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Johnny Football has Aggies riding high in SEC

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Johnny Football has Aggies riding high in SEC

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) In his Hill Country hometown of Kerrville, Texas, Johnny Football never would have been known by such a specific nickname.

Johnny Manziel could also have been Johnny Baseball, maybe Johnny Golf. After all, his high school coach, Mark Smith, says ``he could have been anything he wanted to be.''

Well, at the moment, the dynamic quarterback for No. 9 Texas A&M is the toast of college football after leading his team to a road upset of then-No. 1 Alabama, the defending national champion that many expected to make another trip to the BCS title game.

All Manziel has done this season is pass for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns and run for 1,014 yards and 15 more scores. His team is 8-2 in its first SEC season and, oh yes, Manziel is a freshman - just the second in Bowl Subdivision history with 1,000 yards rushing and 2,000 passing in a season, and he's got all that even before Saturday's game against Sam Houston State.

It's been quite a whirlwind few months for the 19-year-old Manziel, who had to compete for the job in camp and wasn't named Texas A&M's starter until Aug. 15.

His work at A&M is reminiscent of his performance at Kerrville Tivy high school. As a senior there, he threw for 3,609 yards and 45 touchdowns, and added 30 more touchdowns on 1,674 yards rushing.

``It's like watching him back in high school, to be quite honest with you,'' Smith said, calling Manziel a once-in-a-lifetime player. ``The things he's doing, they don't amaze me. Maybe a little surprising it's happening this fast against the SEC competition, but it's some of the same things I've seen from him in his high school years.''

Smith and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin both say that one of the best things about Manziel is that he's unflappable. A perfect example of his poise came in the first quarter Saturday against Alabama. Manziel nearly fumbled the ball behind the line and the defense was all over him. He evaded the pressure and found Ryan Swope uncovered in the back of the end zone with a 10-yard touchdown pass.

``He's always in control,'' Smith said. ``He doesn't panic and he doesn't get frustrated. He just continues to play.''

Sumlin recruited Manziel while he was the coach at Houston, sending current A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury out to watch him play. When Kingsbury, a former standout QB at Texas Tech, brought Sumlin video of the game, he wondered why he even bothered.

``I saw the video and it was just a highlight tape,'' Sumlin said. ``I didn't have to watch very much of it. There's a couple of guys that when coaches come back and say, `Coach, you need to see this, can we offer this guy?' You watch a few plays and ask, `Why did you even show that to me? Why didn't we offer the guy when you were there?'''

Manziel passed on Houston and several other schools and verbally committed to Oregon. He'd always loved the school and was a big fan of coach Chip Kelly. But as Manziel thought more about playing there, he realized he couldn't be more than 2,000 miles away from his family, Smith said.

Smith helped him navigate that situation, and was impressed by the way he handled it. Manziel agonized over the decision to sign with A&M instead of Oregon, and Smith sat with him when he called Kelly to break the news.

``In the end, the young man made a decision on the things that he valued most and that was his family,'' Smith said. ``That says more about him than any play he could ever make on the football field.''

Sumlin doesn't allow Manziel to speak with the media because he's a freshman. It's a decision that certainly protects him, but also has left his work on the field to do the talking.

And according to those who know him best, he likes that just fine.

``He's kind of taken aback by all the attention,'' said Smith, who talked with Manziel the day after the win over Alabama. ``He just wants to be a football player. He wants to be another guy.''

As with most teenagers, glimpses into his off-the-field life can be found online. He talks about his affinity for country music, chats about upcoming tests and occasionally quotes Bible passages on Twitter. He also takes time for fun; pictures on the Internet show him at a party dressed as Scooby Doo alongside some beautiful and scantily-clad young women.

His Twitter account also hints that he might not be all that fond of being called Johnny Football. When someone mocked him for ``accepting the nickname,'' he fired back: ``How did I accept that nickname? When have you ever seen me use it?''

He also quotes 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow as part of his profile on Twitter.

``I don't know what my future holds, but I do know who holds my future,'' the quote on his page attributed to Tebow reads.

After his redshirt season last year, Manziel entered spring practice as the front-runner to nab the starting job. But a tough spring left the decision up in the air.

