In 1980 Herschel Walker couldn't do it (3rd), and in 1999 Michael Vick couldn't do it (3rd). In 2004, it finally looked possible, but not even the record-breaking Adrian Peterson could do it. The fact that those players couldn't claim the Heisman Trophy as freshmen has led to a long standing belief, as CBS' Chris Huston calls it, a Heismandment, that no freshman could win the Heisman.
Well, as crazy as it sounds, none of those freshmen were Johnny Manziel.
No freshman in FBS history has gained as many yards as the galloping Antler from Kerrville, and Manziel still has a game to go. If he gains 166 yards against Missouri, then he'll pass Cam Newton's SEC total yardage record. Think about that for a second. Manziel has put up numbers as a freshman that no player in the history of the SEC has done.
He's the first freshman, the first SEC player, and only the fifth player of all time to have for 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing in a season. And again, he's not done yet.
But what makes Manziel the Heisman frontrunner aren't just his numbers. It's his absolutely electrifying style of play. Coming out of Tivy High School, nobody thought Manziel would be able to toy with defenses like he did in high school, but that's exactly what he's done.Two years ago Manziel averaged 296.6 yards passing and 146 yards rushing in UIL District 28-4A, this year he averages 277 yards passing and 101 yards rushing in the Southeastern Conference.
Never has a more perfect nickname been created for a player than “Johnny Football.” It's perfect because he approaches the quarterback position in a different way than everyone else, and that's why the most impressive thing about Manziel's season is his development.
He's learned to play quarterback in Kliff Kingsbury's “Air Raid” offense, but at the same time he's forced A&M's offensive coordinator Kingsbury to learn Johnny Football. He's forced wide receivers to learn how to break off routes and come back for blocks. He's forced lineman to learn that there is absolutely no limit to how long they might have to block on a play. In return, he's learned to trust his teammates more throughout the season.
In game one he hesitated to throw the ball at all, and quite frankly his play in the second half was the reason A&M couldn't move the ball. Florida loaded the box, made Manziel throw from the pocket, and he couldn't beat them.
Nine games later, Nick Saban and Alabama tried the same thing, and Manziel torched them.
His season is the best in the country not despite the fact that he's a freshman, but because of it. He wasn't the nation's best player when the season started, but he's certainly its best player here at the finish.
Manziel is the embodiment of everything Texas A&M is this season. When the season started he, and the Aggies, were clouded in mystery and entering the treacherous waters of the SEC. They lost to Florida with a dismal second half. They narrowly avoided a huge comeback by Louisiana Tech, and were a few plays away from falling to Ole Miss.
But now, it's mid-November and you could argue that nobody in the country is playing better football.
Collin Klein's Waterloo came on the Brazos, and Kenjon Barner ran into the stout Stanford defense. Manti Te'o is probably Manziel's next best challenger, but unless Manziel is just horrible on Saturday, the race should be over.
Saturday Night Manziel has his last chance to show the country why he deserves the trophy, and he doesn't have to go out and put on a Herculean performance to win it. His numbers already speak for themselves, and his highlights already speak for themselves. He can just go out and play his game.
Saturday Night, every college football fan in the nation should gather around the TV and watch history in the making. Because never before has a freshman won the Heisman trophy, but never before has there been a freshman like Johnny Manziel.
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