Johnny Manziel on Wednesday finally said what had seemed inevitable for months — the Texas A&M quarterback and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner is entering the 2014 NFL draft.
“I felt like this is what’s best for me now,” Manziel told CBSsports.com. “I feel very relieved. … I’m ready to become a professional and dedicate myself to making my dream a reality of becoming the best quarterback I can be.”
Manziel took his time in making it official. But the latter part of the 2013 season had plenty of moments that felt like goodbyes: Manziel bounding into the Kyle Field stands to celebrate with fans after the final home game; Johnny Football coming out full force in the second half of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, leading the Aggies to their biggest-ever comeback win in what will stand as Manziel’s final game in Maroon.
He’d said he felt ready for the NFL. And that will be the newest challenge for the projected first-rounder, with some questioning how his 6-0 frame and instinctual style will translate to the NFL. It’s the latest opportunity for Manziel to prove doubters wrong, but he’s always thrived on slaying dragons, as he puts it.
First, he made a transformational impact on Aggieland in the 17 short months since coach Kevin Sumlin named him the starter on Aug. 15, 2012.
Manziel’s two collegiate seasons rank as the top two in SEC history for total offense as he compiled 9,989 career yards and set a slew of A&M records. A&M went 11-2 and won the Cotton Bowl in Manziel’s first season, as he became the first freshman to win the Heisman. The Aggies went 9-4 in 2013, injuries and a shaky defense putting BCS hopes out of reach.
But the greatest legacy may be how Manziel’s free-wheeling, spin-out-of-trouble style redefined highlights and caught imaginations. He lifted A&M’s profile at the same time as the school’s move to the SEC and made College Station a sexier locale for recruits.
“I regret we weren’t able to bring a national championship to College Station,” Manziel wrote in a letter to fans via Texags.com. “But I assure you a championship is going to come soon with coach Sumlin and these talented players. And when it does, you can bet I will be with you to cheer. … I’ll probably be the loudest one there.”
Manziel thanked Sumlin, the school, his teammates and A&M chancellor John Sharp in a release via A&M.
Sharp publicly supported Manziel in the lowest time of the quarterback’s career, amid an NCAA investigation into whether Manziel sold autographs that became public in August.
Manziel eventually sat out for a half-game suspension in the season opener. After that, Manziel’s bountiful off-field extracurriculars quieted and he dragged attention back to his play. In July, he’d been grilled live on ESPN regarding an early exit from the Manning Passing Academy, where he was a counselor. It was the height of intense scrutiny during his off-season.
By this January, he was sitting in on the networks’ broadcasts of the BCS championship game as a guest analyst — and yes, a celebrity.
It will likely be calmer around A&M now that Manziel’s headed to San Diego to train with personal coach George Whitfield and then to his NFL home after the May 8 draft. The Houston Texans have the first pick.
A&M will be challenged to keep building on the platform No. 2 provided and remain on the national stage, with Sumlin now making $5-million annually to do so. But things — the star power, the feeling that just about anything can happen — will never be the same in Aggieland now that the unique, always entertaining Johnny Football Era has ended.
“My experience here and the support,” Manziel said in the statement, “will be something that I carry with me for the rest of my life. I’ll always be an Aggie.”