The schedule, as Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin points out, calls for senior day Saturday at Kyle Field.
It mentions nothing about curtain calls for third-year players pondering NFL futures.
But this is the reality: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, may play his final home game in an Aggies uniform when No. 15 A&M (7-2, 3-2 in SEC) meets Mississippi State (4-4, 1-3) at 2:30 p.m. The same goes for receiver Mike Evans, a strong candidate for the 2013 Biletnikoff Award who is the Aggies’ leading receiver (52 catches, 1,147 yards, 12 TDs).
Both third-year sophomores project as potential first-round picks in the 2014 NFL Draft and Manziel, in particular, has been open about discussing his NFL interest to the point that many within the program are bracing for this to be his final appearance at Kyle Field.
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Sumlin said Manziel is “playing better” in 2013 than last season, when he joined John David Crow (1957) as the second Heisman recipient in A&M history. Sumlin recently touted Evans as a deserving Heisman candidate and called him the “best receiver in the country.”
NFL draft analysts have identified both as probable first-round selections, perhaps even top-10 picks, if they make themselves available for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Sumlin said he will provide “our juniors and third-year players with as much factual information as we can get” about their NFL values when the time is right. But that time will come after A&M’s bowl game, although some teammates spent part of this week waxing eloquent about their favorite memories of playing with Johnny Football the past two seasons.
Running back Ben Malena, a senior from Cedar Hill, called his career in Aggieland “a great journey, especially the last two years” when he has had “a Heisman Trophy winner right beside me every snap.” Malena said he has been proud of Manziel’s ability to rebound from a tumultuous off-season of media scrutiny, capped by an NCAA probe that resulted in Manziel being suspended for the first half of the team’s season opener against Rice, to show he has elevated his football skills in his redshirt sophomore season.
Manziel, a 72.5 percent passer, leads A&M in passing yards (2,857), rushing yards (564) and touchdown passes (26) heading into Saturday’s game. He shares the team lead in rushing TDs (eight) with Malena. Manziel is considered one of the three front-runners for the 2013 Heisman Trophy, along with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.
Asked if Manziel had silenced critics this season, Malena said: “Most definitely. Just look at his numbers. Look at his play every week. His play speaks for itself.
“Once we got things cracking [in fall camp], he’s such a competitor. Right now, the only thing he’s focusing on is helping this team win. Nothing else really matters to him right now. It’s not a surprise that the only reason you hear is name now is because he scores five touchdowns.”
Neither Manziel nor Evans was included in Tuesday’s news conference with A&M players. But Manziel (6-foot, 200 pounds) made it clear in February while accepting his 2012 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award at the Fort Worth Club that the NFL is on his mind and that he plans to seek information about his potential value in the 2014 draft.
During that trip to Fort Worth, Manziel cited the rookie success of undersized Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson (5-11, 204) as a motivating factor and indicated his future at A&M could be short-lived.
“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 in February. “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.
“But the NFL, it’s changing. There’s a lot of things that can be done with more mobile guys. A lot of things factor in [to an NFL draft decision]. When the time comes, I think it will be a hard decision.”
Manziel has reiterated similar sentiments in subsequent interviews when asked about his NFL potential. Evans, in a recent interview, cited the 2013 Biletnikoff Award as his primary goal this season but did not close the door on NFL interest after this season.
Asked if he’d seen his name as a top-10 pick in early mock drafts involving draft-eligible players for 2014, Evans said: “I don’t pay attention to that.” Asked if he had thought about the possibility of entering next year’s draft, Evans said: “No, not yet.”
That time will come in January. For now, Manziel and Evans are two guys who might be entering their final game at Kyle Field, along with the seniors on this year’s squad. The bigger focus Saturday will be on Manziel, whom receiver Travis Labhart describe as a teammate with “great character” capable of creating video-game highlights in real life.
“His leadership has just been tremendous this season,” Labhart said. “I really just love him as a quarterback and as a person. He really cares for us and we care for him.”
Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State
2:30 p.m. Saturday
Records: Texas A&M 7-2, 3-2 SEC, Mississippi State, 4-4, 1-3
TV: KTVT/Ch. 11
Radio: KRLD/105.3 FM
Head to head
|Category||Texas A&M||Mississippi State|
|Points per game||49||28.4|
|3rd down conv.||53.8%||40.4%|
|Def. 3rd down conv.||37.1||32.4|