Though just a high school senior, Johnny Manziel already has achieved folk-hero status and is being called one of the greatest playmakers in the history of hallowed Texas prep football.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound quarterback has put up some amazing numbers at Tivy (Kerrville, Texas), a Class 4A school with an enrollment of 1,400 in grades 9-12. During his brilliant three-year career, he has completed 520 of 819 passes (63.5 percent) for 7,626 yards and 76 touchdowns. He also has rushed 531 times for 4,045 yards and 77 touchdowns. In addition, he has caught 30 passes for 582 yards and another five touchdowns.
Video of Johnny Manziel
He has the great athletic ability that comes with a 31-inch vertical jump, being able to run 40 yards in a swift 4.5 seconds and bench press 225 pounds.
"He's well thought of around this area," Tivy coach Mark Smith acknowledged. "For our last game people drove out here an hour from San Antonio. People called from Houston and 18 came in a couple vehicles just to see Johnny."
The testimonies are long and full of praise from opposing coaches.
Madison (San Antonio) coach Jim Streety told MaxPreps, "He is a spectacular high school football player. He's the best playmaking quarterback I've seen in my years (44) of coaching. He's obviously a tremendous athlete, but he has that innate ability to prolong plays and make something good out of them.
"He's very good on his feet and has got tremendous accuracy throwing the ball. Without a doubt, production-wise there's nobody out there like him. His stats have been off the charts. We were able to pressure him, but then he started scrambling and killed us. He's a better athlete than any defensive lineman or linebacker you have. The only way you can match up is with cornerbacks or safeties and by the time they get there he's already hurt you."
Lake Travis (Austin, Texas) dealt Tivy its only two losses this year and coach Hank Carter could not have been more complimentary.
"We really didn't stop him," Carter admitted. "The first game (37-33) he ran for a ton of yards, but nobody else (hurt us.). Most of his runs were on scrambles. The last game (48-42) we tried to eliminate his running, but he passed (for 351 yards).
"He is a tough matchup – very fast and strong. He's probably the best playmaker I've ever seen. We faced Matt Stafford (No. 1 NFL draft pick by the Detroit Lions) when I was at Stephenville and Johnny is a lot tougher to deal with. I feel like the Manziel kid can do everything. He doesn't necessarily do everything conventionally, but the end result is as good as it gets. He's Brett Favre on a motorcycle. He's really explosive and runs through tackles. Once he breaks the line of scrimmage, he's got a good stiff arm."
Steele (Cibola, Texas) coach Mike Jinks calls Manziel "the best quarterback I've ever seen play high school football. Moreso than anybody else, he is a joy to watch and coach against. His competitive spirit is unmatched. There are certain guys you are lucky to play against. He made me a much better coach. He is a folk hero around here."
Neal LaHue of Roosevelt (San Antonio) coached Drew Brees in high school.
Comparing the two, LaHue said, "At this point in their careers, Johnny is a more explosive athlete and faster. He has Michael Vick-type speed. He's not just an athlete – he's a quarterback. They are two different types. Drew moved around, but he wasn't the runner that Johnny is. Drew was so accurate, over 70 percent (as a passer).
"Johnny does so much. When the play breaks down he's the best I've ever seen. When cornered, he's the most dangerous. He almost thrives in the moment. He's the best I've seen making something out of nothing. He just plays the game with such heart."
Even opposing players salute Johnny Manziel.
Steele's All-American running back, Malcolm Brown
, says, "He's a great athlete, period. He's quick, fast and makes something out of nothing. If you sit and watch him, you'll be in awe. He'll be remembered for putting up video-game stats. He's a real nice dude, a real goofy type guy. He'll make you laugh if you get to know him."
Sportswriters also have jumped on the Manziel bandwagon.
Fort Worth Express-News columnist Lorne Chan says, "You think you've seen him do everything one week and somehow he shocks you (the next week). He has the ability to wait until the last possible second to make a play. Against Boerne-Champion, he scrambled for 15 seconds – I timed it – ran to his left and fired a 35-yard strike. It's the type of stuff you can't measure.
"What he does can't really be seen in a camp under pressure when he would be chased by three linemen. It's an amazing thing, the respect that opposing teams have for him. He definitely commands it. Even as a sophomore he had leadership ability."
