'Folk tale' Manziel poised to win Heisman Trophy

The historic acceptance speech is ready for delivery.

But not because Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel believes all the straw polls that suggest he will become the first freshman to claim the Heisman Trophy when the winner is announced tonight in New York.

For Manziel, winner of the 2012 Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, the point is preparation.

Just like the redshirt freshman readied for each opponent while setting a Southeastern Conference record with 4,600 yards of total offense and leading No. 9 A&M (10-2) to a Jan. 4 berth in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic at Cowboys Stadium.

"If you are going to New York, you have to be prepared because you never know what the outcome will be," said Manziel, one of three Heisman finalists in a field that includes two seniors: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.

No freshman in the award's 77-year history has had to deliver an acceptance speech at the Heisman presentation ceremony.

But all signs Friday pointed toward a Manziel victory, with the website projecting "Johnny Football" to receive 80.8 percent of available points on Heisman ballots based on feedback from 180 voters.

Manziel received 105 first-place votes in that sampling, more than double the total for Te'o (49) or Klein (10).

The highest freshman finish in a Heisman race came in 2004, when former Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson finished second to USC quarterback Matt Leinart, a junior that season.

Peterson, in an interview with The Associated Press, made it clear this week that he considers it long overdue for Manziel to break through the glass ceiling that stopped him.

"Hopefully, they don't rob him like they did me," Peterson said. "I hope he wins."

Other players and college football analysts who joined Manziel in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for Thursday's telecast of The Home Depot College Football Awards agreed that the freshman factor -- a sticking point to some voters in the near-miss Heisman campaigns of Peterson and Georgia running back Herschel Walker (third in 1980) -- should no longer be in play in 2012, four decades after freshmen became eligible to compete for NCAA varsity football teams in 1972.

"The Heisman is supposed to go to the most outstanding player in all of college football," West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey said.

"I think Johnny Manziel is pretty deserving of it. He's a great player. He's a winner. I don't think it should matter if you're a freshman.... If you're the most outstanding player in the country, then that's what you are."

Baylor receiver Terrance Williams said: "If you're out there putting up numbers and making plays, then your age or your class shouldn't define who you are. I don't understand why some voters feel that way."

Manziel, 20, made it clear that he is prepared for any outcome and understands that "people have their different opinions" about the worthiness of freshman candidates.

He also understands the basic premise of college football's top individual honor.

"It goes to the most outstanding player in college football," Manziel said. "If that happens to be me, then that's something that I'll cherish for the rest of my life. If not, then that's just kind of how the cookie crumbles, I guess."

After being made off-limits to media members throughout the regular season by A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, Manziel has weighed in on multiple topics for the past two weeks.

Among them: Until blossoming as a football player in high school, Manziel thought he'd have a career in professional baseball.

He cited his June 29 arrest in College Station on misdemeanor charges of fighting and presenting fake identification as "a critical mistake in my life" that led to changes in his off-field approach.

And he was stunned Thursday night when his Twitter account, @jmanziel2, received follower No. 100,000. By Friday afternoon, the count had reached 108,721.

As "Johnny Football" prepares himself for the possibility of making Heisman history tonight, here is a look at Manziel in his own words:

On lessons learned from his arrest: "That was ... a critical mistake in my life. The first thing that goes through your mind is just how many people that you've let down. It's something that I look back on as one of the biggest mistakes of my life. And, from there, I've had to make a lot of changes in my life. I'm really more aware of my surroundings ... and more of a homebody."

On his sports-related goals as a young athlete: "I always thought since I was a little kid that I would play pro baseball ... I wanted to play for the Rangers. I wanted to play shortstop. Then football came around and took center stage and I kind of ran with it."

On his huge Twitter following: "I think the positive feedback you read is awesome, to really hear what people think about me and how I'm their role model and stuff like that makes you feel great. As far as my tweeting, I just try to let people know a little bit more about who I am and what I do throughout the day. I'm just a normal kid like everybody else."

On having uncle Harley Hooper, who owns multiple men's clothing stores, help select his suit for tonight's Heisman ceremony: "My uncle is somebody I've looked up to. If I wanted to dress like somebody, I would dress like him every single day. He's one of the best dressers I've been around."

On his gift for unscripted big plays: "I never really intend on going out there and just running around and freelancing. It's just an instinct, for me, that takes over. I'd love to sit back there and get the ball out and not have to worry about running around in circles."

On inheriting his competitiveness from his father, John Paul Manziel: "My dad still thinks he can beat me in baseball, football, golf, ping pong.... He's a scratch golfer. But I think I can take him in everything else."

On fans and media members who label him as a "legend": "I don't know if I'd really consider myself a legend. It's more of a folk tale, I guess, right now."

On advice he'd give to young quarterbacks: "If you're going to play football, play it with all your heart. It doesn't matter if you're 5-10 and want to play quarterback. Look at Doug Flutie.... It doesn't matter how big you are or how fast you are. Just play with a lot of heart and leave it on the field every time."

On the opportunity to join John David Crow, the 1957 recipient, on A&M's list of Heisman Trophy winners: "It's something that would be one of the best memories of my entire life ... to bring the Heisman Trophy back to Aggieland for all these fans, after all the years of football that it's been since we've had a Heisman Trophy winner. To really bring the excitement and really bring some of the positives back to Aggieland would be something that would be the ultimate goal."

Elite company

Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel can become the first freshman to win the Heisman and the eighth player from a Texas school:







Davey O'Brien





Doak Walker





John David Crow

Texas A&M




Earl Campbell





Andre Ware





Ricky Williams





Robert Griffin III




Jimmy Burch


Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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