Heisman finalists: Manziel, Te’o and Klein
NEW YORK — Johnny Manziel and Manti Te’o are in position to make Heisman Trophy history.
Manziel, the redshirt freshman quarterback from Texas A&M, and Te’o, Notre Dame’s star linebacker, along with Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, were invited Monday to attend the Heisman presentation ceremony.
Manziel is the favorite to win college football’s most famous player of the year award on Saturday night in Manhattan. He would be the first freshman to win the Heisman and the first Texas A&M player since halfback John David Crow won the school’s only Heisman in 1957.
“I’m overwhelmed by this tremendous honor of representing Texas A&M, the 12th Man and all my teammates in New York,” Manziel said in a statement. “This is a dream come true for me, and I know it’s a credit to all my coaches and teammates. I definitely wouldn’t be a Heisman finalist without my teammates and coaches.”
Three sophomores have won the award (Tim Tebow in 2007, Sam Bradford in 2008 and Mark Ingram in 2009), but the best a first-year player has ever done is second.
Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma finished second to Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart in 2004. Peterson was a true freshman. As a redshirt freshman, Manziel attended A&M last year and practiced with the team but did not play.
Michael Vick of Virginia Tech came in third in 1999 as a redshirt freshman and Herschel Walker was a true freshman for Georgia in 1980 when he finished third in the Heisman balloting.
Nicknamed Johnny Football, Manziel quickly became a national sensation this season, putting up huge numbers in first-year Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin’s spread offense. He led the 10th-ranked Aggies to a 10-2 record in their first season in the Southeastern Conference.
With a knack for improvisation, Manziel racked up an SEC-record 4,600 yards of total offense, including 1,181 rushing to lead the conference. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Manziel zoomed to the front of the Heisman race on Nov. 10, when he passed for 253 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 92 yards as the Aggies upset then-No. 1 Alabama 29-24 in Tuscaloosa.
Manziel and Texas A&M will play No. 12 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
Te’o is trying to become the first defense-only player to win the Heisman. The Fighting Irish have seven Heisman winners, tied for the most with Ohio State and Southern California, but none since Tim Brown in 1987.
Te’o became the face of the No. 1 team in the country and leader of a defense that has been the toughest to score upon in the nation. The senior intercepted seven passes, second-most in the country and tops for a linebacker. He also led the Fighting Irish with 103 tackles, and earlier Monday won the Butkus Award as country’s best linebacker.
Te’o and the Irish face No. 2 Alabama in the BCS championship game on Jan. 7 in Miami.
Klein would be the first player from Kansas State to win the Heisman.
“I’m just honored with this opportunity that the Lord has provided me here at K-State,” Klein said in a statement. “I’m so proud to represent K-State in this because I feel like my road is very synonymous and in line with the K-State way. It has been a process, it has been a journey. There have been a lot of ups and downs, as well as a lot of hard times and growing pains through it. I’m just very proud to represent the K-State family and our heart and spirit in this environment.”
He seemed to be the front-runner for several weeks until Manziel’s late push. When Klein threw three interceptions in the Wildcats’ late-season loss to Baylor, Manziel moved to the front of the race.
Klein is a multitalented quarterback like Manziel, but with a different approach. The 6-5, 226-pound senior is a bullish runner who scored 22 touchdowns and threw for 15 more, while leading the seventh-ranked Wildcats (11-1) to the Big 12 title. Earlier in the day, Klein won the Johnny Unitas Award given to the top upperclassman quarterback in the nation.
Klein will finish his Kansas State career against No. 5 Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.