LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Texas A&M's turnaround season reached another level Thursday when two players from the school's high-powered offense took home national honors at The Home Depot College Football Awards Show.
Left tackle Luke Joeckel, an Arlington High School graduate, joined record-setting redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel as honorees on a night when No. 9 A&M (10-2) was the only school to have multiple players recognized during the telecast.
Joeckel, a junior, received the Outland Trophy, given to the nation's top interior lineman. Manziel received the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award and will be honored Feb. 18 during a ceremony at the Fort Worth Club.
"We're making A&M relevant again," Joeckel said after becoming the first player in school history to claim the Outland Trophy.
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"It means everything. A&M is just a huge powerhouse in Texas and it's great to bring positive exposure to the school."
Thursday's honorees are part of a unit that ranks third among the nation's 120 FBS schools in scoring offense (44.8 avg.) and total offense (552.3 yards per game). The Aggies are 13th in rushing (235.1) and 14th in passing (317.3). First-year coach Kevin Sumlin, who inherited a 7-6 team from predecessor Mike Sherman, cited Joeckel and Manziel as key cogs in making that happen.
Manziel, one of three finalists who will be in New York for Saturday's live announcement of the Heisman Trophy winner, received the O'Brien on the same night that he celebrated his 20th birthday. A Tyler native who played in high school at Kerrville Tivy, Manziel said it "meant the world" to collect the O'Brien at the conclusion of a freshman season when he set a Southeastern Conference record for total offense (4,600 yards) and accounted for 43 touchdowns (19 rushing, 23 passing) while leading A&M to a Jan. 4 berth in the AT&T Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium.
"To be named the best quarterback, it's a dream come true," Manziel said. "And looking back at the beginning of the year, if somebody would have told me, I probably wouldn't have believed them."
But the 2012 season has unfolded in dramatic fashion for "Johnny Football," who won a three-player battle in fall drills to become the Aggies' starting quarterback and projects as the favorite heading into Saturday's Heisman announcement, based on multiple straw polls. If successful, Manziel would become the first freshman to win the Heisman in the award's 77-year history.
He already is the first freshman, and first A&M player, to win the O'Brien. Manziel has declared himself "shocked" by his instant success in college football.
But that sentiment is not shared by George Whitfield, the San Diego-based quarterback coach who works with Manziel and multiple NFL quarterbacks.
"A lot of quarterbacks are alpha males," Whitfield said. "But some of them can't even fathom a less-than-ideal outcome. And he's one of those few. Johnny thinks he can slay dragons. His confidence is built-in."
Joeckel, meanwhile, said he did not expect to win the Outland but was overjoyed to do so because he is part of "an offensive line family."
His father, David, was a four-year letterman as an offensive lineman at Texas Tech (1979-82). His older brother, also named David, played offensive line for DePauw, an NCAA Division III school in Greencastle, Ind. And his grandfather, Reece Washington, played tight end for Texas Tech.
"I can't believe it. It's amazing," said Joeckel, who was joined at the ceremony by his parents and his twin brother, Matt, an A&M backup quarterback. "Coming into college, I never expected to be here. I'm humbled by it. ... I don't even think I'm one of he best players I've seen on film. So I guess I'm one of my harshest critics. It's crazy."
Winning the Outland, Joeckel said, is "the ultimate goal for an offensive lineman" and something he has talked about with his father since his earliest days as a pee-wee player.
Manziel, who ranks second nationally in total offense (383.3 yards per game), is the first freshman -- and fifth major-college quarterback -- to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Manziel finished with 1,181 rushing yards, 3,419 passing yards and completed 68.3 percent of his passes in his first season as the Aggies' starter.
"He's a great player that has made huge plays for his team in huge games. And in huge moments in those games," said Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, an O'Brien finalist who will join Manziel and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o as the three finalists at Saturday's Heisman Trophy presentation.
Te'o received three honors Thursday (Bednarik Award, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award), the most of any player. But only A&M had multiple honorees with Joeckel and Manziel both becoming the first players from the school to win their respective awards.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760