Sum­lin opened door for A&M star

Manziel

Austin American-Statesman - - C SPORTS - C HEIS­MAN UN­DER­CLASS­MEN Se­niors: Ju­niors: Sopho­mores: Fresh­men: WIN­NERS BY PO­SI­TION Run­ning backs/ full­backs: Quar­ter­backs: Re­ceivers/ends: Cor­ner­backs: WIN­NERS BY SCHOOL The 7-Tro­phy Club: Tak­ing the Fifth Club: Three’s a Charm Club: Twice as Nice Club:

Sherman. Then, on Dec. 10, the Ag­gies lured Hous­ton’s Kevin Sum­lin, whose teams dom­i­nated Con­fer­ence USA with a free­wheel­ing, nearly unstoppable brand of of­fense led by a play­mak­ing quar­ter­back.

Sum­lin brought with him a new of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor — Kliff Kings­bury, a former star quar­ter­back at Texas Tech. And shortly af­ter Kings­burry ar­rived in Col­lege Sta­tion, he placed a call to Manziel, who had red­shirted in 2011.

Sherman had talked about play­ing Manziel a year ago, say­ing he could use the tal­ented ath­lete from Ker­rville as a wide re­ceiver or as a quar­ter­back in the wild­cat for­ma­tion. But that was lip ser­vice to fans want­ing an early glimpse of the quar­ter­back, who had risen to folk-hero sta­tus in the Hill Coun­try.

Yet, last fall, Manziel toiled as A&M’s scout team quar­ter­back. With Sherman call­ing the plays for his of­fense that was struc­tured by an NFL­type of sys­tem, Manziel was stuck be­hind Jameill Show­ers, the des­ig­nated heir ap­par­ent to Ryan Tan­nehill.

But Sum­lin went a dif­fer­ent route. He anointed the un­der­sized Manziel as his guy, pro­mot­ing the young quar­ter­back to first team in mid-Au­gust. Sum­lin then tweaked his of­fense to take ad­van­tage of Manziel’s vast, im­pro­vi­sa­tional skills.

No one has looked back and ques­tioned the move. Texas A&M, one year af­ter leav­ing the Big 12, has played out its dream sea­son, go­ing 10-2 in its first sea­son as an SEC pro­gram. And Manziel, whose elec­tric play has spawned the nick­name “Johnny Foot­ball,” stands on the verge of win­ning col­lege foot­ball’s most im­por­tant in­di­vid­ual award.

“The Heis­man — give it to him,” LSU de­fen­sive line­man Sam Mont­gomery said.

It’s all been a dizzy­ing, heart-pump­ing ride for the Ag­gies, steered pri­mar­ily by Manziel, who Lake Travis High School coach Hank Carter once likened to “Brett Favre on a mo­tor­cy­cle.”

Manziel helped A&M break the SEC’s to­tal of­fense record. He di­rected the Ag­gies to a 29-24 road up­set of de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion Alabama. In the reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale, he broke the SEC’s sin­gle­sea­son record for to­tal of­fense pre­vi­ously held by Auburn’s Cam New­ton, set in New­ton’s 2010 Heis­man-win­ning sea­son.

Sum­lin didn’t al­low his star fresh­man to speak to the me­dia un­til last week. Manziel has been on a me­dia blitz ever since, with cam­eras even find­ing him at a re­cent Dal­las Cow­boys game.

“It def­i­nitely did get a lit­tle over­whelm­ing for me and for my fam­ily as well, but it’s some­thing that you dream about,” Manziel said last week. “You dream about be­ing on the stage, and you dream about play­ing quar­ter­back any­where and be­ing in the spot­light, so it is a dream come true.”

Manziel turns 20 on Thurs­day. Ear­lier this week, he was the unan­i­mous pick as the SEC’s of­fen­sive player of the year.

He could top that Thurs­day night in Or­lando at the Col­lege Foot­ball Awards, where he’s up for both the Maxwell Award — given each year to the na­tion’s top player — and the Davey O’Brien Tro­phy, given to the coun­try’s best quar­ter­back. Be­fore the show starts, Only three un­der­class­men — de­fined as fresh­men or sopho­mores — have won the Heis­man Tro­phy, and they’ve all come within the past six years. a look at who the Heis­man has gone to, by classes: 46 18

0

3

42

1 30

4

Notre Dame, Ohio state, UsC

Ok­la­homa army, auburn, Florida, Michi­gan, Ne­braska Florida state, Ge­or­gia, Mi­ami, Navy, Texas, Wis­con­sin, Yale alabama, Bay­lor, Bos­ton Col­lege, BYU, Chicago, Colorado, Hous­ton, Iowa, LsU, Min­nesota, Ok­la­homa state, Ore­gon state, Penn state, Pitts­burgh, Prince­ton, sMU, south Carolina, stan­ford, syra­cuse, TCU, Texas a&M, UCLa ESPN will an­nounce on Sport­sCen­ter who won the Wal­ter Camp player of the year award. Manziel is one of five fi­nal­ists.

Then, it’s on to New York, where Johnny Foot­ball can be­come the first fresh­man, and only the sec­ond Ag­gie, to win a Heis­man. Notre Dame line­backer Manti Te’o and Kansas State quar­ter­back Collin Klein are the other fi­nal­ists.

Only five Ag­gies have ever fin­ished in the top10 Heis­man vot­ing, and none in more than 20 years. Only three un­der­class­men — Florida’s Tim Te­bow in 2007, Ok­la­homa’s Sam Brad­ford in 2008 and Alabama’s Mark In­gram in 2009 — have won. They were all sopho­mores.

