NEW YORK – He’s Johnny Best in Football now – and a freshman, at that.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first newcomer to win the Heisman Trophy, taking college football’s top individual prize Saturday night after a record-breaking debut.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o finished a distant second in the voting and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein was third. In a Heisman race with two nontraditional candidates, Manziel broke through the class ceiling and kept Te’o from becoming the first purely defensive player to win the award.
“That barrier’s broken now,” Manziel said. “It’s starting to become more of a trend that freshmen are coming in early and that they are ready to play. And they are really just taking the world by storm.”
None more than the guy they call Johnny Football.
Manziel drew 474 first-place votes and 2,029 points from the panel of media members and former winners. Te’o had 321 first-place votes and 1,706 points and Klein received 60 firsts and 894 points.
“I have been dreaming about this since I was a kid, running around the backyard pretending I was Doug Flutie, throwing Hail Marys to my dad,” he said after hugging his parents and kid sister.
Flutie was one of many Heisman winners standing behind Manziel as he gave his speech on stage at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square.
“I always wanted to be in a fraternity,” Manziel said later. “Now I get to be in the most prestigious one in the entire world.”
Manziel was so nervous waiting for the winner to be announced, he wondered if the television cameras could see his heart pounding beneath his navy blue pinstripe suit. But he seemed incredibly calm after, hardly resembling the guy who dashes around the football field on Saturday. He simply bowed his head, and later gave the trophy a quick kiss.
Just a few days after turning 20, Manziel proved times have truly changed in college football, and that experience can be really overrated.
For years, seniors dominated the award named after John Heisman, the pioneering Georgia Tech coach from the early 1900s.
In the 1980s, juniors started becoming common winners. Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win it in 2007, and two more won it in the next two seasons.
Adrian Peterson had come closest as a freshman, finishing second to Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart in 2004.
But it took 78 years for a newbie to take home the big bronze statue.
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” he said.
Peterson was a true freshman for Oklahoma. As a redshirt freshmen, Manziel attended school and practiced with the team last year, but did not play in any games.
He’s the second player from Texas A&M to win the Heisman, joining John David Crow from 1957, and did so without the slightest hint of preseason hype. Manziel didn’t even win the starting job until two weeks before the season.
He has thrown for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and run for 1,181 yards and 19 more scores to become the first freshman, first SEC player and fifth player overall to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a season.