Texas A&M's dazzling quarterback Johnny Manziel is the right choice at the right time.
"Johnny Football," as he is well known, became the first freshman to win the Heisman Memorial Trophy when he was announced Saturday as the 78th recipient at the Best Buy Theater on Times Square in New York. He edged out two senior finalists -- Notre Dame's talented linebacker, Manti Te'o, and Kansas State's prolific quarterback, Collin Klein -- for the prestigious honor.
Manziel finished ahead of Te'o by only 323 votes, 2,209-1,706. Klein was a distant third with 894. USC wide receiver Marquis Lee was fourth with 207. Te'o's total is the most ever by a defense-only player.
A vocal faction of fans and media disagree with Manziel's selection, citing the key role Te'o played in leading an undefeated Notre Dame team to a BCS Championship game against Alabama and that, after all, Manziel is only a freshman.
All due respect to Te'o and the Fighting Irish as they prepare to play Alabama in the BCS title game, but Manziel didn't deserve the Heisman in spite of being a freshman, he deserved it because being a freshman is the crux of his incredible story.
It was a season of firsts. A redshirt freshman, Manziel was a first-year starter for a first-year coach, Kevin Sumlin, on a team that was coming off a seven-win season for its first year in the torrid Southeastern Conference. The Aggies were supposed to be annihilated.
Instead, Manziel unveiled his multiple talents to torment the mighty SEC by collecting 4,600 yards and 43 touchdowns, running and passing the Aggies to a 10-2 record. He did it with the Barnum and Bailey flair that captured the attention of college football fans last year with Baylor's Robert Griffin III and the year before with Auburn's Cameron Newton.
And, just like them, he deserved the Heisman and the football folklore of Johnny Football will take its proper place in historical order behind Cam and RGIII.
While Te'o and the Fighting Irish wait for their chance to play Alabama, Manziel has already been there, done that. In fact, A&M's Nov. 10 game at Alabama is what some call Manziel's Heisman Moment, a name given to a mesmerizing highlight-reel performance that is somehow considered prerequisite to earning the award.
It was on that date that the nickname Johnny Football took hold as Manziel startled top-ranked Alabama's respected defense with 345 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-24 victory that pretty much declared Texas A&M could compete in the mighty SEC.
That was the most shocking moment of a season that suprised even Manziel himself.
"I don't think I ever really envisioned how big this season would be for us," Manziel said. "I don't really think anybody envisioned we would win 10 games."
Manziel's detractors point to the fact that Johnny Football will now be a favorite in next year's Heisman Race, and perhap's the year after that, while Te'o and Klein will never again have that chance as they move on next year to earn paychecks in the NFL.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Nothing is a given, and Manziel's recent history is testimony to that. In 2010 he was a three-star recruit out of Kerrville Tivy High School in Texas who at first committed to Oregon, where his abilities as a runner and passer certainly fit coach Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense. In doing so, among the teams he turned down were Stanford and Baylor.
But Manziel decommitted in September 2010 and opted for the three-hour ride to College Station over the 31-hour drive to Eugene, Oregon. But his path to stardom still wasn't obvious as he sat out his first year while Ryan Tannehill led the Aggies before becoming a first round pick by the Miami Dolphins.
In April of this year Manziel's future was still unclear as Coach Sumlin refused to name a starting quarterback. Manziel appeared to be the best athlete among four prospects, but sophomore Jarniell Showers seemed to be the leading candidate after spring workouts.
On June 29 it was announced that Manziel was arrested at 3:24 a.m. following a fight and Manziel's inability to produce identification that confirmed he was 21. Manziel did produce an ID that indicated somebody was 21, but Manziel was unable to confirm the proper year of birth. After finding two other drivers licenses on Manziel, including one that was authentic and indicated he was 19, he was booked in the Brazos County Jail for disorderly conduct by fighting, a Class C misdemeanor, and possession of a fake ID.
The incident is memorialized by a picture of the redshirt freshman in a no-shirt mugshot.
Manziel had to work that much harder to get back in good graces and newspaper reports reflected that he appeared to be the front runner, although as late as August 13 Coach Sumlin said there was no decision. Then on August 16, Sumlin announced that Manziel, who made Parade All-American at Kerrville Tivy by passing for 3,609 yards and 45 touchdowns, would be the starter in A&M's opener.
Still, Sumlin was far short of effusive and there was little to indicate that this was the first step towards a record-breaking, Heisman Trophy season.
"Johnny has performed the best at this stage and we will proceed until the season opener with him getting the first-team reps," Sumlin said. "My policy is simple really; the best player plays."
And while Manziel proved to be the best quarterback at A&M and the best player in the country in 2012, there are no guarantees about the future. Only one player, Ohio State running back Archie Griffin, as won two Heisman Trophys.
Manziel, who still won't have an ID showing he is 21 until December 6, 2013, will have a new set of challenges next season. He will no longer have the best set of offensive tackles in the country, which he had this season in Luke Joeckel, who won the Outland Trophy, and Jake Matthews, of that famous football Matthews family (son of Bruce, cousin of Clay III). Although they are both juniors, at least one, probably Joeckel, is expected to move to the NFL.
Just as important, although he will go into the season with a lock on the starting job, next year Manziel will not be unknown to opponents who have plenty of film on him. So chances of a replay are problematic. Nothing is for sure.
That is why 2012 is the right time to make Johnny Football the right choice for the Heisman Trophy.