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Column: Johnny Football should be Johnny Heisman

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Column: Johnny Football should be Johnny Heisman

Johnny Football finally got a chance to speak Monday.

This was it, our first opportunity to hear from the quarterback himself why he feels he should win the Heisman Trophy.

Turns out, he's not much of a lobbyist.

Off the charts when he's got that ol' pigskin in his hands, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel sounds like just another boring QB when asked about his chances of becoming the first freshman to claim college football's highest individual honor.

He says it would be ``a dream come true.'' (Boooring!) He says ``whatever is meant to happen will happen.'' (Give this man an award for cliches.) He deflects credit to his teammates and coaches, pointing out time and time again that none of his success would be possible without those around him. (Wake us when he's done.)

That's OK. Nothing more really needs to be said.

Johnny Football, meet Johnny Heisman.

With a nod to Notre Dame defensive star Manti Te'o, a dominating linebacker with a bittersweet back story, Manziel's numbers are simply too outlandish to be denied.

- He's rushed for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns.

- He's thrown for 3,419 yards and another two dozen TDs.

- He's already surpassed Cam Newton's totals from two years ago by 273 yards (in two fewer games), and the former Auburn quarterback won the award in a landslide.

Manziel deserves a similar rout.

``The way Johnny has performed this season, the numbers speak for themselves,'' said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who had barred Manziel from talking to reporters until Monday. ``He's a tremendous competitor, a tremendous leader. That's something you really don't see in a player as a redshirt freshman. But all his leadership - on and off the field, all throughout the season - made our season a real special one.''

Sumlin's policy of denying media privileges to all his freshmen, even those like Manziel who are in their second year of school, has only added to the mystique.

Here was a guy with the cool nickname and enough highlights to fill his own YouTube channel, but we didn't really know anything else about him other than what was in the biography. The small-town Texas kid who initially committed to Oregon but really wanted to play in the Lone Star State, who signed with the Aggies when Mike Sherman was the coach but didn't get a chance to play until Sumlin took over the job.

Otherwise, our impressions were formed by what he did with the helmet on.

How he ran circles around opposing defenses, how he threw touchdown passes off the wrong foot, how he chased down and tackled two Louisiana Tech players after a turnover, how he led the Aggies to a surprising 10-win season in their Southeastern Conference debut, including an upset of mighty Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Now, after an hour-long conference call with media from all over the country, we know a little more.

Manziel is cool with the nickname. He enjoys playing video games, including the college football version, though apparently not so much as himself. He's still getting used to all the attention he receives when he does something as simple as going out to dinner.

``I don't see myself as Johnny Football. I see myself as Johnathan Manziel,'' he says. ``When people want to take my picture or ask for an autograph, I'm shocked by it. I'm not used to the whole thing, even though it's kind of becoming a daily thing.''

He tries to avoid watching highlights of himself, like the ones posted in countless tribute videos, or the more humorous attempts to pay homage to his growing legend. No, he hasn't seen the video by the woman old enough to be his mother, who croons to the camera with her own version of early-1960s hit ``Johnny Angel'' while surrounded by Aggies gear.

``Johnny Football, how we love him,'' she warbles. ``He's got something Aggies can't resist. And he doesn't even know impossible exists.''

In other seasons, when the race wasn't so clear-cut, Te'o might've been positioned to join Charles Woodson as only the second defensive player to capture the Heisman.

The Notre Dame senior certainly has the stats to back up his candidacy (103 tackles and seven interceptions), but there's so much more to his resume.

He's the undisputed leader on the nation's top-ranked team, a major reason the Fighting Irish went unbeaten in the regular season for the first time since 1988 and landed a spot in the national championship game against either Alabama or Georgia. It's hard not to shed a tear every time he makes a big play, either, remembering how he's still dealing with the grief of losing both his grandmother (who died after a long illness) and his girlfriend (who succumbed to leukemia) just a few hours apart on an awful day back in September.

A special season, to be sure.

But Manziel's debut season goes beyond that. It's transformational, like the first time you saw Herschel Walker flatten a defensive back, or Michael Vick cutting this way and that on one play, then unleashing a 70-yard pass on the next.

It's beyond Heisman-worthy.

``This is something you dream about as a kid,'' Manziel said. ``When you're playing those NCAA (video) games as a kid, you create players who can win the Heisman by putting up some crazy numbers.''

When he used to dream up his perfect player for that make-believe world, it looked more like Newton.

You know, 6-foot-6, about 250 pounds, stronger and faster than anyone else on the field.

In real life, Manziel didn't turn out that way. He's just a smidgen over 6-foot. He tips the scales at around 200 pounds. Solid, but not imposing.

``I did get tackled a couple of times and heard people say, `You're really small' or `You're not as big as we thought,''' Manziel conceded.

