Cotton Bowl win caps amazing year for Manziel, Texas A&M
ARLINGTON, Texas -- As Johnny Manziel rode in a golf cart after Texas A&M's 41-13 rout of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night, he repeatedly heard the same cheer.
"Whoop!" Aggies fans hollered at the redshirt freshman quarterback as he passed them in the bowels of Cowboys Stadium and they made the hand gesture for the age-old Texas A&M expression.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Manziel had once again given Texas A&M fans plenty to hoot and holler about as he racked up a bowl-record 516 total yards and four touchdowns on his way to being named the game's offensive most valuable player.
His jaw-dropping performance, highlighted by a dazzling 23-yard tightrope touchdown run ended with a kangaroo hop into the end zone for the game's first score, was the exclamation point to an electrifying 11-2 season under first-year coach Kevin Sumlin, the most victories for the program since 1998.
"Johnny Manziel is everything he was billed to be," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said of Manziel after he rushed for 229 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns and was 22 of 34 passing for 287 yards and two touchdowns.
Manziel has also been an answer to prayers for Texas A&M fans. He has not only restored their pride after years of being little brother to Texas, but given them newfound confidence in this the Aggies first year of the daunting SEC.
Remember, just a year ago, folks were still questioning their move to the league. Just like they wondered if Sumlin's frenetic, spread offense even had a chance in the traditionally defensively dominated league.
Oh, and back then the Aggies weren't even sure about their starting quarterback.
"It's been crazy," said Manziel, who became only the fourth FBS quarterback with 20 TDs rushing and 20 passing in the same season. "It's been a rollercoaster to see how things have played out from the first game to now and what things have played out in my life."
But with all of those doubts erased, come even bigger questions.
Like how will Manziel fare without standout junior left tackle Luke Joeckel, who is likely to leave early for April's NFL draft in which he is already being projected as the first overall pick. Joeckel is smart enough to take the money, knowing that as much as Aggies' faithful tell him he could win a national championship next season, the reality is he and his teammates were a couple of plays away from losing five games this season.
Then there's the task of replacing offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who left last month to become coach of Texas Tech and was a big part of the Texas A&M averaging more than 40 points per game and breaking the SEC record Friday night with their 7,261 total yards this season. Running backs coach Clarence McKinney aced his audition calling plays, as evidenced by the Aggies' Cotton Bowl record of 633 yards offensively, and certainly is worthy of succeeding Kingsbury, but innovativeness will be the key.
Because with most SEC teams having been shredded by Texas A&M's scheme this season, league foes like Alabama coach Nick Saban are already making adjustments for Year Two. It's already in evident in the way they are recruiting faster and more athletic linebackers to try to keep up with Manziel.
But the question is about the face of Texas A&M, Mr. Johnny Football himself, not necessarily on the field, but off it. He was arrested after an early morning fight in June and still faces three counts in connection to the incident, but maintains he has matured since then.
Yet instead of taking a low-profile approach to his newfound fame, Manziel has been front and center, as in sitting courtside at NBA games, which prompted questions about the appearances, despite him being from a wealthy family.
"The spotlight's always on me," Manziel said. "I know that going into everything. I know that I can't go anywhere without someone probably knowing who I am and I accept that. I'm fine with that."
Since Texas A&M's upset of Alabama in November, Manziel has had a one-man security detail consisting of Texas A&M University police lieutenant Ben Crenshaw, who accompanies him to all football-related activities.
Crenshaw recalled how a man followed Texas A&M to each of its eight stops one day seeking autographs and photographs during Texas A&M's bowl preparation in the Dallas area.
"He becomes more popular every day," Crenshaw said.
And that's what scares some of those closest to Manziel.
"I pray for him every day," said a friend of Manziel.
A specific prayer that Manziel not succumb to his newfound fame and all the temptations that come with the rare mix of being a college football superstar with access to significant money.
It's a prayer Aggies fans should also probably recite daily. That's if they want to continue to cheer for Manziel.