Henny Ray Abrams/Associated Press
Henny Ray Abrams/Associated Press
Johnny Football just got himself a way cooler nickname: Johnny Heisman.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, taking college football’s top individual prize Saturday night after a record-breaking debut.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o finished a distant second, and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein was third in the voting. In a Heisman race with two nontraditional candidates, Manziel broke through the class barrier and kept Te’o from becoming the first purely defensive player to win the award.
Manziel drew 474 first-place votes and 2,029 points from the panel of media members and former winners.
“I have been dreaming about this since I was a kid, running around the backyard pretending I was Doug Flutie, throwing Hail Marys to my dad,” he said after hugging his parents and kid sister.
Manziel seemed incredibly calm after his name was announced, hardly resembling the guy who dashes around the football field on Saturdays. He simply bowed his head, then later gave the trophy a quick kiss.
“I wish my whole team could be up here with me,” he said with a wide smile.
Te’o had 321 first-place votes and 1,706 points, and Klein received 60 firsts and 894 points.
Just a few days after turning 20, Manziel proved times truly have changed in college football, and that experience really can be overrated.
For years, seniors dominated the award named after John Heisman, the pioneering Georgia Tech coach from the early 1900s. In the 1980s, juniors started becoming common winners. Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win it in 2007, and two more won it in the next two seasons.
Adrian Peterson had come closest as a freshman, finishing second to Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart in 2004. But it took 78 years for a newbie to take home the big bronze statue.
Johnny Football can do it all.
Peterson was a true freshman for Oklahoma. As a redshirt freshman, Manziel attended school and practiced with the team last year but did not play in any games.
Manziel is the second player from Texas A&M to win the Heisman, joining John David Crow from 1957, and he did so without the slightest hint of preseason hype. Manziel didn’t even win the starting job until two weeks before the season.
Who needs hype when you can fill-up a highlight reel the way Manziel can?
With daring runs and elusive improvisation, Manziel broke 2010 Heisman winner Cam Netwon’s Southeastern Conference record with 4,600 total yards, led the Aggies to a 10-2 record in their first season in the SEC and orchestrated an upset at then-No. 1 Alabama in November that stamped him as legit.
Manziel has thrown for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and run for 1,181 yards and 19 more scores to become the first freshman, first SEC player and fifth player overall to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a season.
Manziel has one more game this season, when the No. 10 Aggies will play Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4.
The résumé alone fails to capture the Johnny Football phenomena. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, Manziel is master of the unexpected, darting here and there, turning plays seemingly doomed to failure into touchdowns.
His road to stardom was anything but a clear path.
Manziel competed with two other quarterbacks to replace Ryan Tannehill as the starter this season, the Aggies’ first in the SEC and first under coach Kevin Sumlin.
Manziel came out of spring practice as the backup and went to work with a private quarterback coach in the summer to better his chances of winning the job in the preseason.
It worked, but still nobody was hailing Manziel as the next big thing. Then he started playing, and the numbers started piling up.
The question was: Could Johnny Football do his thing against a top-notch opponent?
He could. And he did.
Dave Einsel/Associated Press file photo