The legend of Johnny Football has spread like kudzu while the Texas A&M redshirt freshman became a silent observer.
His name is Johnny Manziel, but nobody calls him that. As a kid he would create characters for video games, ones that would win the Heisman Trophy.
“They were always about 6-6, 230 pounds, something like Cam Newton,’’ said Johnny Football, speaking to the media for the first time on a national teleconference. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin’s policy prohibits all freshmen from talking to the media.
The silence was broken in an hour-long session Monday.
Johnny Football describes himself as a “small town kid from Kerrville, Texas.’’ He has short-cropped dark hair and a big smile.
Kerrville is a town in the Texas Hill Country. The best barbecue can be found at Cal-Bob’s Smoke Shack. It’s just off I-10.
According to Trip Advisor, the No. 1 attraction in Kerrville is the Kerrville Visitors Center. It’s where you learn the history of Kerrville.
A Kerrville sportswriter got on the teleconference.
“Howdy, Johnny,’’ he said, asking Johnny how playing high school football prepared him for the college game.
It was obvious something clicked. Manziel is now the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, as a number of preseason candidates have fallen off the map.
Manziel put up 4,600 yards on offense this season for the 10-2 Aggies. He broke his imaginary video character’s single season record. Except this was no video. It was live football, played on SEC football fields.
Manziel put his 4,600 yards up in 12 games, Newton used 14 games to reach 4,327. Manziel averaged 383.3 offensive yards a game. That’s more than 41 FBS teams accomplished.
Manziel and Sumlin’s offensive scheme meshed from the start. Sumlin’s teams put up huge numbers when he was coaching Houston. He moved to a bigger stage and Manziel morphed into Johnny Football.
“It was something that started when I first got to Texas A&M,’’ Manziel said of his nickname. “I find it extremely funny, but I guess it kinda fits.’’
“His numbers speak for themselves,’’ Sumlin said. “He has been a catalyst for this football team. … He’s a tremendous competitor, a tremendous leader – something you don’t see in a redshirt freshman.’’
Manziel was rated a 3-star prospect out of high school. He wanted to go to TCU. He attended their camps. He took several visits there.
“I never got an official offer from TCU. It was definitely a school I was interested in,’’ he said. It was TCU’s loss, the Aggies gain.
He’s the stuff legends are made of. Is it a video game, or real life? Sometimes the line is blurred.
At 6-1, 219 pounds, Johnny Football isn’t the biggest quarterback. Nor is he the fastest. He’s a waterbug in football cleats. He has a strong arm, built up from playing shortstop. Football was meant for him.
His family lived in Tyler until Johnny was in junior high, moving to Kerrville. Johnny’s passes lit up the Texas sky at Kerrville’s Tivy High School.
But did anyone expect him to put record-breaking numbers up against SEC defenses?
“There’s no way I thought I would have that kind of success,’’ Johnny Football admitted. “The Heisman Trophy is something you dream about as a kid.’’
Johnny Football’s dream is about to come true.
Sports Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.