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Manziel is first freshman to win Heisman Trophy

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Manziel is first freshman to win Heisman Trophy

NEW YORK (AP) He's Johnny Best in Football now - and a freshman, at that.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first newcomer to win the Heisman Trophy, taking college football's top individual prize Saturday night after a record-breaking debut.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o finished a distant second in the voting and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein was third. In a Heisman race with two nontraditional candidates, Manziel broke through the class ceiling and kept Te'o from becoming the first purely defensive player to win the award.

``That barrier's broken now,'' Manziel said. ``It's starting to become more of a trend that freshmen are coming in early and that they are ready to play. And they are really just taking the world by storm.''

None more than the guy they call Johnny Football.

Manziel drew 474 first-place votes and 2,029 points from the panel of media members and former winners. Te'o had 321 first-place votes and 1,706 points and Klein received 60 firsts and 894 points.

``I have been dreaming about this since I was a kid, running around the backyard pretending I was Doug Flutie, throwing Hail Marys to my dad,'' he said after hugging his parents and kid sister.

Flutie was one of many Heisman winners standing behind Manziel as he gave his speech on stage at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square.

``I always wanted to be in a fraternity,'' Manziel said later. ``Now I get to be in the most prestigious one in the entire world.''

Manziel was so nervous waiting for the winner to be announced, he wondered if the television cameras could see his heart pounding beneath his navy blue pinstripe suit. But he seemed incredibly calm after, hardly resembling the guy who dashes around the football field on Saturday. He simply bowed his head, and later gave the trophy a quick kiss.

``It's such an honor to represent Texas A&M, and my teammates here tonight. I wish they could be on the stage with me,'' he said with a wide smile, concluding his speech like any good Aggie: ``Gig' em.''

Just a few days after turning 20, Manziel proved times have truly changed in college football, and that experience can be really overrated.

For years, seniors dominated the award named after John Heisman, the pioneering Georgia Tech coach from the early 1900s. In the 1980s, juniors started becoming common winners. Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win it in 2007, and two more won it in the next two seasons.

Adrian Peterson had come closest as a freshman, finishing second to Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart in 2004. But it took 78 years for a newbie to take home the big bronze statue.

``It doesn't matter anymore,'' he said.

Peterson was a true freshman for Oklahoma. As a redshirt freshmen, Manziel attended school and practiced with the team last year, but did not play in any games.

He's the second player from Texas A&M to win the Heisman, joining John David Crow from 1957, and did so without the slightest hint of preseason hype. Manziel didn't even win the starting job until two weeks before the season.

Who needs hype when you can fill-up a highlight reel the way Manziel can?

With daring runs and elusive improvisation, Manziel broke 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton's Southeastern Conference record with 4,600 total yards, led the Aggies to a 10-2 in their first season in the SEC and orchestrated an upset at then-No. 1 Alabama in November that stamped him as legit.

He has thrown for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and run for 1,181 yards and 19 more scores to become the first freshman, first SEC player and fifth player overall to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a season.

``You can put his numbers up against anybody who has ever played the game,'' Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Manziel has one more game this season, when the No. 10 Aggies play Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4.

As for the Heisman, Manziel said he'd like to keep it right next to his bed.

``But I'm in college. A lot of people come through the house. We live in a college neighborhood. It might not be a good idea. If I can get a case that's indestructible, locked and looks pretty good, we'll see where I keep it,'' he said.

The resume alone fails to capture the Johnny Football phenomena. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Manziel is master of the unexpected, darting here and there, turning plays seemingly doomed to failure into touchdowns.

Take, for example, what he did in the first quarter against the Crimson Tide. Manziel took a shotgun snap, stepped up in the pocket as if he was about to take off on another made scramble and ran into the back a lineman. On impact, Manziel bobbled the ball, caught it with his back to the line of scrimmage, turned, rolled the opposite direction and fired a touchdown pass - throwing across his body - to a wide-open receiver.

He might as well have been back in Kerrville, Texas, where he became a hill country star in high school.

His road to college stardom was anything but a clear path.

Manziel competed with two other quarterbacks to replace Ryan Tannehill as the starter this season, the Aggies' first in the SEC and first under Sumlin.

Manziel came out of spring practice as the backup, but became the starter in August.

Still, nobody was hailing him is the next big thing. Did Sumlin think he had a Heisman winner on his hands?

``No,'' he said emphatically, adding, ``Not this year.''

Then Manziel started playing and the numbers started piling up.

He also had some struggles against Florida in the season opener and in a home loss to LSU. The question was: Could he do his thing against a top-notch opponent?

The answer came in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 10. Going into the matchup against the Crimson Tide, Manziel said he and his teammates heard a lot of doubters.

``You can't do this and you can't do that,'' he recalled Saturday at the podium

Manziel passed for 253 yards, ran for 92 and the Aggies beat the Tide 29-24. Klein had been the front-runner for most of the season, but Manziel surged after beating `Bama.

Still, Manziel was still something of a mystery man. Sumlin's rules prohibit freshmen from being available to the media. Manziel was off-limits, but not exactly silent.

Manziel gave glimpses of himself on social media - including some memorable pictures of him dressed up as Scooby-Doo for Halloween with some scantily clad young women.

Before he became a celebrity, Manziel got himself into some serious trouble. In June, he was arrested in College Station after police said he was involved in a fight and produced a fake ID. He was charged with disorderly conduct and two other misdemeanors.

After the season, Texas A&M took the reins off Manziel and made him available for interviews, allowing him to tell his own tale.

