Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, winner of the 2012 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, is focused on leading the Aggies in pursuit of a national championship this fall.
But he indicated Monday that another stellar season at the college level could hasten his interest in heading to the NFL, where mobile quarterbacks like Manziel (6-foot, 200 pounds) are becoming a hot commodity. As an example, Manziel cited Seattle’s Russell Wilson (5-11, 204), the only rookie quarterback to win a game as a starter in the 2012 NFL playoffs.
“For me, being a shorter guy, a chance at the NFL, at a high draft pick, that’s something that I’ve only ever dreamed about,” said Manziel, who could enter the 2014 NFL Draft because he would be three years removed from high school at that time. “The NFL, it’s changing. There’s a lot of things that can be done with more mobile guys.”
Asked if leading the Aggies to a 2013 national championship, combined with his 2012 Heisman Trophy, could trigger a move to the NFL after next season, Manziel said he had no timetable in mind but would consider exploring his NFL options after next season.
“Regardless of how long I’m at A&M I’m going to enjoy the time that I do have and go out and try to win every game,” Manziel said during a Monday news conference at the Fort Worth Club before formally accepting the O’Brien Award. “A lot of things factor in (to an NFL draft decision). When the time comes, I think it will be a hard decision.”
For now, Manziel is focused on preparing for spring football drills, which open March 2, and an academic schedule that includes four online classes in sports management that do not require him to be on campus every day. Manziel, 20, said he switched to the all-online approach after his presence caused a stir in an English class when the spring semester began.
“I went one day, and it kind of turned into a little more of a big deal than I thought,” said Manziel, who swapped the English class for another online offering in sports management.
Because of the online classes, Manziel has been able to travel to a variety of events — from the Super Bowl, to Mardi Gras, to NBA All-Star Weekend — in recent weeks that have caused some fans to question his off-season priorities. But Manziel said he clears every trip with the A&M compliance office and huddled recently with his parents, coach Kevin Sumlin and athletic director Eric Hyman to “make sure we were on the same terms” about his spring semester plans.
“People just think that I’m going wild with it, when it’s not like that,” said Manziel, who called it “very frustrating” that his priorities have been called into question by outsiders. “You just have to have thick skin and just let it roll off your back and not take it to heart.”
Manziel, who racked up an NCAA-best 5,116 yards of total offense and accounted for 47 touchdowns last season (21 rushing, 26 passing), began his meteoric rise through the college football ranks last summer after huddling with George Whitfield, Jr., a private instructor who also tutors NFL quarterbacks Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger. Whitfield suggested shortening Manziel’s stride in his delivery.
“The ball came out quicker. It came out smoother. I threw a better spiral,” Manziel said. “That was kind of the point where I couldn’t wait to go out and show that I’ve gotten better and I can compete to win this starting job.”
Manziel, of course, earned way more than a starting job in his record-setting freshman season. He became the first freshman to win the O’Brien Award, as well as the first freshman to claim a Heisman Trophy in that award’s 77-year history.
“Am I shocked by Johnny? No,” Whitfield said in a phone interview. “He’s never a guy that’s going to be bothered by the big moment. If you put him on a tennis court and gave him a racket, he’ll think, ‘I can figure this out. I can beat anyone.’ He’s a guy who thinks he can go out and slay dragons. There’s a lot to like about him.”
Manziel said he plans to join Whitfield for more sessions in May and July to work on pocket awareness and footwork fundamentals. Eddie LeBaron, winner of the O’Brien Legends Award, made it to four Pro Bowls as a 5-7 quarterback in the NFL and said Manziel has the skills to succeed at the next level despite being undersized.
“It’s movement that’s important nowadays ... to give yourself opportunities to run or throw. And he has great, great movement,” said LeBaron, 83. “He’s got a great future ahead of him. He’s the right kind of athlete.”
For now, Manziel simply wants to help A&M build on this season’s 11-2 record and No. 5 finish in the college football polls, the school’s highest since 1956.
“Our goal this year is not to lose a game,” Manziel said. “It’s about winning a national championship.”
If that happens, there would then be a difficult decision for Manziel to make.