With Texas A&M athletics nearing its end for the school year, we here at GBH would like to help you pass the time by rehashing past Aggie moments that proved to leave quite a mark on the university.
In two weeks, the NFL Draft will finally commence and the fate of one of the most analyzed classes ever will be decided. On the forefront of said scrutiny is the greatest Aggie football player of all-time, one Jonathan Paul Manziel. In case you've missed it, quite a bit has been said about the QB from Tivy High School so I'll give a brief summation: He's good. Like real good. Like Walter White cooking crystal good. Like Drake-Writes-A-Song-About-You good. So good that since one November afternoon/evening in Tuscaloosa, he's arguably been the most covered athlete in sports. And so good that the school he played for has reached a national relevancy never experienced in its entire history.
Yet at this point in time two years ago, it was doubtful that he would ever start under center. In fact, while the spring of 2012 gave us our first glimpse at Johnny Football, it may have been the last time fans saw him as just a mere mortal.
And also like two years ago, Texas A&M football comes to another crossroads at the quarterback position. With the departure by Matt Joeckel to TCU, the QB spot will come down to either sophomore Kenny Hill or the freshman newcomer Kyle Allen. As we take a look back at the 2012 spring game, we'll see how Kevin Sumlin set the precedent for just this kind of situation and how Johnny Football showed how one plays in March and April does not determine his fate for Week 1.
I apologize for the scabs I may pry open with this next statement: This season, it will have been three years since heartbreaking dumpster fire that was the 2011 football season. From an Aggie fan perspective, it was the 2nd most anticipated year next to the 2013 season. Preseason Top-10. Senior, and future Top-10 draft pick, Quarterback. Nearly Every Starter Returning from the Previous Year.
I won't digress too much but many know how it ended. Games were lost. Tears flowed endlessly. And in a matter of months, the Aggies went from dark horse national title contender to firing their coach in a recruit's driveway. This occurred during A&M's final season in the Big XII, leading every sports analyst to leap at the chance to write/talk/shout how much of a mistake the Ags were making in joining the titanic SEC. And at the time, there wasn't much to argue against that stance. Even the most optimistic of Aggie fans didn't believe success would come until a few years down the road.
Regardless, the maroon and white had no choice but to embark on their new journey with nothing but uncertainty, especially since they would be entering the conference with a coach that ran an offense that could not be more opposite from his SEC peers. The thought process was simple: Prolific mid-major offense + SEC Defense = Fail. The majority believed Kevin Sumlin would be walking into a buzzsaw. He just needed a quarterback to be the wood. By the spring game, he had two choices: Rocket-arm sophomore Jameill Showers or redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel.
Showers was the more experienced player, but in the way Blake Bell was an experienced quarterback for OU this last year. His playing time consisted of coming in during garbage time or running from the Wildcat formation where he did not throw a pass. While it was a mystery how he would react to real game pressure, what was not in question was his arm. Whatever scheme Sumlin was going to implement, Showers was the most like the quarterbacks he'd coached in the past (Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Drew Brees), enough mobility to make defenses aware and an arm that could make all the throws.
Manziel was known for two things at the time: his stats and his YouTube highlight reel. The same video game antics we're used to today were equally prominent in Kerrville, TX. His athleticism exceeded arguably all past Aggie QBs except for maybe Reggie McNeal. But he stood less than six feet, and though his highlights were mesmerizing, there's a difference between outrunning a 4A high school defense and a SEC one. For every YouTube sensation that becomes a football star, there are thousands more that don't pan out. Someone that Manziel had a risk of becoming was former Cy-Fair superstar Sam McGuffie.
During high school, McGuffie was the highlight reel everyone watched. He was the first player I saw hurdle over a standing defender like he was running a track meet. It seemed etched in stone that his destiny was to be the next Reggie Bush. But after suffering multiple concussions his freshman year at Michigan, McGuffie's career eventually fizzled out.
Though that risk was there for Manziel, you could see in highlights that if the game clicked for him at the college level, he could accomplish feats college football had never seen.
THE SPRING GAME
Though literally hundreds of plays were run (105 in the first half), the game turned out to be a "Meh" performance. Since the defense came off a disastrous run in 2011, the success on offense tended to be taken with a grain of salt. And since the defense was so disastrous, when they had success, it was taken as more of a warning sign from the offense.
Manziel struck first with the first touchdown of the game. The score came from a play-action slant to Ryan Swope where Johnny faked to the running back, drawing the linebackers up, and then threw to Swope over the top (a play that would become prominent that season. After that drive, Showers would be the better quarterback.
The stat line weighed heavily in the sophomore's favor:
Showers: 20-31, 201 yds, 2tds/0ints
Manziel: 13-27, 154, 1tds/1ints
Out of the four QBs that played that day (Showers, Manziel, Matt Joeckel, Matt Davis), Showers was the only one who displayed any pocket presence. Where the rest were quick to abandon, Showers stepped up and read through his progressions. The results were not perfect, but the signs were there that Sumlin's system was making sense to him.
Manziel's day was not completely disastrous, but he looked stuck in high school mode. Most of his plays resulted in him scrambling right, and many incompletions came in those situations. The set up of the spring game also presents a disadvantage: the rule that the defense cannot tackle the quarterback. The rule goes that when a defender gets close enough to the QB then the play is called dead, which as we all know takes away quite a bit of the essence of Johnny Football.
When the clock hit 00:00, no questions were answered and the team was still surrounded with the same uncertainty, as is usually the case with spring games.
POST SPRING GAME
When fans walked out of Kyle Field that day, the general thought was the QB job was Showers' to lose. When a certain incident occurred at the end of June that year, it looked like Jameill would be running unopposed.
But time went on, and gradually Manziel became more and more involved in the discussion of the starting QB job. With each interview Coach Sumlin or Kliff Kingsbury (miss ya, bud) gave, a point always came across how much Manziel continued to progress in practice. And with just a couple weeks left until the 2012 season commenced, Johnny Football officially began his reign.