``In spring, he was extremely careless with the football,'' Sumlin said. ``He would make a great play and then he would give it to the defense. He's done a lot better job of handling the football and taking care of it and still creating the offense.''

Manziel didn't have a turnover against Alabama's top-ranked defense and hasn't thrown an interception in three games.

As the Aggies continue to win and Manziel's profile has grown, so have the attempts to profit off the catchy moniker. Jason Cook, Texas A&M's vice president for marketing and communications, said the university has sent more than 10 cease-and-desist letters to retailers selling products with the Johnny Football name or Manziel's likeness in the last few weeks.

The proliferation of merchandise prompted Manziel's family to start working with Texas A&M officials to try and trademark Johnny Football.

``No one is looking for profit off the mark,'' Cook said. ``It's to protect eligibility and to protect his name and likeness from being exploited by third parties.''

Another byproduct of Manziel's success is the growing talk about the Heisman Trophy.

``It's like anything else that comes with winning,'' Sumlin said. ``As you win, those types of things come.''

Some have questioned why A&M hasn't embarked on one of those in-your-face Heisman campaigns. The school is certainly promoting Manziel for the award, Cook said, but noted that he's already being talked about across the country.

``Right now, it is wall-to-wall Johnny Manziel,'' Cook said about the media coverage. ``The awareness for us is already there. Our approach is, we need to reach the right people with the right message to make the right decision. Our efforts are targeted directly at Heisman voters and the football writers.''

No freshman has ever won the award, and John David Crow is Texas A&M's only winner, back in 1957.

Cook, who was instrumental in Texas A&M's move from the Big 12 to the SEC, talked often about how the new league would bring increased exposure to the school.

``Our No. 1 decision factor was visibility, and Johnny Manziel is benefiting from that,'' Cook said.

The Aggies can thank Manziel for some visibility, too.

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3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

This one is going to go the distance.

The Washington Capitals staved off elimination on Monday with a 3-0 Game 6 win to force a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Andrei Vasilevskiy looked unbeatable for much of the game, but T.J. Oshie finally got one past the Lightning netminder on the Caps' first power play since the second period of Game 4. Devante Smith-Pelly finished them off with a third-period tally.

Game 7 will be on Wednesday with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

Here are the three stars of Game 6.

1.  T.J. Oshie: Oshie scored the goal that saved Washington's season.

The Caps were doing everything right, but they just could not get one past Vasilevskiy. Finally, Oshie struck with a one-timer from the high-slot that just managed to beat Vasilevskiy.

Oshie also added an empty-netter to ice the game away.

We will never know how close frustration came to really wearing down Washington, but it probably came closer than you think. Just seconds before Oshie's goal, John Carlson rang a blistering slap shot off the inside of the post. It was so close, the horn went off briefly, but play continued. Had Washington not been able to finish off the power play, would they have recovered or would Vasilevskiy officially have Halaked them?

2. Andrei Vasilevskiy: Don't let the score fool you, Vasilevskiy was absolutely brilliant. He really stood out in the first period when he denied great chances again and again to keep the score locked at 0-0. You knew he was on his game when he denied a great chance from Alex Ovechkin from the slot with the blocker. His best save, however, was saved for Evgeny Kuznetsov when he was on the ice and desperately extended the arm just in time to deny Kuznetsov.

Vasilevskity made a total of 32 saves in the losing effort.

3. Braden Holtby: Though he was not tested as much as his counterpart, Holtby was equally as brilliant in his 24 save performance for his fifth career playoff shutout.

The Lightning made a real push in the second and third period and some key saves by Holtby ensured the Caps did not give up the first goal or the game-tying one. The most critical save came on Anthony Cirelli in the second period with the game still tied at 0-0. A Lightning 2-on-1 resulted with Cirelli coming in all alone on Holtby, but the Caps' netminder just managed to extend the toe for the save.

Smith-Pelly had seven goals in the regular season. he has four in the playoffs. Smith-Pelly put the exclamation point on the game with his third period goal to extend the Caps' lead to 2-0.  He was set up by a phenomenal pass by Chandler Stephenson.

It was clear from the outset that the Caps wanted to be very physical in this game and Smith-Pelly really took that message to heart with 

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.