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December 7, 2012

Manziel the clear Heisman choice

There are privileges afforded to us in the sporting media from time to time that are perks - we often get the best seats in the house for football games, get to ask questions of coaches and players that fans wish they could ask, get to meet and cover interesting (and sometimes historic) characters.

There are also duties, and I hold none more sacred than voting for the Heisman Trophy. I was granted a vote in the early 1990s and take it quite seriously. I don't always vote for the person who eventually wins, as I prefer to place my first-place vote for the best players I have seen in person, and over the course of a season covering Southeastern Conference football, I usually see someone who I think is worthy.

This time, it was easy.

My vote went to Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, probably better known as "Johnny Football."

The Heisman Trust dictates that the award go to "the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity," noting that "winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work." It doesn't say anything in the voting criteria about being an upperclassman, fortunately, and I have no qualms about giving my vote to a freshman (in this case, a redshirt freshman).

Watching Manziel beat the then-No. 1 University of Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium, and doing it on the strength of his will and guile and in swashbuckling fashion, was enough to convince me that Johnny Football is the right guy. He passed for 253 yards and two touchdowns, completing 24 of 31 attempts, and ran for 92 yards on 18 carries, all against one of the best defenses in the nation. He made game-changing and game-winning plays. He did what Heisman Trophy winners do.

It wasn't just one game. Manziel ran for 19 touchdowns, passed for 24 and posted a combined 4,600 yards. Astonishing numbers, more astonishing when you consider he did it in Texas A&M's first year in the SEC. The Aggies were expected to struggle in their first year in the nation's best conference, but Johnny Football saw to it that they thrived instead.

The Heisman ballot has room for a first-, second- and third-place vote. I stayed within the SEC for all three names on my ballot.

My second-place vote went to South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, the most unstoppable defensive force in the nation in my estimation. Clowney registered 13 sacks and 21 1/2 total tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He completely took over games at times, and played like a man among children.

I was stuck between two University of Alabama players for my third-place vote. I could have gone with Barrett Jones, the most decorated offensive lineman (and possibly most decorated player at any position) in Crimson Tide history, but ultimately went with C.J. Mosley, Alabama's best linebacker and the team's most valuable player as recognized by UA's year-end awards.

Mosley was the linchpin of a defense that returned just four starters from the 2011 national championship unit, and it was the maturity and growth of UA's defense that put the Crimson Tide in the hunt for another national championship. Mosley has made 99 tackles - no one else at Alabama has more than 56 - and has also been instrumental in pass coverage. His versatility keeps him on the field in multiple personnel groupings, but the most outstanding feature of his statistics is the fact that he has sat out around two total games in situations where Alabama has emptied the bench in the second half in blowout victories. Had he been on the field for four quarters every time out, his numbers would be even more impressive.

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Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0224.


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