After a full season of not being allowed to talk to the media, Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel finally spoke at a teleconference this week.
The Heisman front runner sounded mature and relaxed talking to reporters as he reflected on his new-found fame, his team’s success and his nickname. He should be more than ready to handle the media crush that awaits him in the next couple weeks.
Here are the highlights from his first media session:
Where did the nickname ‘Johnny Football’ come from and what do you think of it?
“It was something that kind of started to be thrown out a bit when I first got here. I think it’s something that’s funny. People here in Aggie land enjoy it, but I think it’s kind of funny.”
“The funny thing was, obviously my name is Johnny and I’ve been playing football since I was six, so that’s how it kind of fits.”
Are you surprised at how quickly success has come your way and that you are now a leading candidate for the Heisman?
“I definitely held myself to high standards. I wanted to come out and have a good year if I won the job, but there’s no way I thought I’d have this much success. It speaks volume about the team and how we’ve come together.
“The Heisman attention has definitely been a little bit of a surprise. It’s been out of my hands. It’s something I’m not focused on. I’m focused on the season and trying to win as many games as possible.
What would it mean for you to win the Heisman?
“It’s something you dream about as a kid. Like when you play all those NCAA video games as a kid and you create your own player and win the Heisman with a bunch of crazy numbers. It’s the biggest most prestigious award in college football so it’d definitely be a dream come true.
When you created your own player in those games, did they look like someone your size or someone else?
“When I created him, I probably made him 6-foot-6, 230 pounds. I definitely didn’t make him my size. I probably would’ve made him look something like Cam Newton.”
Do you see yourself as the front runner for the Heisman right now?
“I don’t know if that’s the case. I feel like it will play itself out. Whatever is meant to be will happen. I’m just doing what coach asks me to do right now. I think the Heisman and all the other awards will play themselves out.”
How do you feel about the media policy this year that prevented you from talking to reporters?
“Whatever coach Sumlin’s policy was, I respected that. I kind of just followed his plan and didn’t really know when I’d talk. It’s kind of nice now to let you guys know how I am since there is so many question marks out there. It’s nice to be able to talk to you all.”
How has your life changed since becoming a celebrity?
“Still to this day I really don’t see myself as a celebrity. I feel like I’m just like any other kid going to college at A&M. I’m just going to school and having the opportunity to play football. It had made me more aware of my surroundings and cautious that everything I do is going to be watched.
“The thing that’s caught me off guard is going to dinner and people asking me for autographs or to take a picture. People coming to my house asking for autographs — that’s something I really haven’t grasped the whole entirety of yet. But going to dinner and having a kid want to take a picture makes my day.
“It’s extremely different for me. I’m a small town kid. I’m don’t see myself as Johnny Football, but Johnathan Manziel from Kerrville, Texas. I’m still shocked by it, and not used to the whole thing, even though it’s becoming a daily thing.”
There seems to be a debate as to whether Tyer, where you were born, is your hometown or Kerrville, where you played high school ball.
“I feel like I have a joint hometown. I was born and raised in Tyler and stayed there until I was 14 or 15 and then I moved to Kerrville. I was really hard to leave at the time. But I had a great time in both places and I feel really fortunate to have grown up in both places.”
Did you approach the Alabama game differently than the other opponents on your schedule?
“We definitely kept our game plan the same. We just wanted to get out and push the tempo more. We wanted to play as fast as possible. As far as plays go, we ran the same stuff we always do, we just wanted to do it at a faster pace.”
Do you pay attention to all the stuff they write and say about you in the media?
“There’s so much going on in my life, I don’t really have time to read articles or hear what people say. Twitter has become a thing where it’s almost impossible to not see it. But I have bowl practices and other things, to distract me.
“I try to stay away from reading too much about my individual stuff. I try to read stuff about the SEC and what goes on in college football. I’m a big fan of college football and try to stay up with news about that. I try to shy away from the individual stuff.
“It was funny to hear Rece Davis call me Scooby Doo. A lot of guys on the team dressed up for Halloween. We just wanted to get away from the seriousness and grind and go out and be kids again and just have fun.”
Have you had a chance to talk to (1957 Texas A&M Heisman winner) John David Crow yet?
“My dad goes down and tries to talk to him at every game. They’ve built up a little bit of a relationship, but I haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet. If I could bring the Heisman Trophy back to Aggie land, it’d be an incredible honor and something I’ll never forget.”
What do you think when you saw LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery vocally supporting you for the Heisman?
“I think I was at home playing video games or watching TV when I saw it. It’s something that is truly humbling to see, one of the best players in the SEC saying that about me. I have so much respect for the guy, not just for those comments, but for how he plays the game. You saw what he did in wearing Marcus Lattimore’s number after he got hurt. That’s just how the kid is.”
What has this season meant to you?
“This season has been incredibly surreal. It’s beyond my wildest imaginations. It’s a true testament to how this team has grown each week. Without that, my individual success wouldn’t mean anything.”