It's not the one-horse town that the national media would like to paint it as, but it is a small town. It's a retirement community built into the Texas Hill Country where the streets are emptier at 8 pm than they ever are in College Station. It's better known for being the birthplace of HEB and James Avery (the jeweler, not Uncle Phil from the Fresh Prince) than for an athletics hotbed, but it does have an athletic history.
It's biggest annual events are the Folk Festival and the Texas State Arts and Crafts Fair, and the biggest thing that's happened recently before tonight was probably the city-wide debate over what to do with the downtown space formerly occupied by the hospital. For many, it's a place to park your RV during the winter months when it's too cold up north. For others it's a place to golf.
But, as of now, Kerrville, Texas is, forever, the home of College Football's first freshman Heisman Trophy Winner.
Perhaps it's fitting that A&M's first Heisman Winner since the 50's hails from Tivy High School. Short of the Catholic Church, there isn't another group in the world that believes in its traditions as intensely as Aggies do, but Tivy Antlers have their traditions as well.
In 2000, enough people complained about Tivy's new navy blue football jerseys that the school board was forced to pass a resolution stating that the official school colors were “royal blue and gold” so that current and future coaches didn't have artistic freedom with the colors.
This is a town where, in a tradition that goes back generations, the day before graduation everyone still walks up a giant hill in town known as “Tivy Mountain,” where the school's namesake, Captain Joseph Tivy is buried. (The school predates the town itself by a few years.)
But if Kerrville loves its traditions, Texas A&M worships theirs.
That's why Johnny Manziel, a player who turned Kerrville upside down, is the perfect player to win the Heisman for A&M. He's the embodiment of everything that was Texas A&M Football this season, and everything it wasn't for the last decade.
He's flashy, he has a flair for the dramatic, and he plays the game in a different way from those before him. To understand Manziel, you have to have seen him play for a while. Simply put, he's probably not surprised that he won the Heisman Trophy. He honestly believes that he's the best player on the field at all times, and that's a mindset that had been missing from Texas A&M.
To be fair, it didn't work right away. On September 8th Manziel didn't have the patience, or the trust in his teammates, to beat Florida. By November though, he had it figured out and his performance at Alabama was nothing short of brilliant. It was the best game on the biggest stage of any player this season. He put up more individual yards on Alabama than ten teams did this season.
By now, you know all about his statistics though. What most people don't know, and they're starting to figure out, is what this means for Texas A&M. A Heisman Trophy is (almost always) forever. No matter what happens in the future, Manziel is forever the first freshman to win the trophy. It's already paying off in exposure and recruiting for Texas A&M, and he hadn't even won the trophy yet.
For as much credit as Manziel deserves though, as much also goes to Kliff Kingsbury. There aren't many coaches in the world who would feel comfortable handing the reins of their offense over to a free-wheeling freshman, but that's exactly what he's done. Yes, he's helped Manziel progress in the offensive system and get better from the pocket, but he's also allowed him to do the things that make him a unique player. Without Kingsbury, and without that freedom, there probably is no “Johnny Football.” To that end, credit also goes to Kevin Sumlin for trusting Kingsbury. There certainly was no guarantee that this was going to work at all, much less lead to a Heisman Trophy season.
Work it has though, and now we're watching history unfold before our eyes. History for college football, history for Texas A&M and history for Kerrville, Texas. (I'd say history for Tyler, where Manziel went to school before moving to Kerrville, but Tyler already has a Heisman winner in Earl Campbell.)
In one season, Texas A&M has gone from one of the biggest disappointments in college football to perhaps being on the verge of becoming its next powerhouse. Kevin Sumlin has gone from Conference USA to SEC coach of the year, and now Johnny Manziel has gone from a relative unknown outside of Texas to a household name across the nation.
The scary part? He's just getting started.
It's 2010, and it's the first night of high school football in Texas, on that night my dad called me and told me that I needed to see Tivy's quarterback. He told me back then that he might be the best player he'd ever seen. That's when I know this Manziel kid was serious, because by listening to my dad, you'd think Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson had superpowers.
A few weeks later Taylor and I finally got to see Manziel up close when Tivy played Madison. In that game, Manziel threw the ball 73 times (then a state record) and danced around the field doing whatever he felt like doing against a team that had won a game on ESPN the week before.
I remember seeing then-A&M quarterbacks coach Tom Rossley laughing on the sidelines after Manziel dropped a snap, bent over and picked the ball up, and then scrambled before completing a pass over the middle. Taylor and I talked to my dad after the game, telling him that a lot of people figured that Manziel would play wide receiver at the next level.
“That's dumb, he's a quarterback.” my dad said at the time.
Turns out, as usual, my dad was right.
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