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Johnny “Football” Manziel Becomes First Freshman to Win the Heisman Trophy

Johnny Football wins the Heisman! When Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel stepped into the Heisman spotlight on Saturday he wore wide grin. But when his name was announced as the winner of the 78th Heisman Trophy, his mouth was agape.

Manziel, 20, became the first freshman to win college football’s most prestigious award when the results were announced at Manhattan’s Best Buy Theater.

A few freshmen came close. Usually they were players with athletic talent beyond their years, Herschel Walker in 1980, Adrian Peterson in 2004, and Michael Vick, to whom Manziel is often compared, in 1999. Each was beat out by upperclassmen, and effectively told to wait their turn.

Not Manziel.

“I always had the mind-set: I want to be the biggest person in this offense and I want to be the catalyst, and the person that makes this thing run,” he said Friday during a round-table discussion with the news media.

Manziel beat out Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who was looking to become the first strictly defensive player to win the award, and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.

Just months ago — before he emerged from relative obscurity — his Coach Kevin Sumlin had colored him careless with the football and his father, John Paul, said he was immature.

Amid a quarterback competition, Manziel struggled in spring practice, though Sumlin’s offense was similar to what he ran in high school. Then in June, he was arrested after a fight outside a bar College Station, Tex., and then giving the police a fake ID.

He recognized he needed help and met with the quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. to streamline his throwing mechanics, particularly on the run. By September, he was the starter for Texas A&M, still serving his punishment for the arrest, still appeasing Sumlin.

Yet, his name would not have registered much interest outside Texas.

Early in the season, he was rushing his game, taking off on the run at the first sign of trouble, instead of waiting patiently to throw. Florida and Louisiana State, two top-10 Southeastern Conference teams, corralled him and beat Texas A&M. A photo of him dressed as Scooby Doo with a scantily clad woman at a Halloween party went viral.

With each week, though, he matured, kept calm, and his reputation — as the fun-to-watch, running gunslinger known as Johnny Football — and swagger grew. So did a mystique. A team rule prohibited first-year players from speaking to the news media. The public could only judge him by his gyrating, chest-thumping, exhilarating plays.

“He’s a human video game, that’s my description of Johnny Football,” said Te’o, who then imagined what that would be like and added, “You just run circles with him as a quarterback and then you can either bomb it, or just outrun everybody and score.”

Manziel did something like that to Alabama, who was ranked No. 1 and undefeated when Manziel produced 345 total yards, two touchdowns, a 29-24 upset, and enough gutsy plays that everyone would remember his name. His coaches were thrilled with more modest steps, like how he aptly audibled at the line of scrimmage.

“His approach to the game has never been that of a freshman,” Kliff Kingsbury, Manziel’s offensive coordinator, said. “He never thought the moment was too big, he never looked intimidated, he never felt like he didn’t belong.”

He added: “With the tenacity and the fearlessness that he showed, that’s really contagious. You could just see it, the rest of the offense say, O.K., this guy, every time he takes a snap, we’re going to have a chance to do something great.”

The great moments piled up, and Manziel became the first freshman to throw for more than 3,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards in the same season. His 4,600 total yards were more than recent Heisman winners, Cam Newton (2010) and Tim Tebow (2007).


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By TIM ROHAN, From the New York Times

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