At the end of college football’s regular season in 2012, I believed that Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o should have won the Heisman Trophy. I closely examined him in every game he played during the year and I was fully convinced he deserved the honor, although he had already become the most decorated single season player ever.
Admittedly, when Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman, I was slightly irked. This was mostly because I had never taken the time to watch him play outside of his season defining victory over Alabama.
After closely examining his play during the offseason, it became clear why he earned the Heisman: He truly was the best player in the nation. From his physical skills to his leadership, Manziel was truly the most outstanding player the 2012 season had to offer.
This season, a similar debate has been presented in regards to who deserves the 2013 Heisman, Johnny Manziel or Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. While it is clear to me at least, that Manziel should be the head candidate, Mariota is the favorite at the moment to win the coveted award.
Mariota is a very good player, don’t get me wrong, but Manziel has the once-in-a-generation talent that I have only seen one other player possess, with that player being Tim Tebow.
Due to Manziel’s off the field "antics," I believe this has put a damper on his reputation. Hearing ESPN analysts such as Paul Finebaum constantly knock Manziel because he was doing what any other 20-year-old in his position would do during the offseason is so repetitive and cliché.
Let’s not forget, Manziel allegedly signed autographs for money, but the NCAA was unable to present any hard evidence to give him an extended suspension.
The public, ranging from fans to media members, have repeated over and over again that Johnny should only focus on being a football player. Now that Manziel is flourishing at an amazing level, all his critics can do is reflect back to his troubled offseason, refusing to give him credit where credit is due.
On the field, Manziel is on track to have another phenomenal season. Through six games, Manziel has thrown for 1,835 yards while completing 73 percent of his passes, 14 touchdowns with only five interceptions.
On the ground, Manziel has 438 yards and five touchdowns. He put together a highlight reel of plays against Alabama again this season, accumulating over 500 all-purpose yards and scoring five touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who “doesn’t focus enough on football.”
Another thing Manziel has been knocked on is his leadership.
This past weekend in their game against Ole Miss, Manziel did something that stuck out to me more than anything he’s done on the field this season: When Robert Nkemdiche went down with a leg injury after attempting to chase Manziel down on a scramble, Manziel immediately took his helmet off, took a knee and began to pray about five yards away from Nkemdiche.
Later on in the game, Ole Miss player Serderius Bryant suffered a brutal looking injury after lowering his head to attempt to stop Manziel, who was still at full speed at the time of the collision. Again, Manziel kneeled close to him and appeared to be praying.
I know that people hate to bring religion into things, especially sports, but this is more symbolic than anything. Someone who has been labeled as a punk is going against his reputation; he continues to conduct himself as if he is a professional.
This, if not for his on-field production, shows why Manziel is worthy of the Heisman. Heisman trophy winners conduct themselves with the highest character, exhibit excellence on the field and are some of the smartest players to hit the football field. Manziel is a prime example of all three of those things.
I’ll end the column on this note: This was not a column written to praise Manziel, but more to get his critics to take their blinders off and appreciate the greatness that is happening right in front of their eyes. Fans might not like Manziel because he lives the life every college male wishes he could have, but at least appreciate his contributions to college football.