Thursday, December 5, 2013
Manziel kept focus on the field in '13
By Sam Khan Jr.
If Johnny Manziel's intention was to conquer the college football world in his second season, it didn't work out quite the way he planned.
Johnny Manziel's season didn't go as planned, but he still gave everyone plenty to talk about.
There will be no BCS national championship for Texas A&M. No SEC championship. No BCS bowl game. No second Heisman Trophy for the once-in-a-generation talent at quarterback. All of these things were on the redshirt sophomore's radar.
Even with the lofty goals unmet, Johnny Football still gave the country plenty to talk about this season.
It began with Manziel under a microscope, dealing with a level of scrutiny that perhaps no college football player has ever experienced. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about Manziel, what he did on the field, off the field, whether he was good for the game or bad or what his future held. The questions and comments ranged from valid and insightful to bewildering and off-the-wall.
How long ago that seems now.
Despite the pressure of an NCAA investigation into allegations that he accepted money for autographs (the investigation found no evidence that Manziel accepted money, but he was suspended for a half for an "inadvertent" violation) and the constant spotlight that followed him around from coast to coast, whether it was a talk-show appearance or a fraternity party, Manziel began the season playing at a level even higher than that of his first season. All his passing numbers went up, his interception count -- at least initially -- was down and soon, all anyone was left to talk about was his play on the field.
Perhaps that was Manziel's most astonishing accomplishment this season. He didn't get swallowed by the tidal wave of sudden fame. He was able to cast it all aside, focus on football and raise his level of play.
"The scrutiny he was under in the offseason was probably unlike anybody else in the country, or ever has been in college football," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said last month. "But he's back to just playing football and doing what he likes to do."
And football was the reason people began talking about him in the first place. His captivating 2012, in which he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, was the reason everyone was so enthralled with him in the first place.
He also became virtually absent from social media. After his infamous "why I can't wait to leave college station" tweet in mid-June (which has since been deleted), Manziel stopped posting on his Twitter page until SEC media days in July. He picked it back up for a couple weeks, but once preseason training camp began, Manziel stopped posting, period. He hasn't tweeted from his account since Aug. 1. He has posted photos to his Instagram account, but it's been sporadic throughout the season.
Back at SEC media days, when asked about his initial month-long absence, he said "No more talking off the field. All the talking's done on the field," and that he'd have a better game plan for his social media participation. He's lived up to both promises.
Which again, brings the conversation back to his play. The adversity he faced this season was mostly of the on-the-field type and in the second half of the season, it became about his health. After a terrific start, Manziel suffered a right shoulder injury against Auburn, a throwing hand injury against Mississippi State, and he seemingly hurt his ankle against Missouri (or perhaps aggravated an earlier injury to it). By season's end, the nation's most electrifying player began to look human.
Still, the numbers are staggering. He ranks in the top 10 in passing yards per game (311), passing touchdowns (33), completion percentage (69.1), yards per pass attempt (9.55), passer rating (170.4), total offensive yards per game (368.2), yards per play and points responsible for per game (3.41). He's the only quarterback in the FBS to rank in the top 10 of all eight of those categories. He also reduced the number of times he ran the football, in order to show that he could be a pocket passer and perhaps minimize the number of hits he took.
He has raised his passing yard total (3,732), and his completion percentage and passing touchdown total are all up. His play gave the Aggies a chance to win virtually every game except the LSU contest, a 34-10 defeat that is A&M's only double-digit setback in the Sumlin era. Even in losses to Alabama and Auburn, Manziel put up eye-popping numbers and made highlight-worthy plays, but as coaches often say, this is a team sport and one man can't do it all.
As the injuries piled up toward the end of the season, the effect it had on his play became evident. Sumlin and Texas A&M don't often go into details about injuries so it's difficult to know how badly he was beat up at season's end. But there's no questioning his toughness; he played whenever he was physically able or found a way to get on the field.
And for all the scrutiny he took this offseason, Manziel's heartfelt side was revealed in a few under-the-radar instances, whether it was spending time on the sideline with 6-year-old cancer survivor Charlie Dina, a Houstonian who suffers from rare form of cancer known as Neuroblastoma and who has formed a bond with Manziel, or making the day of Joel Fitch, the uncle of Manziel's friend Nate Fitch (known as "Uncle Nate"). According to TexAgs.com, Joel is 43 and has cerebral palsy but was able to share a few moments with the quarterback the day the Aggies lost to Auburn.
With the regular season over, questions about his future abound. Manziel hasn't publicly indicated on whether he's going to declare for early entry into the 2014 NFL draft, though many seem to think he will. If this was his last season in Aggieland, it was quite the ride. He helped Texas A&M make some history and a true splash upon its entry into the SEC.
There might never be another player like him in the sport again.