The following is an exclusive e-original excerpt from ‘Johnny Football: Johnny Manziel’s Road from the Texas Hill Country to the Top of College Football’ by Josh Katzowitz from HarperCollins/William Morrow. On sale Dec. 26
Manziel grew up a fan of the University of Texas, located about 85 miles east of Kerrville, in Austin. To his dismay, the Longhorns’ interest in him was minimal at best.
Texas Christian University uses a spread scheme on offense, which utilizes a number of tricky formations that could have used a quarterback with Manziel’s athleticism and running ability. Manziel had interest in TCU; the school did not reciprocate.
Rice wanted him to play football and baseball, which would have presented Manziel with the opportunity to pursue both loves, but Manziel’s parents made sure their son understood that he should not sell himself short on the football field. And playing for Rice would have been selling himself short.
Elite college teams didn’t see Manziel as a college quarterback. At 6-foot–1, he was too short. The offense he ran at Tivy was too gimmicky. He was an excellent athlete—of that, there was no doubt—but maybe he’d fit in better as a receiver or defensive back.
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh saw Manziel for the quarterback he could be and invited him to a three-day camp in Palo Alto, California. But before Manziel traveled to the West Coast, a family friend with a connection learned that Manziel was a fan of the Oregon Ducks and set up an appointment for him to visit the campus.
He arrived in Eugene, met with coach Chip Kelly, and fell in love with the surroundings. Kelly’s up-tempo, high-octane offense was perfectly suited for Manziel—it was basically the same offense run by Tivy, albeit with different terminology—and the baseball coach told him, “I’d take ten of you, Johnny.”
Following that incredible weekend in Oregon, Manziel traveled to Stanford for a perhaps predictably doomed second act.
He hated the set-up of the program and was anxious to leave as soon as possible. Manziel even asked his mom if he could leave the camp early (she said no), and when Kelly called with the scholarship offer while he was still on Stanford’s campus, he accepted before discussing the decision with his parents.
“I’m always going to be a Texas kid, but Oregon was home away from home to me,” Manziel said soon after making his decision. “They have every single thing I was looking for in a school except that it’s far from home. But it’s like shooting 100 free throws—you’re happy with making 99 of them.”
But Texas A&M quarterbacks coach Tom Rossley convinced Manziel to question that one missed free throw. That single shortcoming bounced around Manziel’s head, and it rimmed out every time. Soon, Rossley began showing up at Tivy games, selling Manziel on Mike Sherman’s program and showing the kind of interest that no other elite Texas program had before.
Manziel had always told himself that when he committed to a school, he would not waver. He would give his word, and he would not have reason to rescind it.
See Manziel in action as Texas A&M battles Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX.