Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel made history Saturday night by becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in the 78th presentation of college football’s most prestigious honor.
Manziel, who backed up his nickname “Johnny Football” by accounting for a school-record 43 total touchdowns and a Southeastern Conference-record 4,600 yards of total offense during a sensational freshman season, collected 2,029 points as he outdistanced Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o, who took second with 1,706 points.
Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein, the third candidate invited to attend the live ceremony at the Best Buy Theatre in Manhattan’s Times Square, finished third with 894 points.
Manziel, who projected a relaxed and confident air throughout the days leading up to the announcement, looked stunned as his name was announced and appeared to be near tears as he hugged his family members. He mouthed “Whew” as he stepped to the podium and then opened his acceptance speech with another audible sigh.
“This is a moment that I’ve dreamed about since I’ve been a kid, running around the backyard pretending I was Doug Flutie throwing Hail Marys to my Dad,” Manziel said as he motioned to Flutie, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner. “I’m so blessed to be on a stage with such a group of great guys. To be invited into this fraternity, what a pleasure it really is.”
Manziel is the sixth consecutive underclassmen to win the award, following in the footsteps of juniors Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton the last two years and sophomores Mark Ingram, Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow in 2009, 2008 and 2007.
Prior to Manziel’s victory, the highest finish for a freshman was recorded by Adrian Peterson, who was the runner-up to Matt Leinart in 2004. Only two other freshmen — Herschel Walker in 1980 and Michael Vick in 1999 — have finished in the top three in the Heisman balloting.
Manziel was the consensus favorite in the Heisman straw polls, and he seemed relaxed and at ease with the attention bestowed upon him during a whirlwind week in which he won the Davey O’Brien Award (given to the nation’s top quarterback) in Orlando Thursday — the same day he turned 20 years old — before jetting to the Big Apple.
In a sign that he’d be the center of attention later in the evening, Manziel was the second player introduced at Saturday’s pre-ceremony press conference and sat in between Klein — whom he greeted with a pat on the shoulder as he walked past — and Te’o.
Manziel said Saturday he wasn’t nervous at all in anticipation of the ceremony and in fact used his first night in New York City to catch up on sleep.
“This week’s been pretty hectic for me, flying all over the place,” Manziel said. “So it was nice to sleep until 8 o’clock.”
Manziel took control of the Heisman race Nov. 10, when he threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns as the Aggies stunned then-top-ranked Alabama 29-24 in what was the signature win for a program re-emerging into national prominence. With a win over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl Jan. 4, the Aggies (10-2) will almost certainly finish in the top 10 in the polls for the first time since 1994.
“(Aggies) fans love their football, regardless of how good you are, and even more now that we won 10 games this year,” Manziel said.
“The program’s really buzzing. You see people in other places wearing Texas A&M gear. You don’t really see that.
“I like being the face of the team, for sure. For me to be here representing my teammates like this, it’s an awesome feeling for me.”
Now the big question for Manziel is what will he do for an encore? Can he become only the second player ever to win multiple Heisman Trophy awards, following in the footsteps of Archie Griffin (1974-75)? Or can he lead Texas A&M to its first national title since 1939?
“This should motivate you to work even harder,” Manziel said earlier Saturday. “I think the goal for us moving forward as a team, as a program, looking ahead, is to win a national championship. That’s going to be the main focus of our whole team.
Duncan Steel | Elite.
Top Photo Credit: Getty Images