Fans who embraced Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as "Johnny Football" this season might want to consider a new nickname. How about "Johnny Heis-Manziel?"
Manziel became the first freshman winner in the 78-year history of the award when results of the voting were announced Saturday night at a ceremony in midtown Manhattan. Manziel totaled 2,029 points, including 474 first-place votes, to beat out Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (1,706 points, 321) and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein (894 points, 60).
"This is a moment that I've dreamed about since I've been a kid running around the backyard, pretending I was [1984 winner] Doug Flutie throwing 'Hail Marys' to my dad," a beaming Manziel said.
After thanking his parents and sister, Manziel added a charming touch. "Grandpa, for all the times we used to play in the hallway and throw the ball until we couldn't any more, I love you with all my heart," he said. "You inspired me to play football. And to Grandma, I'm so sorry for all the things we broke in the house.''
The Heisman winner also has been wearing a "Charlie's Angels" wristband in honor of a young Houston boy who is undergoing a stem cell transplant to treat his cancer. After the announcement, there was an immediate outpouring of support for the boy and his family.
"It means the world to me if I can have an impact on his battle," Manziel said.
Manziel led the Aggies (10-2) to a Cotton Bowl berth against Oklahoma while totaling 4,600 yards of total offense, including 1,181 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns and 3,419 yards passing for another 24 TDs. He's only the fifth player in FBS history to top 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a single season, and he did it faster than anyone. He is the second Aggie to win the award after running back John David Crow in 1957.
Manziel actually is a redshirt freshman who was just a candidate for the starting job and nearly blew it last June when he was arrested for his involvement in a street fight. He still faces three pending misdemeanor charges for disorderly conduct, failure to identify and possessing false identification. But coach Kevin Sumlin stuck by him.
"My fate was up in the air," Manziel said. "How thankful I am for coach Sumlin and everybody involved with the program to really look at me and say what a dramatic mistake that was in my life and how uncharacteristic of me to do something like that. That incident has changed me. I've learned from that."
Sumlin at first wanted Manziel to take it slow and be more of a game manager. But "Johnny Football" had other ideas.
"I always had the mind-set that I wanted to be the biggest person in this offense, and I wanted to be the catalyst and the person that makes this thing run," Manziel said. "So maybe I held myself to a little higher expectations than he did."
Te'o and Klein, both seniors, also were hoping to make history. Te'o, who led undefeated Notre Dame to the No. 1 ranking and a BCS title game berth against Alabama, would have been the first pure defensive player to win the award. He received the most points ever for a pure defender. Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson won it in 1997, but he also played wide receiver and returned kicks at times. Klein would have been the first winner from Kansas State.
But it was Manziel who captured the imagination of voters. The defining moment that put him over the top with voters undoubtedly was A&M's 29-24 upset of then-No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 10 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Before the ceremony, Manziel said he wouldn't be nervous at all, but reality was something else.
"My heart was beating out to right here," he said, holding a hand away from his chest. "I was wondering on TV if you could see my shirt move. I was really, really nervous, more nervous than I've ever been in my life."
As for making history as the first freshman, Manziel said, "For me to break that barrier is such an honor. It's so humbling for me to be the first freshman to win and make history. It's truly so awesome."