Though in the end, his play said it all.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

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Recent numbers indicate just how hard it could be for Antonio Gandy-Golden to help as a rookie

Recent numbers indicate just how hard it could be for Antonio Gandy-Golden to help as a rookie

There were already some decent expectations placed on Antonio Gandy-Golden for 2020 — and then Kelvin Harmon went down. Now, the Day 3 selection is being labeled as someone who needs to really contribute to the Washington Football Team.

But is that too much to ask for a rookie who went on Saturday in the draft? Recent numbers indicate that answer may be yes.

From 2015 to 2019, 25 wide receivers were chosen in the fourth round, which is where Washington nabbed Gandy-Golden a few months ago. Here are some takeaways from looking back on how all of those guys performed in their first professional seasons:

  • Only one target topped 50 catches and 600 yards, and coincidentally enough, it was Jamison Crowder. Crowder caught 59 passes for 604 yards and two scores as a rookie for the Burgundy and Gold in 2015. The only other guy who came close to either of those marks was Antonio Callaway, who had 43 grabs for 586 yards and five touchdowns for Cleveland in 2018. Those are easily the two best performances by a fourth-round rookie wideout since 2015, so keep that in mind when discussing Gandy-Golden.
  • Out of that group of 25, 15 suited up for double-digit games for their teams during their first taste of the league. The average stat line for those 15 rookies was 17 receptions for 182 yards and one touchdown in about 14 contests. That's meager. 
  • Just nine out of the 25 recorded a touchdown catch as a rookie, and only four (Crowder, Callaway, DaeSean Hamilton and Malcom Mitchell) visited the end zone multiple times.

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So, judging solely off of that data, it would appear that Washington shouldn't be prepared to lean heavily Gandy-Golden. And once you combine that history with other factors, such as the huge transition he's about to make from Libery to the NFL and the very limited offseason he's had thus far, then the outlook for Gandy-Golden becomes even dimmer.

There is a super simple counter argument, however, at least when it comes to comparing him to his past fourth-round peers, and it has to do with his potential playing time.

While the 22-year-old has to fight through a pandemic, something none of the above rookies can relate to and something that could be detrimental to his early career, he also may be in line for a massive share of snaps right away. Most players who go off the board where Gandy-Golden did are usually worried about simply making the team; he, on the other hand, very well could be a starter across from Terry McLaurin in Week 1.

That alone means Gandy-Golden could end up having enough involvement in the offense to come up with a Crowder-like, impactful debut. In 2019, McLaurin far surpassed other third-round rookie receivers due largely to the amount of opportunity he got with Washington (his ridiculous talent was a bonus of course, too). Gandy-Golden is tracking on a similar path. 

A fairly general rule for any franchise is that it's not exactly prudent to need a Day 3 pass catcher to immediately act as one of your primary weapons. Stats from 2015 to 2019 seem to back up that general rule.

Every rule has an exception here or there, though. Maybe Gandy-Golden, with his outstanding physical traits and possibly featured role in 2020, will be that next exception and make all this math and comparing a totally moot issue. 

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Bradley Beal thinks Rui Hachimura will be a small forward long-term

Bradley Beal thinks Rui Hachimura will be a small forward long-term

Whether it actually matters is debatable, but what position Rui Hachimura best profiles for long-term has been a point of contention among fans and media members ever since he was drafted by the Wizards ninth overall last summer. He is what not long ago would be described as a 'tweener,' or somewhat of a cross between a small forward and a power forward.

Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal has put some thought into it and has now weighed in. He thinks Hachimura will be a small forward.

"Honestly, I think Rui is going to end up being a three. When his career is over with, he's going to end up playing the three," Beal explained during Sunday's Wizards-Nets broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

"I don't know what that's going to look like next year or what we're going to jump to, but you can see spurts of it. You can see he can handle the ball, he's comfortable with handling the ball. Obviously, we can improve that and make that better. He shoots the three comfortably."

That last point could probably be picked apart a bit and it does hold some importance in the argument. If Hachimura is indeed going to be a small forward, he will need to add some perimeter skills to his game.

Three-point shooting would be included in there and so far there certainly seems to be room for improvement. This season, he is shooting just 27 percent from three on 1.7 attempts per game. 

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In the three games the Wizards have played in Orlando, Hachimura is 0-for-1 from long range. He didn't attempt any threes at all in their first two games of the restart.

The reason why it is an interesting debate is Hachimura doesn't fit the traditional norms for either the three or four position. And that could be a good thing, as former teammate C.J. Miles pointed out in November. When you don't match up perfectly with opponents in any specific position, sometimes that means you are a mismatch for anyone who is guarding you.

Beal himself went on to rave about Hachimura's versatility.

"He's super athletic, so he can use his size to post up. So, the versatility is there. It's just a matter of what we want to mold him into," Beal said. "I think the sky's the limit. He has the ability, he has the work ethic, so I'm definitely excited to see."

RELATED: NBA PLAYERS BRING UP KAWHI COMPARISONS DESPITE RUI'S ROUGH GAME

Hachimura not having a true position could be an advantage. What the Wizards will need to determine, however, is how to complement his skillset with other players as they continue to build their roster. 

Whether Hachimura is a three, a four or even a small-ball five, the best way to maximize his strengths will be to fill in the gaps around him. Putting a rim protector alongside him, for instance, would allow him to roam and switch on defense. Having teammates who space the floor will create openings in the midrange, where he is very effective scoring the ball.

Those involve more important questions than what position Hachimura will ultimately be defined by. But it's still a fun debate to have and now even Beal has been drawn into it.

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