Manziel admits that being called a folk hero at his age "has its advantages and its disadvantages. I want to be the best player ever to come out of this school. I've been blessed, but I've had a lot of players to help me. I play with a little different intensity and compassion than a lot of players and I guess it shows."
Being compared to the unorthodox Brett Favre "is pretty awesome," Manziel says. "I try to make things happen. Most of the time it works. Sometimes they've gone badly as well. It kind of comes with our offense. We take what the defense gives us. I've definitely had to work hard to become a better passer. I always could run. I have a lot of versatility and I take a lot of pride in that."
Mark Smith said that Manziel, who moved from Tyler, Texas, accounted for more than 400 yards in his last game for the 9-1 freshman team, then he was a wide receiver in two varsity playoff games at the end of the season.
Smith noted that from the first day he was "struck by his maturity and leadership skills."
As a sophomore, Manziel started the fourth game at quarterback and shared the position the rest of the year. The first pass he threw as a starter was an omen – it went for a 50-yard touchdown.
His break-out game was against Boerne-Champion (Boerne, Texas). On back-to-back plays he scored on a 76-yard run – which was called back – and on an 80-yarder that did count.
His most memorable performance came against Clemens (Schertz, Texas). The Antlers trailed 30-17, but scored twice on Manziel passes in the last 40 seconds to pull out an amazing 31-30 victory.
The versatile star finished his sophomore year with 1,164 yards passing, 806 rushing and 408 receiving for a combined 28 touchdowns.
Apparently, Manziel especially enjoyed tormenting Clemens, because as a junior he ran for eight touchdowns during a 56-35 rout. That same year he sprinted up the middle for a spectacular 99-yard touchdown against San Marcos (Texas).
He completed his junior year with 2,903 passing yards, 1,544 rushing yards and 152 receiving yards for an overall total of 55 touchdowns.
His 10-2 senior year was marked by many outstanding performances, but the one which probably will be most remembered came during a 39-34 victory over Madison (San Antonio). That night he threw a state-record 75 passes while completing 41 for 503 yards and four touchdowns. There were no interceptions.
"That crazy game seemed like it lasted forever," Manziel said. "I was absolutely shocked (when he found out how many times he had thrown)."
He completed his final campaign with 3,559 passing yards, 1,695 rushing yards and a total of 75 touchdowns.
Despite his mega statistics, Manziel says his biggest thrill has been "those plays I make where I run around a little bit (and scramble for his life)."
Though he's concentrating on football now, Manziel's athletic ability has been recognized in basketball, baseball and golf. He played basketball through eighth grade. He played baseball until this year. A standout shortstop, he batted .412 as a sophomore and .416 as a junior.
Manziel carries an 8 or 10 handicap in golf, even though he rarely has time to play. His dad, Paul, is a scratch golfer who played on the PGA Mini Tour and he calls the sport "a family thing."
Until this fall, Manziel probably was under-recruited because of his lack of great height and his versatility which caused college coaches to question whether or not he is a true quarterback.
He first made a commitment to the University of Oregon, but then chose Texas A&M so he could play closer to home. Stanford and Baylor also were in the picture. He could have gone to the University of Texas – his long-time favorite school – to play baseball.
"If I was 6-3 or 6-4 I would have had a lot more opportunities," Manziel admitted.
Manziel carries a B-plus average and plans to major in sports management. He actually is going to graduate this month and enroll at A&M in January so he can get a jump by attending spring football practice.
He is determined to play quarterback, although he said he would be willing to play some wide receiver for some playing time as a freshman.
"I've put a lot of time getting to where I am today," he said of the hundreds of hours he has worked to become an all-around quarterback. "I play with that ‘it' factor. Drew Brees was not the biggest guy. He's someone I look up to along with Brett Favre."
Hank Carter has the last say on the best college position for the Tivy star.
"He can play anything he wants to play," Carter said. "He throws the ball well. He's not 6-4, but a good-sized kid. He's a heck of a lot better than most 6-5 kids I've seen."
He has an unusual goal for such a high-profile athlete.
"I want to be known as a person who performed on the field, but also a good person off the field," Manziel said. "Aaron Green (San Antonio Madison star running back) says that all your personal accolades collect dust, but your character is the one thing that will be left."
Jim Streety is one coach who admits he won't miss the prolific Manziel.
"I'm glad I had my last look at him," Streety said. "I told him that after our game. He wore me out and I wasn't even in the game."