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December 8, 2012

A&M benefits from Manziel on, off field




Every now and again, a person comes along who has the ability to be great at everything they do. Ted Williams was one -- not only was he the greatest hitter of all time, he was a tremendously talented fighter pilot (John Glenn's wingman in Korea) and a master fisherman.

Bo Jackson was another; blessed with incredible gifts, Jackson was able to play baseball and football at an all-star level before his injury, and it just came simply. There is a story from Jackson's days at Auburn about one of the coaches getting on Jackson's case because he didn't lift weights. Jackson stormed into the weight room, put enough weight on the bar to bend it, lifted it up over his head, slammed it back down and walked out.

Johnny Manziel may not be ready to powerlift a small car yet, but he's rapidly proving he's got that ability to master all that he surveys. He's a scratch golfer and an excellent baseball player; there are unconfirmed rumors that he's a demon in pickup basketball games.

Oh, and he's the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.

In his first year as a starting quarterback.

As a freshman in the SEC.

Not bad. In fact, quite good. Unless you're Texas A&M's football program, in which case it's friggin fantastic.

The Heisman presentation, while giving ample time to Manti Te'o and Collin Klein, had the makings of a coronation for the man who could well dominate the game for the next three years. Only Archie Griffin has won more than one Heisman, but Manziel will leave New York with the nation's attention and three more chances to join him.

This puts A&M in a situation so good that Kevin Sumlin has to pinch himself on occasion. He's got the most electrifying and popular player in college football on his team -- not for another game, or another season, but probably for three more seasons. And, by his own admission, Manziel's still getting acclimated to the Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury's offense.

There is no question that, right now, Texas A&M is one of the hottest teams in college football. Not just on the field, but off it. It will have the stage to itself, with no competition, when it faces off with Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Next year, they'll be one of the marquee names in the sport, snagging primetime slots on ESPN or the much-desired 2:30 central slot on CBS.

The recruits are already starting to roll in. The Aggies stole Dallas Kimball DT Justin Manning from under the nose of Oklahoma and are on the verge of snatching up Ricky Seals-Jones from the clutches of LSU and a very embarrassed Texas program that flat let him go. The 2014 class already includes stud DB Nick Harvey and will almost certainly add LB Hoza Scott, one of the nation's top talents, next Wednesday.

A 10-win season will do some of that for you. So will having a young, hip head coach in Kevin Sumlin. But these talented recruits also realize that the guy who pulled the trigger for the nation's most explosive offense, the guy who led A&M past Alabama on the field and is taking directions from Sumlin, isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

That's very, very appealing. It gives an aura of inevitability -- with the inevitable, in this case, being a national championship.

That's what Johnny Manziel is bringing to the field for Texas A&M. Tonight, we discovered what he'll bring off it as well.

In a short but powerful speech, Manziel hit the typical points of thanking his parents and coaches, then did a few things you don't normally hear. There was very little first person, and a lot of very mature thought. He had the goodness to remember his fallen teammate, Joe Villavisencio, and went out of his way to praise Texas A&M and its greatest football tradition, the 12th Man.

"It's such an honor to represent Texas A&M and my teammates here tonight, I wish they could be on the stage with me. Texas A&M, choosing that school is one of the best decisions I've ever made in my entire life and I'm so proud to be a part of that," he said. "The values that I have learned from my parents and that have been carried over by Texas A&M - leadership, respect and putting others first is what the 12th man is all about. I believe the 12th man is one of the greatest traditions in all of college football - 40,000 students standing not as fans but as members of our team. To the 12th man, Texas A&M, Kerrville, Texas and Aggies everywhere - this Heisman Trophy is for you."

If there is a better advertisement for Texas A&M, its football program and the young man who is now its public face, it's hard to imagine. And, while young men across the country saw that and imagined themselves in Manziel's place, their parents were sitting there thinking that they would want their sons to speak and act in the same fashion.

In short, Johnny Manziel nailed it.

You will hear people scoff at this speech and the sincerity with which Manziel gave it, pointing to his arrest this past summer. But what they're failing to get is just how competitive Manziel is -- odds are he practiced that speech 50 times if he did once -- and how important playing football is to him. It was almost taken away from him last summer, and the forced re-assessment of his life that after the arrest led to some major changes.

Having known him for several years now, it's not a stretch to write that Johnny Manziel is a good person and a tremendous athlete. The world already knew he was good on the field; tonight, they found out he's a powerful ambassador for his university and football program as well. Both will benefit from this unique individual.




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