Just by re­ceiv­ing an in­vi­ta­tion to the glitzy cer­e­mony at a Times Square the­ater, Manziel al­ready has bruised an un­writ­ten rule that says fresh­men aren’t de­serv­ing of col­lege foot­ball’s big­gest honor. Only three fresh­man have fin­ished in the top three — Ok­la­homa tail­back Adrian Peter­son (sec­ond in 2004); Vir­ginia Tech quar­ter­back Michael Vick (third in 1999) and Ge­or­gia tail­back Her­schel Walker (third in 1980).

None of Manziel’s ac­co­lades are a sur­prise to fans of the Ker­rville Tivy Antlers. When Manziel wore No. 3 on Fri­day nights, his theme mu­sic was the Chuck Berry song “Johnny B. Goode.” Fans there be­gan call­ing him “Rocket Man.” Johnny Foot­ball didn’t stick un­til he was al­ready in Col­lege Sta­tion.

Maybe Manziel’s leg­endary sta­tus started tak­ing root on his first pass as a start­ing quar­ter­back, a 50-yard touch­down throw as a sopho­more. Then there was the game where Manziel had a 76-yard touch­down run called back be­cause of an Antlers hold­ing penalty. He then scored from 80 yards out.

Mark Smith, who coached Manziel at Tivy, re­calls folks from out­side Ker­rville show­ing up to watch the quar­ter­back play.

“This one guy from Cal­i­for­nia called me be­cause he’d heard about Johnny,” said Smith, who now is the head coach of Con­verse Jud­son. “He wanted to drive over and see him play.”

Oth­ers in Ker­rville still talk about his game against Bo­erne, when a stand­ing-room-only crowd of 7,000 watched as Manziel led Tivy to a 56-24 win by scor­ing eight touch­downs — four via the pass, three rush­ing and one on a re­cep­tion. Manziel also set a state record when he at­tempted 75 passes that same sea­son against San An­to­nio Madi­son. He com­pleted 41 of them for 503 yards and four touch­downs.

Trevor Hyde, who runs the Co­manche Trace Coun­try Club out­side of Ker­rville, has known Manziel since he was born. Hyde grew up with Manziel’s fa­ther in Tyler, play­ing golf to­gether for Tyler Lee High School.

“Johnny is a typ­i­cal teen-ager. He likes his video games and he’d get into a bit of trou­ble,” Hyde said. “But he has some­thing other kids don’t have. Like his fa­ther, he has no fear of fail­ure.”

Still, Manziel didn’t at­tract a ton of early re­cruit­ing at­ten­tion from the state’s prom­i­nent pro­grams. His fa­vorite schools were Texas and TCU. Smith said he has seen sev­eral pho­tos of Manziel wear­ing Longhorns gear, stand­ing next to Texas coach Mack Brown.

Ker­rville res­i­dent Mike Neutze, then a Longhorns fan, drove Manziel to Austin from Ker­rville for a re­cruit­ing visit to Texas.

“They showed us the weight room and the prac­tice fa­cil­ity,” re­called Neutze, who says he has switched al­le­giances to A&M. “They sent the pretty girls over and then we went to our seats on the 50.”

But no schol­ar­ship of­fer came from Texas. One never came from the Horned Frogs, ei­ther. Stan­ford and Rice of­fered. So did Tulsa and Ok­la­homa State. Manziel com­mit­ted to Ore­gon to run the Ducks’ jet-paced, zone-read of­fense.

Then Tom Ross­ley, Sherman’s quar­ter­backs coach at A&M, came to town to check out Ker­rville’s Rocket Man.

Manziel im­me­di­ately ac­cepted the of­fer to play at A&M, friends say, be­cause he wanted to live close to his fa­ther, mother and younger sis­ter, who have since moved to Col­lege Sta­tion.

And once he signed, folks in Ker­rville started fore­see­ing great things.

Dur­ing a round of golf last sum­mer, Mun­cie said he “wore the arm out” of former A&M coach Dennis Fran­chione, now at Texas State, with his pound­ing pre­dic­tions that Manziel would even­tu­ally win a Heis­man.

Wally Reed, the color an­a­lyst for ra­dio broad­casts of Tivy foot­ball games, pub­licly pre­dicted a Heis­man vic­tory for Manziel on Sept. 15, when he was sit­ting at SMU’s Ford Sta­dium. That was in con­junc­tion with Manziel’s first-ever road start, when he still was a bit ten­ta­tive in stay­ing too long in the pocket, look­ing for open re­ceivers.

Reed was just fol­low­ing through on a text he and his an­nounc­ing part­ner Mark Keller sent Manziel a week ear­lier.

Reed, who used to im­plore Manziel to “take us to the moon, Rocket Man,” was in New York ear­lier this year. He stopped by the Down­town Ath­letic Club, home of the Heis­man, and had some­one snap his photo in front of the build­ing.

Reed emailed that photo, with the words “Johnny, we’re wait­ing for you,” to Manziel, Sept. 7, the night be­fore A&M opened its sea­son against Florida.

Af­ter mis­ery and a coach­ing change, then an amaz­ing jaunt through foot­ball’s finest con­fer­ence, the Heis­man now is of­fi­cially wait­ing for Manziel.

Stephen m. dow­ell / or­lando sen­tinel

Johnny Manziel ad­mits all the re­cent me­dia at­ten­tion has been a bit over­whelm­ing. But he added, ‘it’s some­thing that you dream about.’

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