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Manziel, Klein take in 'surreal' awards atmosphere

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Manziel, Klein take in 'surreal' awards atmosphere

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) College football's biggest single night for awards is set for Thursday, and two of the most talked about players said the spotlight may be the most difficult they've endured.

Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel and senior Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein headlined a group of several finalists who addressed the media Wednesday after arriving at Disney World in advance of the awards show.

Manziel and Klein, along with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, have already been selected finalists for college football's prized Heisman Trophy, which will be presented Saturday in New York.

The trio will be in the spotlight before that on Thursday, though. They are all finalists for another coveted player of the year honor, the Maxwell Award. Manziel and Klein also are both up for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, along with Ohio State's Braxton Miller.

Manziel said the experience has been eye opening for not only him, but the family members that accompanied him.

``It's been surreal for them as well. They're getting overwhelmed just as much as I am,'' said Manziel, who turns 20 on Thursday. ``The thing they're doing is they're just enjoying it. They're just sort of living through me and enjoying the trip, coming to Orlando and then New York... I'm happy for my family getting a chance to do all of this with me.''

Te'o and Miller didn't arrive in Florida on Wednesday. But they will be in town for Thursday night's award show.

The Maxwell Award has been a predictor of Heisman winners in recent years, with Maxwell recipients Cam Newton (2010) and Tim Tebow (2007) going on to win the Heisman.

Known for his understated demeanor while at Kansas State, Klein seemed a lock to take the Heisman before the then-No. 1 Wildcats lost to Baylor 52-24 on Nov. 17.

But the guy who's earned the nickname ``Optimus Klein'' lived up to it after helping his team rebound and earn a convincing win over Texas last week to secure the second Big 12 championship in Kansas State's history. The Wildcats will meet Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.

He said he hasn't let himself get caught up in much of the off-field hype that grew around him as Kansas State found success this season.

``I think my motivation toward this game and for my performance is deeper than that,'' Klein said. ``I know what truly motivates me and a lasting human motivation is going to be more out of a love and a passion of what you're doing and who you're doing it for and why you're doing it, more than trying to prove someone wrong.''

Manziel, known as ``Johnny Football'' is considered by some to be the Heisman front-runner following his late-season exploits leading the Aggies to five straight victories, a 10-2 mark and Cotton Bowl berth in their first Southeastern Conference campaign.

Playing a free-wheeling brand of football that was often built on improvisation leading coach Kevin Sumlin's spread offense, Manziel also nearly single-handedly derailed Alabama's chance of defending its national championship when he propelled his team to a 29-24 upset over the former top-ranked Crimson Tide.

He also passed for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and posted an SEC-record 4,600 yards of total offense on his way to being named a unanimous choice for Associated Press SEC offensive player of the year.

Manziel maintains that he still feels like the same kid from Tyler, Texas that came to Texas A&M just wanting to fulfill his dreams of playing college football.

Now, the only thing Manziel won't have on his side is a little history if he hopes to hoist the Heisman.

Three sophomores have won it, including Tebow in 2007, Sam Bradford in 2008 and Mark Ingram in 2009. The best a first-year player has ever done is second.

``Looking back in August and at the way the media thought us to be, there were so many question marks around our team,'' Manziel said. ``I think the best thing that we did was that we grew each week. We got better and better as the season went on. And the way our offensive line played, the way our receivers jelled - I got to benefit from that.

``So without them I wouldn't be sitting here right now.''

He also has the endorsement from an unlikely source with Alabama cornerback and Thorpe Award finalist Dee Milliner saying that if he had a Heisman vote, he'd pick Manziel.

Te'o will arrive in town having already picked up some hardware this week, after being presented with one honor for the nation's top defensive player. He received the Bronco Nagurski Award on Monday, given by the Football Writers Association of America.

Te'o will look for his second top defensive player award Thursday as a nominee for the Chuck Bednarik Trophy.

The Notre Dame defensive leader has inspired his teammates on an off the field, playing on following in-season deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend. Te'o will now get to play for the national championship that Klein missed out on when the Fighting Irish play Alabama in the BCS title game.

In receiving the Nagurski award, Te'o put his focus almost entirely on that Jan. 7 matchup.

``If you ask people who the Butkus Award or the Bednarik Award winners are, or even the Heisman Trophy winner some years, they probably don't remember them,'' Te'o said this week. ``But they remember who won the national championship. They remember that. That's the trophy everybody wants.''

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/khightower

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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

Injuries and a suspension to Tom Wilson have kept things interesting for Todd Reirden in his first season as head coach of the Capitals.

At first, that meant figuring out an optimal lineup out of the players who were still available. But now there will be another challenge Reirden faces as the team continues to get healthy and that’s figuring out who to take out of the lineup.

