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NO.3, JOHNNY MANZIEL WINS THE HEISMAN
We don't think of Johnny Manziel as a Cinderella story. His rise was so thorough that we knew we were watching greatness by the time he guided Texas A&M to a win at Alabama, and he just cemented his standing with an unreal Cotton Bowl performance.
That takes away from Manziel's journey to that pedestal. In August, three months before he was accepting his Heisman Trophy, he was just a redshirt freshman with a middling recruiting ranking who was fighting for a starting spot.
It's hard to think about Manziel as a Cinderella story right now. He's still in the middle of what is already a historic career, and he's the biggest star in college football. But it's also a fact that he is one of the most unlikely Heisman Trophy winners in many years.
Mack Brown of Texas gets a lot of heat for recruiting Manziel as a safety, but he wasn't the only one who didn't see his greatness coming. This screenshot of Manziel's recruiting page on Rivals tells a story:
Yep, Johnny Football was just a three-star recruit.
There were 26 quarterbacks, combining dual-threat and pro-style QBs, ranked higher by Rivals in the 2011 class. Cody Kessler, Christian LeMay, Brandon Allen, Jamal Turner, Michael Eubank, Tony McNeal, Chad Jeffries, Jerrard Randall, DaMarcus Smith and Connor Cook are just some of the players who were bigger names than Manziel on the recruiting trail. Here are the lists of dual-threat quarterbacks and pro-style quarterbacks from that class. It's early in their careers, and there are some other very good quarterbacks on those lists, but none would rank higher today than Manziel.
Manziel wasn't named the starter for Texas A&M until last Aug. 15, and it wasn't some preordained thing that the coaches didn't announce until the middle of training camp for motivational or strategic reasons. This is what the blog SouthernPigskin.com wrote at the time of the announcement:
"In a surprising move to some, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has named Johnny Manziel the starting quarterback for his team. Many people around the program thought sophomore Jameill Showers would be the starter after his performance in the spring, as Showers demonstrated an ability to make better decisions and take care of the football throughout spring practice."
It's not that SouthernPigskin.com or anyone else who expressed surprise was out of the loop, it's just that nobody could have ever figured that a few months later Manziel would be the first freshman in the long history of the Heisman Trophy to win the award. Nobody really knew at that point in August if he could even be a good SEC quarterback, especially as a freshman.
Here's an exercise: Take a redshirt freshman quarterback who was a three-star recruit and isn't even assured of starting in the fall from a team that is supposed to finish in the middle of the pack in its conference, and pick him to win the Heisman Trophy. You could probably get a million-to-one odds on that proposition.
Yet, that's what happened to Johnny Manziel. That's why it's one of the most remarkable Cinderella stories in college football over the last 30 years.
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