COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M had one last party in it — at least for now — to celebrate freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Trophy.
A few thousand Aggies, primarily current students, gathered around the steps at Memorial Student Center on Wednesday night to mainly welcome back Manziel, although his teammates were recognized as well during the “Celebrating the 12th Man” event.
“What an honor it is to represent you guys throughout the country this past week,” Manziel said to roars from the crowd on a clear, cool evening in Aggieland. “We were in the Big Apple on some of the biggest stages in the entire world and really let people know what the 12th Man is all about.”
Manziel, who redshirted last season under a different coaching staff, became the first freshman to win the Heisman, which celebrated its 78th year Saturday night in New York.
“Thank you guys for all of the support you’ve given us this year,” said Manziel, who flourished under first-year coach Kevin Sumlin. “You’ve really pushed us hard and we couldn’t have done this without you. You’re the best student body in the country and I love each and every one of y’all.”
Manziel hoisted the trophy in the air following a short speech. A&M junior offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, the first Aggie to win the Outland Award, given to the nation’s top interior offensive lineman, also addressed the gathering.
“These are the best fans in the entire country, whether it’s college football, the NFL, basketball … whatever it is, y’all are the best fans,” Joeckel said. “What an honor it is to represent y’all in Kyle Field every Saturday.”
A&M President R. Bowen Loftin, the primary catalyst behind the university’s move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference this season, said Manziel’s leadership has been a joy to watch during the Aggies’ 10-2 season.
“Leadership is a tough thing,” Loftin said. “It takes two things in place to make it work. First of all, the team you lead has to believe in you, and you also have to believe in them. That sums it up for Johnny Manziel.
“Johnny led this team, but they also respected him and followed him, and that combination did what no one thought we could do.”
The Aggies, winners of five straight to close out the regular season, toppled then-top-ranked Alabama 29-24 on Nov. 10 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and also won all four of their SEC road games in their first season in the powerful league. Their two losses were by a combined eight points to Florida and LSU at Kyle Field.
“What a great week this has been, and what a great season this has been for Aggieland,” said Richard Box, A&M’s board of regents chairman. “How sweet it is. We heard a lot of trash talk around the country saying A&M wasn’t going to be able to compete, and it may take three or four years before we get there. Well, we’re there.”
A&M will play 10-2 Oklahoma, a former Big 12 opponent, on Jan. 4 in the Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
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