Turns out, he was better than the guy on the video game.

The one with the Heisman.

---

Paul Newberry in a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Rui Hachimura is a 'late bloomer' in basketball, but the Washington Wizards like that

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USA Today Sports

Rui Hachimura is a 'late bloomer' in basketball, but the Washington Wizards like that

Rui Hachimura was introduced to the sport of basketball at 13 years old after spending his childhood on the baseball diamond, emulating Ichiro Suzuki, as many kids in Japan do. Just eight years later, Hachimura has charted his own path as the first Japanese-born lottery pick in the NBA after the Washington Wizards drafted him at No. 9 overall.

That trajectory is important to note when considering Hachimura's age. He is 21 years old, which is on the older side for an NBA draft prospect in the age of one-and-dones. But, you could say he's only eight in basketball years.

That's not a technical term used by NBA front office executives, but the fact Hachimura is a "late bloomer" was one of the biggest selling points for the Wizards. That's how interim team president Tommy Sheppard described him on several occasions the night of the draft and the day after. And even majority owner Ted Leonsis referenced it when asked about the pick in an interview with the Washington Times over the weekend.

While reason may suggest a younger player has higher upside, the Wizards are looking beyond simple age. In Hachimura, they believe they have a player who could benefit from not having the year-round strain of AAU basketball in his past.

"When you come to the game a little bit later, maybe you don't have some bad habits that you accumulate. You don't have a lot of extra miles," Sheppard said. 

"Those kinds of things resonate with us. You have to be healthy to play in the NBA, and there are so many players in this particular draft that for whatever reason, there are a lot of sad faces tonight because I think medical held a lot of people back. He has a clean bill of health, and that's exciting to us."

Sheppard could have been referencing any number of prospects who carried the label as an injury risk into draft night. With the ninth overall pick, the Wizards took Hachimura over Duke's Cam Reddish, who has several red flags, injuries among them. In the second round, they passed on Oregon's Bol Bol, who had a stress fracture in his foot, in favor of Admiral Schofield.

But health isn't the only potential benefit of picking up the game at a later age. Sheppard alluded to the development of bad habits. He thinks Hachimura is more of a blank canvas for the coaching staff and that could work in their favor long-term.

Sheppard made a comparison for Hachimura that was interesting for several reasons.

"With [Raptors forward] Pascal Siakam, you see what happens when guys come to the game a little late and what he was able to do. It's not the same, but if you ask me of someone who's story his reminds me of, it could remind you of something like that," Sheppard said.

Siakam's name was invoked over and over during the pre-draft process but more often to draw a parallel for Sekou Doumbouya of France. Sheppard was more so comparing the development track for Hachimura than the playing style, but it holds some weight.

There have been some famous cases of late bloomers in NBA history. Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Joel Embiid reportedly didn't start playing basketball until high school.

Duncan may be a good example of avoiding bad habits, as he is considered one of the most fundamentally sound players of all time. Olajuwon might be the most skilled big man in NBA history, and Embiid has a chance to become an all-time great.

What gives the Wizards hope that Hachimura will reach his potential and someday enjoy breakout success like Siakam has is his work ethic. The Wizards did deep background research on Hachimura, including through discussions with his college coach, Mark Few of Gonzaga.

They believe they found something in Hachimura that other teams may have overlooked.

"The things that you hope for and that you're optimistic about, they seem to be there. So, we're excited about that," Sheppard said. "It's really up to Rui and how bad do you want to be good?"

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US in the World Cup quarterfinals after 2-1 win over Spain

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US in the World Cup quarterfinals after 2-1 win over Spain

REIMS, France -- Megan Rapinoe converted a pair of penalty kicks and the United States set up a much-anticipated quarterfinal meeting with host France at the Women's World Cup with a 2-1 victory over Spain on Monday.

Rapinoe's first came in the seventh minute to the cheers of the U.S. supporters melting in temperatures that reached nearly 90 degrees at the Stade Auguste-Delaune. They were quieted a short time later when Jennifer Hermoso tied it up for Spain with the first goal the Americans had allowed in France.

Video review was used to confirm a foul on Rose Lavelle that gave the pink-haired captain the game-winner in the 75th minute, spoiling Spain's spirited effort in its first knockout-round appearance at a World Cup.

"That’s World Cup-level grit right there," Rapinoe said on the Fox Sports broadcast. "You can’t replicate it. You can’t teach it. We told each other during the game we needed to go up a level. They (the matches) only get harder and more intense from here. Everybody’s playing for their lives."

The defending champions head to Paris to face France on Friday night. The French defeated Brazil 2-1 in extra time Sunday night, with Amandine Henry scoring the game-winner in the 107th minute.