Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and the 2012 recipient, has fashioned a history-making college career during his time in College Station.
As a third-year sophomore, Manziel is eligible to enter the 2014 NFL Draft and has dropped strong hints that his final college game will occur Tuesday, when No. 21 A&M (8-4) meets No. 24 Duke (10-3) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta (7 p.m., ESPN).
Manziel has yet to make an official announcement about his future. But in a recent interview he acknowledged he has sought feedback from NFL executives, as permitted under NCAA rules, and also will seek counsel from coaches and family members before deciding whether to include his name in the draft pool in January.
“To sit here and say it’s not on my mind, that wouldn’t be very truthful,” Manziel said of his NFL future. “If you’re going to be smart with the opportunity at hand, you have to exhaust all your options and make the best decision about what’s best for you.
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“You take everything into account. But more than anything, ‘Are you ready for the next level?’ That’s the big thing. In my mind, I think I am.”
Manziel, 21, has drawn kudos from multiple NFL draft analysts while racking up 9,564 yards of total offense and accounting for 88 touchdowns in two seasons as the Aggies’ starting quarterback. Although his size (6-foot, 200 pounds) and gunslinger style concern some NFL general managers, Manziel is projected to be taken in the top half of the first round if he makes himself available in the 2014 draft.
In his second season as an A&M starter, Manziel has upped his completion percentage (69.1) and passing efficiency rating (170.4) over the numbers he posted in 2012, when he became the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy. He’s also thrown more touchdown passes (33) and interceptions (13) than he did as a freshman while showing more pocket presence and cutting back on his rushing attempts.
Manziel heads into the Duke game with 686 rushing yards (5.2 avg.) and eight touchdowns after rushing for 1,410 yards and 21 TDs as a freshman.
In a wide-ranging interview, Manziel said he’s healthier than he has been for several weeks after playing with shoulder and thumb ailments.
He also explained why, after a tumultuous off-season capped by an NCAA suspension for the first half of the season opener against Rice, he did not post an entry on his Twitter feed from July 31 to Dec. 6.
And he knows what he wants his A&M legacy to be if Tuesday’s game is his college finale.
Below is a look at Manziel in his own words:
On whether he’s ready to play in the NFL next season: “In my mind, I feel like I’m playing, for the most part, at a really high level of football. I’m putting the ball where I want it to be and I’m throwing it with a lot of velocity. In my mind, I think I am.”
On whether he is anxious to leave the small-town scrutiny in College Station: “It’s not anything about me wanting to leave or wanting to get out of town. But if you have that opportunity [to play in the NFL] and it’s a dream of yours, you have to look at it all and take it in stride. I think you take everything into account ... How the season went. Whether you’re ready. Whether teams are quarterback-needy. You don’t want to go and be unprepared for the National Football League and leave two years on the table.”
On recent struggles by the A&M offense, which topped the 40-point mark in the first 10 games but managed only 31 points in November losses to LSU (34-10) and Missouri (28-21): “Toward the end of the season, we just weren’t meshing as a group and you have to have that. The Auburn game [45-41 loss on Oct. 19], that was one we felt like we let go. That was a lot of wind knocked out of us. After that, we didn’t have the same confidence, the same swagger as a unit that we needed. My job right now is to try and get that back.”
On battling thumb, shoulder ailments in November: “I’d say I was around 90 percent. I definitely wasn’t 100. But I had to go out there and play for these guys. It’s the SEC. You’re going to get beat up during the season.”
On why he dropped off Twitter during the regular season (no fresh posts from July 31 until Dec. 6, his 21st birthday): “I was just tired of being scrutinized so much. The only way to get away from that is just to not do anything. Not get on Twitter and not really do much during the season. And just keep a low profile and keep it quiet. I wanted the attention off of me and on to what we needed to do as a team.”
On the disappointment of an 8-4 record for a team that talked openly about national title hopes in August: “We definitely had our ups and downs. We didn’t have the record we wanted to at the beginning of the year. Just the whole season in general has been a ride. It’s had its bumps. But we continue to fight and … try to win. Now, we’ve just got to go execute.”
On where he improved as a quarterback in the 2013 season:“I was more accurate. I had better footwork in the pocket and better pocket awareness. That’s what I was going for. There was a long stretch there where we were completing 73 or 74 percent of our passes, which is what we wanted to do. That kind of tailed off there at the end, but for 10 games, we played really good football.”
On what he showed to NFL scouts in 2013: “I wanted to come back and be a better quarterback, not just a guy some people say is just a good athlete. I never wanted to be labeled as that.”
On his A&M legacy: “If this was to be the end of it, I want to be one of the best to ever play at A&M. Hopefully, I did my part to try and help build the program and take it to another level.”
On making history as the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012: “It’s incredible how big things boomed and it spread out across the entire country, the world, everything after that. It was nothing like I had expected. It was different to go from such a slow, small-town College Station status and … then to take that to a national level, where you’re walking around Times Square and people are running into you and noticing you. But to win the Heisman, that’s an awesome experience. It’s a dream come true for anyone that’s grown up playing Pop Warner football, middle school and high school football. It’s a really big deal.”