COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The legend of Johnny Football has grown all season while Johnny Manziel piled up yards and the Texas A&M Aggies piled up wins.
On Monday, the freshman quarterback finally weighed in on his catchy nickname as he spoke to the media for the first time all season.
“I think a lot of people here in Aggieland enjoy it,” he said. “But I find it extremely funny.”
The success of Manziel and the Aggies is no joke. His 4,600 yards of total offense have helped No. 10 A&M to its first 10-win season since 1998, and has him among the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy.
Manziel said he respected coach Kevin Sumlin’s decision for him not to speak to the media this season because he’s a freshman. But says he’s happy to have a chance to talk about this season.
“It’s kind of nice now to be able to kind of let you guys know how I am a little bit more,” he said. “There’s so many question marks out there.”
Sumlin, who is in his first year at A&M after four seasons at Houston, raved about Manziel and said he was a catalyst for what his team was able to do in its first season in the Southeastern Conference.
“He’s a tremendous competitor and a tremendous leader, and that’s something that you really don’t see in a player as a redshirt freshman,” Sumlin said. “His leadership on and off the field throughout the season has made our season a real successful one.”
Manziel has thrown for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and ran for 1,181 yards and 19 more scores in a regular-season the Aggies capped with five straight wins including an upset of then top-ranked Alabama. He is second in the nation in total offense and broke Cam Newton’s SEC record for total offense in a season on Saturday.
The quarterback is a bit surprised at how well Texas A&M did in its transition from the Big 12.
“I don’t think I ever really envisioned how big this season would be for us,” he said. “I don’t really think anybody envisioned that we would win 10 games at the beginning of this season and that we would all have so much success as a team.”
The celebrity status has been shocking to Manziel, who will turn 20 two days before the Dec. 8 Heisman announcement. He’s still surprised when people approach him at restaurants and other places around College Station to ask for photos and autographs, even though it’s become a daily occurrence.
“I’m a small-town kid,” he said. “I come from Kerrville, Texas and I still see myself that way. I don’t see myself as Johnny Football, I still see myself as Jonathan Manziel, a small town guy from Kerrville who is extremely fortunate and extremely blessed to be able to play football here at A&M.”
He seemed amused by the attention given to some online photos of him at a Halloween party dressed as Scooby Doo alongside some beautiful and scantily-clad young women.
“That Halloween night was something where a lot of guys on the team dressed up and kind of just wanted to get away from all the seriousness and the grind that is college football season and go out and be kids again and dress up and just have fun,” he said, without specifically addressing the pictures.
Manziel said winning the Heisman is something he dreamed about as a child, but that he hasn’t spent a lot of time worrying about it or any other awards. No freshman has ever won the award given to college football’s most outstanding player.
“I feel like that situation will play itself out, and whatever’s meant to be will happen,” he said. “I’m just doing whatever coach Sumlin and them ask me to do … so we can take care of things in a bowl game.”
But Manziel did admit that when he was younger he’d play college football video games and build a quarterback that would win the award as a freshman. Funny thing is, the players he made rarely resembled his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame.
“When I created a video game player I probably made him 6-6, probably 230 pounds,” he said. “I definitely didn’t make him my size. But I’ve played so many video games maybe a few times I did. But typically I would have made him look something like Cam Newton.”
Newton was the last SEC winner of the Heisman, picking it up in 2010. If Manziel comes away with the award, maybe somewhere in a small Texas town like the one he grew up in, a young boy will build a football player on his video game that does look like the A&M star.
Manziel has trouble grasping the whirlwind this season has been for him, and considers himself lucky to have had the opportunity to be in the position he’s in now.
“This season has been incredibly surreal,” he said. “It’s beyond my wildest imagination. It’s a true testament to how this team has grown every week, because without these guys none of my individual success would be anything.”