On Tuesday, that player was Burakovsky.

“I just felt like going into [Tuesday’s] game that the other players had taken more advantage of the opportunity than he had recently,” Reirden said before Tuesday’s game. “For me, it's a rewards/earned ice time situation where there's a lot of competition. What happens is when players get opportunities and they play well, then it creates competition. Some have to win, some have to lose in that competition. Right now, that's what we've chosen to go with.”

Burakovsky’s career has been plagued by up-and-down play and scoring slumps. For the season, he has managed only eight points in 29 games. He did manage to score the game-winner against Arizona on Dec. 6, but that goal came after two very lackluster period of play by him.

“It's part of sports, I guess,” Burakovsky said Wednesday. “It is a tough sport. You're competing against the best players in the world. That's just how it is right now and I've just got to battle through it.”

Burakovsky has been cycled throughout the lineup this season, but has not gained any traction with any line or with any particular linemates so far. Thus, a player with top-six skill finds himself on the outside looking in at the lineup.

“I think guys on the team has been playing really well and deserve to play and have done a little bit more than maybe I have in the past now,” Burakovsky said. “We've been winning so that's most important thing and when I get the chance, I'm just going to go in and do my thing, play my game.”

Reirden said he was impressed by how Burakovsky has responded in practice. Given Reirden’s “rewards” system of coaching that should mean Burakovsky gets back into the lineup sooner rather than later. But if he continues to struggle to keep his production up, he will have a hard time staying in.

With both Oshie and Wilson now back from injury, the Caps have 14 forwards on the roster meaning two forwards will have to be scratched each game. There’s no one currently in the top six you would take out for Burakovsky and considering how well players like Brett Connolly are playing plus the chemistry the fourth line has found, there is not much room to plug in a struggling winger who still cannot find any consistent production.

This also calls into question what Burakovsky’s future on the team may be. Burakovsky is on the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. It will take a qualifying offer of $3.25 million from the Caps just to retain his rights as an RFA meaning general manager Brian MacLellan is going to have to determine if he is worth that much.

As dire as his contract situation may appear from the outside looking in – especially for a player who has had confidence issues in the past – he says his next contract is not something he is thinking too much about.

“I'm not worried about my future,” Burakovsky said. “I know what I can do out there. I think I've proved what I can do and sometimes you just have to battle a little bit harder than you wanted to and it's going to happen. Right now, I think it's kind of what I'm doing.”

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It's not just Alex Smith - Derrius Guice also dealt with post-surgery infection

It's not just Alex Smith - Derrius Guice also dealt with post-surgery infection

During the last month, the average Redskin fan learned more about post-surgery infections than most football fans ever considered. 

The news surrounding Alex Smith's recovery from a broken leg has been upsetting, particularly that Smith has dealt with a serious infection and had to undergo multiple procedures to clean up the wound. Smith's situation was unique, he broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg, and the fracture wasn't clean

Still, alarming news emerged this week that Smith was not the only Redskins player to deal with post-surgery infection. 

Rookie Derrius Guice injured his knee in the preseason, ending his season and ruining a full offseason of momentum. Before he ever played a game, Guice became a fan favorite with his engaging enthusiasm. Then, he injured his knee in the preseason and was lost for the year. 

For many players, surgery is tough, but then rehab begins. 

For Guice - like Smith - that wasn't the case.

After his knee surgery, Guice suffered an infection that lasted two months and required three additional procedures, The Washington Post reported. That required seven weeks of antibiotics which included significant use of IVs, swelling, flu-like symptoms and having his knee drained. 

The experience forced Guice to stay in Louisiana for months, closer to Dr. James Andrews office in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and away from his Redskins teammates in Ashburn. 

Now, finally, Guice is feeling better and expects to be all the way back for offseason work in 2019. That's great news for the Redskins.

Guice was considered to be the focal point of the Washington offense before the knee injury in the preseason, and he's a running back with immense potential. 

On some level, however, it's quite alarming that both Smith and Guice suffered infections after major injuries. 

Smith's injury was grotesque enough that there were immediate worries of infection. Even with the advanced concern, the infection still came. 

Guice's injury was severe, but not like Smith. And still, the infection came. 

It would take a forensic medical team to compare the situations and figure out if there is something the Redskins need to address. That won't happen on this page. 

At the same time, however, what were the odds back in training camp that the Redskins' then starting quarterback and running back would not only need surgery on their leg, but both would suffer from post-op infection? 

Like many things with the Redskins' 2018 season, there seem to be more questions than answers. The good news, Guice should be back for 2019. As of now, the same can't be said for Smith. 

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