Johnny Manziel ran for almost 1,700 yards and 30 touchdowns as a dual-threat quarterback his senior year of high school at Kerrville Tivy.
Who would have thought he’d be even more impressive at Texas A&M when pitted against the defenses of the Southeastern Conference?
On Tuesday, Manziel picked up another major award for his spectacular debut season. He was voted The Associated Press Player of the Year. As with the Heisman Trophy and Davey O’Brien Award that Manziel already won, the QB nicknamed Johnny Football is the first freshman to collect the AP award.
Manziel’s 31 votes were more than twice that of second place finisher Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s start linebacker. He is the third straight Heisman-winning quarterback to receive the honor, following Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton.
Manziel erased initial doubts about his ability when he ran for 60 yards and a score in his first game against Florida.
“I knew I could run the ball, I did it a lot in high school,” Manziel said in an interview with the AP. “It is just something that you don’t get a chance to see in the spring. Quarterbacks aren’t live in the spring. You don’t get to tackle. You don’t get to evade some of the sacks that you would in normal game situations. So I feel like when I was able to avoid getting tackled, it opened some people’s eyes a little bit more.”
The 6-foot-1 Manziel threw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and ran for 1,181 yards and 19 more scores to help the Aggies win 10 games for the first time since 1998 — and in their inaugural SEC year, too.
Ryan Tannehill, Manziel’s predecessor now with the Dolphins after being drafted eighth overall this season, saw promise from the young quarterback last year when he was redshirted. But even he is surprised at how quickly things came together for Manziel.
“It’s pretty wild. I always thought he had that playmaking ability, that something special where if somebody came free, he can make something exciting happen,” Tannehill said. “I wasn’t really sure if, I don’t think anyone was sure if he was going to be able to carry that throughout an SEC season, and he’s shocked the world and he did it.”
After Manziel sat out as a redshirt in 2011, Texas A&M’s scheduled season-opener against Louisiana Tech this year was postponed because of Hurricane Isaac. That left him to get his first taste of live defense in almost two years against Florida.
He responded well, helping the Aggies race to a 17-7 lead early using both his arm and his feet. The Gators shut down Manziel and A&M’s offense in the second half and Texas A&M lost 20-17.
But Manziel’s performance was enough for Texas A&M’s coaching staff to realize that his scrambling ability was going to be a big part of what the Aggies could do this season.
“The first half really showed that I was a little bit more mobile than we had seen throughout the spring,” Manziel said. “Me and (then-offensive coordinator) Kliff Kingsbury sat down and really said: ‘Hey we can do some things with my feet as well as throwing the ball.’ And it added a little bit of a new dimension.”
Manziel knew that the biggest adjustment from playing in high school to college would be the speed of the game. Exactly how quick players in the SEC were was still a jolt to the quarterback.
“The whole first drive I was just seeing how fast they really flew to the ball and I felt like they just moved a whole lot faster,” he said of the Florida game. “It was different than what I was used to, different than what I was used to in high school. So it was just having to learn quick and adjust on the fly.”