Teammates supply insight into Texas A&M QB Manziel
For all the attention Johnny Manziel gets on the gridiron, the Texas A&M quarterback is a relatively mysterious man off of it.
Because of a team policy, the freshman phenom has been kept under wraps and away from media this year despite several record-breaking performances already this season.
The 83,000-plus that pack Kyle Field every Saturday pour their hearts into this unfamiliar face who leads the Aggies to victory, not knowing much about the man behind the face mask.
Ironically, his offensive counterparts say Manziel makes just as much noise off the field as he does on it, and perhaps even more.
“Johnny is a character,” said Texas A&M senior wide receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu. “He’s very energetic. He’s almost too energetic sometimes. He’s very competitive and he’s a jokester, so he’s one of those guys that you can get along with pretty well.”
Teammates couldn’t help but smile when asked to describe their fresh-faced, 19-year-old signal-caller’s personality outside of football. But Manziel’s work on the field is what really has the Aggies grinning.
Through six games this season, the redshirt freshman leads all rushers in the Southeastern Conference with 112.7 yards per game, and he still manages to sit third among passers (280 yards per game).
Manziel has almost single-handedly boosted Texas A&M to the No. 5 scoring offense in the nation — a whopping 47 points per game — and has the pass and run games ranked in the top 20.
“He’s progressing,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “He’s only played six games as a college player. His progression has been steady. On things that we couldn’t get done in the first game, we’ve really made some strides. He’s been in the pocket and gone through some progressions in the past couple of weeks on early downs and on third downs. We’ve demonstrated the ability to get the ball down the field vertically now.”
Calling Manziel’s progression “steady” may be a bit of an understatement.
The Kerrville, Texas, native came out of high school as a three-star dual-threat quarterback prospect, according to Rivals.com, and was the only quarterback in the Aggies’ 2011 class. Despite his three-star status, Manziel earned numerous accolades his senior year, including all-state and All-America honors, before committing to Texas A&M over a slew of offers from across the country.
Redshirting behind future first-round draft pick Ryan Tannehill, Manziel earned the starting bid his second year on campus.
Manziel was thrown into the fire in his Aggies debut, facing a Florida squad that is now ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings. He compiled 173 yards passing and 60 yards rushing with one touchdown in the three-point loss, but hasn’t been stopped since.
“He’s made strides,” said Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. “He still has a long way to go, but he’s improved and will keep that progress going.”
After the season-opening loss, Manziel hasn’t been held to fewer than two touchdowns in any game and has twice posted six-touchdown games. He’s rushed for more than 100 yards in four of his six games this year, and has passed for three or more touchdowns four times as well, earning him the fitting nickname “Johnny Football.”
It took Manziel five games to throw his first interception — he’s thrown just three all year — but handles his setbacks as well as his triumphs.
“Especially when he makes a mistake, he puts it on himself,” Nwachukwu said. “We know he’s going to try even harder, and he’s going to be more focused when we get out there next time.”
Manziel made that clear after thinking he threw an interception last week against Louisiana Tech. After the throw, he sprinted 80 yards down the field to tackle and strip the defender, before realizing the play was whistled dead long before.
“That was the best part about the game,” Kingsbury said. “That just sums up the type of player he is. Whatever we ask him to do, he is going to do to the best of his ability. It doesn’t matter if he’s perfect, but he is going to fight and fight to try to help his teammates win the game.”
Manziel’s competitive nature isn’t limited to the football field.
The quarterback gets together daily with other members of the offense for a spirited game of four-square in the middle of the locker room.
“He’s one of those guys that takes it a little bit too seriously,” Nwachukwu laughed. “He’s one of those guys that ... is always arguing calls or diving or making sure he’s got his athletic gear on so he’s agile.”
But don’t confuse Manziel’s confidence with cockiness.
Even though he won’t hit age 20 until Dec. 6, Manziel seems to carry himself like a veteran.
“I think the offensive line does a good job keeping him humble and telling him he wouldn’t be anything without us,” offensive lineman Luke Joeckel joked. “He’s always been a confident kid; he’s always been a great leader. He does work every single practice. He doesn’t just go out there and try to get through a practice, he works his tail off. He’s a good quarterback to play for, and I’ve enjoyed it.”