The Heisman Trophy front-runner who has let his play do all his talking thus far this season finally spoke Monday.
Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who hasn’t been allowed to talk to the media as part of head coach Kevin Sumlin’s policy regarding first-year players, participated in a national conference call two days after capping the regular season with a record-breaking performance against Missouri.
Manziel, who ranks in the top 35 nationally in eight statistical categories and owns the SEC single-season total offense record, answered 70 questions in 60 minutes. The questions came from every major media outlet, state and national newspapers, even his hometown paper — the Kerrville (Texas) Daily Times. And they hit on everything from the origin of the Johnny Football nickname to which final exams most concern him (all of them) and what college team he normally is when he plays video games (the mighty Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners).
Manziel guided the Aggies to a 10-2 record in his first season as the A&M quarterback with a bowl game still remaining. Not bad for a quarterback who didn’t win the job until three weeks before the season-opening game against Florida.
That seems like such a long time ago for Manziel, who at 19 has become a national star and could become just Texas A&M’s second Heisman Trophy winner, joining John David Crow, who won the award in 1957.
The reality of his breakout season is starting to sink in for Manziel.
“I definitely held myself to high standards,” Manziel said. “I definitely wanted to go out and have a good year if I was named the starter. There’s no way I thought I would have this much success. It just speaks volumes to our team and how much we’ve come together and grown each week. It tells a bigger story about everybody on this team.”
A&M’s surprising first year in the SEC has included many highs, most notable a 29-24 victory at then No. 1-ranked Alabama on Nov. 10. And while Manziel has plenty of talent around him, there’s no doubt he’s been the catalyst for the program.
His season is statistically better than Cam Newton’s Heisman season for Auburn two years ago: 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns rushing, 3,419 yards and 24 TDs passing. He is the fifth player in FBS history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 3,000 in the same season (also the first freshman and first player from the SEC to accomplish the feat). He is a nine-time SEC Freshman of the Week. He leads arguably the nation’s best conference in rushing yards, total offense and scoring, and is second in passing yards.
He has a chance to do something Dec. 8 that no one has been able to do, win the Heisman Trophy as a freshman.
“It’s something that you dream about as a kid,” Manziel said of the possibility of winning the Heisman. “When you’re sitting there playing all these NCAA games when you’re a kid and you create a player and you win the Heisman as a freshman because you just put up crazy numbers. It’s something you can only dream about.”
The dream could become a reality soon and the Aggies are pushing hard for Manziel. While he hadn’t talked to the media until Monday, the school has a site dedicated to his exploits this year that includes video highlights of some of his improvised plays.
Sumlin opened Monday’s teleconference with a glowing endorsement of Manziel, who is now a national darling. And now that he’s being allowed to talk to the media, with a news conference in College Station on Tuesday, new doors are opening for him. Even “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” called A&M with a request to speak with Manziel.
And don’t forget about his catchy nickname, Johnny Football. It’s a moniker he thinks is fitting because his name is Johnny and he’s been playing football since he was six.
“It was something that kind of started to be thrown a little bit whenever I first got here to Texas A&M,” Manziel said. “I think it’s something that’s funny. I think it’s something a lot of people here in Aggieland, they enjoy. It’s something that I find extremely funny. It fits.”
One thing that’s clear about Manziel after Monday is that he’s as cool in interviews as he is on the field.
Manziel talked about how hard it was to change his commitment from Oregon to Texas A&M, about how it was something he thought would work better for him because the school was closer to home. We now know his favorite players growing up were John Elway and Doug Flutie. He’s a fan of fellow college signal callers Landry Jones, Geno Smith, Braxton Miller and Tajh Boyd. His favorite play so far this year was the touchdown pass he threw to Malcome Kennedy to seal the win at Alabama.
He doesn’t watch video highlights of himself or read stories about himself, although there are plenty out there (including a YouTube video of a middle-aged woman singing about Manziel). While he attended from Kerrville Tivy High School, he also claims Tyler as a hometown because that’s where he was born and went to school until the middle of seventh grade. Speaking of Tyler, he thinks it would be a huge honor if he could give the town its second Heisman winner, with Earl Campbell being the first.
He spent more time praising his offensive line, wide receivers, running backs, college coaches, high school coaches, A&M students, parents and sister than he did talking about himself.
That’s a hard thing to do for anyone, let alone someone who’s in the process of having his nickname trademarked by his family. He still doesn’t seem himself as a celebrity, despite No. 2 jerseys and t-shirts flying off the shelves at the campus bookstore.
He still sees himself as a small-town kid from Texas, even though he’s not treated like that anymore. He’s adjusting to that, too.
“The thing that’s kind of caught me off guard is going to dinner and somebody coming up to me and saying, ‘Hey can we get your autograph or do you mind if you take a picture with my son?’” he said. “It’s something I haven’t really grasped the whole entirety of it yet. Going out to dinner and having somebody have a kid want to take a picture of me, it makes my day. I don’t really see myself as that yet. I guess other people do.”