Johnny Football: A nickname coined in Aggieland, a legend crafted in the Hill Country

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KERRVILLE, Texas -- The legend of Johnny Football begins in the Texas Hill Country, Kerrville to be exact, where "Manziel Mania" got it's start.

Stuart Cunyus writes and shoots photos for the Hill Country Community Journal, and he'll never forget the first time he saw Manziel take the field.

"I photograph games. I watch games through the lens. His first game out here as a freshman I kept putting the camera down. He kept amazing me with the things he was doing. You forget to shoot because you're like, "Oh my gosh, this guy's from another world."

The numbers Manziel put up from the time he began his varsity career as a sophomore to the time he graduated are simply amazing.

160 combined touchdowns, 77 his senior season alone, over 11,000 yards, and he twice led the Antlers to the state semifinals.

Cunyus said, "I get a kick out of the sportscaster saying he had six touchdowns the other day. We really never expected anything less from him, he got us so spoiled. Six, seven, he ran for eight touchdowns once against Clemens here. He's just an amazing athlete. The best I've ever seen."

Against SMU Manziel broke two Aggie freshman records and tied another.

Judge Steve Ables has been the public address announcer at Antler Stadium for 23 years, and he was not a bit surprised by what he saw Johnny do in Dallas.

"We were convinced he was going to do the same thing at A&M he did at Tivy, which was electrify people. You had people who would go to Tivy games that were 75, 80 years old and they'd go just to see Johnny because of his ability to run, pass, leap. Just spectacular in high school, but we were all convinced he was going to do the same thing at A&M."

Mark Smith was Manziel's coach at Tivy and now is the head coach at Converse Judson.

He knew Johnny was a fantastic athlete when he and his family moved to Kerrville as an 8th grader, now he's proud of how much better Manzeil has become as a quarterback.

"I think that's where I saw him grow the most between his junior and senior year. His junior year he made a lot of plays with his feet. His senior year he learned to just have patience, let things happen, and he made a lot more plays with his arm. I think he did a lot of that in a process to grow but also to show that he could throw the football. Everybody knew he could run it, but could he throw it? He's got a very live arm so I'm seeing some of the same things with him now."

In Aggieland "Manziel Madness" has spawned the nickname "Johnny Football."

The story would be better if Manziel had been Johnny Football while building his legend in high school, but the truth is the nickname is an Aggie invention.

"The reason we didn't call him Johnny Football was because he was an incredible baseball player," said Ables. "He could have played basketball if he wanted to play basketball, and you ought to see him hit a golf ball. If you see him hit a golf ball he can just knock it off the planet."

Smith seems to like the nickname. "I hear they call him Johnny Football now in Aggieland, and it's probably a pretty good moniker. The kid's a competitor. The thing when you look at Johnny, I think the biggest thing I see, is he's a competitor. He's a leader. He wants to win and he makes people around him better, I think. It doesn't mean he doesn't fall and doesn't fail from time to time, nobody's perfect, but he holds himself accountable and he'll hold his teammates accountable and, to me, that's what leadership is."