Sumlin opened door for A&M star
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
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.
Johnny Manziel admits all the recent media attention has been a bit overwhelming. But he added, ‘it’s something that you dream about.’