident has changed me," Manziel said. "I think I'm a better person as a result."

Manziel said the other offseason development that might have changed the course of his career was an offseason visit to quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. He worked on footwork and other fundamentals, and when practices began, Kingsbury said Manziel was much less reckless and better at making simple plays.

Saturday afternoon, Manziel said he worried that night whether his career might be over before it had gotten started.

"At the time, I didn't really know where I was gonna go from there," he said. "My fate was kind of up in the air."

He thanked Texas A&M officials for helping him work through the issue, called it a "dramatic mistake" and said it was "uncharacteristic."

"The incident has changed me," Manziel said. "I think I'm a better person as a result."

Manziel said the other offseason development that might have changed the course of his career was an offseason visit to quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. He worked on footwork and other fundamentals, and when practices began, Kingsbury said Manziel was much less reckless and better at making simple plays.

It was especially important because, although the highlights everyone remembers are of Manziel's incredible improvisations, the offensive coordinator wanted to see him run the offense, read defenses, follow the script. And his instinctive ability to elude defenders and produce big plays wasn't fully evident in non-contact practice situations.

Once unleashed, though, it became apparent Manziel had special ability. Now, Manziel said he strives for "a happy medium" of following the plan and ad-libbing. And Sumlin and Kingsbury are happy to led "Johnny Football" do his thing.

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