He entered college football an undersized, somewhat unknown quarterback from Kerrville, Texas. He leaves as a potential first overall pick, and one of the most dynamic, breath-taking players in college football history. Johnny Manziel declaring for the NFL draft means Texas A & M will have to find a new pivot. It also means college football will have to find a new folk-hero.
The numbers Johnny Manziel put up in his all-too brief career read like a stat line from a video game. In a pair of seasons, Johnny Football threw for 7,820 yards, ran for 2,169, and accounted for 93 total touchdowns (63 passing, 30 running). Manziel fell just 11 yards short of becoming the first sophomore in NCAA history to accumulate 10,000 career yards. His 2012 season - in which he became the first redshirt freshman ever to win the Heisman – broke Cam Newton's single season SEC yardage record. His 2013 follow-up ranks second all-time. In all, Manziel set 35 school, conference, and NCAA records in two seasons in College Station.
But more than the statistics, it's the highlights themselves that blew everyone away. Time and again, Manziel did things on the field that made all of us look around and ask, "did that really just happen?" Who could forget his 2012 fumble-turned-touchdown in A & M's 29-24 upset of eventual national champion Alabama? Or this past season against the Tide, when Manziel retreated 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage, escaped a defender's grasp and heaved a jump ball to Edward Pope for a first down. In the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Manziel delivered one final trademark moment, a scramble that became a hurdle that became a 19-yard touchdown pass.
On the field, Manziel never shied away from the spotlight, delivering over and over in big games. In his two bowl games, Manziel accounted for 9 touchdowns, almost 1000 total yards, and a 72 percent completion rate.
As a first-year SEC entrant, all but the most ardent Aggie supporters thought A & M would struggle in 2012. Instead, the 6'1" redshirt freshman from Tivy High led the Aggies to an 11-2 record that included the shocking upset of Alabama at Bryant-Denny, and a 41-13 blowout of Oklahoma in which Manziel set the Cotton Bowl record with 516 total yards.
This past season against 'Bama, Manziel outdid himself, accounting for 562 total yards and five touchdowns.
In his final game against Duke, he led his team back from a 21-point halftime deficit to a 52-48 win. He was named offensive MVP after completing 30 of 38 passes, throwing for 382 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for a team-high 73 yards and a score. Manziel's 455 total yards marked the ninth time in 26 games in which he amassed more than 450 total yards. In the 111 years in which Texas A & M has played major college football, only two other players have ever had a 450 yard game.
Off the field, there were issues to be sure.
Manziel's 2012 Heisman campaign almost didn't happen. The 21-year-old was initially suspended by Texas A & M after a June 2012 arrest in connection with a fight in College Station. He has since pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, but Manziel was only reinstated as a redshirt freshman after Sumlin wrote the administration on his behalf.
This past season, Manziel was suspended for the first half of Texas A & M's opener against Rice for inadvertently breaking NCAA rules by signing autographs, after he was alleged to have accepted money from memorabilia brokers to sign. Even after he returned to the field, he grabbed headlines by taunting players, making autograph gestures.
But as much as he was a thorn in the side of college football's governing body, Manziel was also a money maker for it.
Just as likely to appear on TMZ as ESPN, Manziel's games became appointment viewing more than any other player in the sport. Texas A & M's September loss to Alabama drew an average of 13.6 million viewers, making it the second highest rated regular season game on the college football schedule. En route to their 9-4 record, the Aggies drew three of the top 15 television audiences of the season. Four separate times they had the highest rated game of the week. And with 8.69 million viewers, Manziel's last game was the most viewed non-BCS bowl in ESPN history.
Back in September, A & M announced that over the past 12 months, they raised $740 million in fundraising. That's almost double the highest total raised in any other 12 month period in school history.
With the NFL Draft less than four months away, JF is skyrocketing up draft boards. In his first mock draft of the year, draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has the 21-year-old headed to the Texans as the first overall pick. No matter where he is drafted though, Manziel will continue to excite. No player in college football could turn nothing, into something spectacular, quite like the sophomore.
When Manziel declared last week, Sumlin said of his quarterback, "in all of my years of coaching, [he] is the most exciting football player I have ever seen. We appreciate everything [Manziel] has done for Texas A & M and Aggie football and wish him nothing but the best."
Not just Aggieland, but the whole of college football should appreciate what he has done as well.
Johnny Football will be missed.