Johnny Manziel is taking his talents to the next level.
After rewriting Texas A&M's record book for quarterbacks, winning a Heisman Trophy, helping the Aggies make a successful switch to the Southeastern Conference and becoming the program's biggest name, he opted to declare himself available for the 2014 NFL draft on Wednesday, although the redshirt sophomore had two years of eligibility remaining.
"After long discussions with my family, friends, teammates, and coaches, I have decided to make myself available for the 2014 NFL draft," Manziel said in a school release. "The decision was not an easy one, but we all felt this was the right time to make the next step toward a professional career. My experiences here and the support of this school, Coach [Kevin] Sumlin, Chancellor [John] Sharp, my teammates, my classmates and Aggie football fans everywhere, will be something that I carry with me for the rest of my life. I'll always be an Aggie."
Manziel received a standing ovation at Wednesday night's men's basketball game against Arkansas.
It was his first appearance in Aggieland since leading A&M to a 52-48 victory over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve in Atlanta. That gave him a two-year record of 20-6 as he set at least 35 school, Southeastern Conference and NCAA records.
"In all of my years of coaching, Johnny Manziel is the most exciting football player I have ever seen," Sumlin said in a school release. "We appreciate everything he has done for Texas A&M and Aggie football and wish him nothing but the best."
Manziel will get ready for pre-draft workouts by training in San Diego with quarterback guru George Whitfield, reported CBSSports.com. Whitfield helped Manziel the past two summers to improve his skills to where he's expected to be a Top 10 pick in the NFL draft that starts May 8.
Manziel is rated the fourth overall pick by ESPN's Todd McShay, but only the third best quarterback, behind Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, who McShay has going to the Houston Texans with the first overall pick, and Central Florida's Blake Bortles.
"I've talked to some people in the NFL who say that, you know, they L-U-V love Johnny Manziel," said ESPN's Ed Werder. "That was the first text I got back. … This person said this guy's the best quarterback in the draft. I've never scouted a college player since Doug Flutie live who's better than him."
Manziel was A&M's first true celebrity player, and one of the most scrutinized players in the history of college football. From his Halloween costume that hit the Internet in the middle of last season all the way to the NCAA investigation into whether he sold autographs, Manziel has become a figure in popular culture unlike any A&M player before him.
The Manziel era was just 26 games, but they were 26 games that neither Texas A&M nor the Aggie football record books will soon forget. Manziel holds the A&M single-season records for passing yards, passing touchdowns, total yards and total touchdowns. And despite playing just two seasons worth of games at A&M, he finished second all-time in career passing yards and passing touchdowns to Jerrod Johnson. Manziel does hold the A&M career record for total offense with 9,989 yards, 1,000 yards more than Johnson's previous record of 8,888.
Sumlin, who coached Heisman trophy winning quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Jason White as an assistant at Oklahoma as well as NFL quarterback Case Keenum at Houston, said Manziel is unlike any other player he's coached.
The speculation over whether 2013 would be Manziel's last season at Texas A&M began as soon as he won the Heisman Trophy over a year ago, and grew throughout the season as more draft experts began projecting Manziel as a first-round prospect. That speculation ended Wednesday when the NFL Network's Gil Brandt reported on Twitter that Manziel had filed his paperwork declaring himself eligible for the NFL draft, then Manziel confirmed it with Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com and posted an open letter to A&M fans on texags.com.
Manziel, who set all kind of records at Kerrville High School, committed to Oregon but switched to A&M when the Aggies offered a scholarship. He redshirted in 2011 behind senior Ryan Tannehill and redshirt freshman Jameill Showers.
Heading into 2012, many thought Showers would replace Tannehill, who was a first-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins, but Sumlin named Manziel the starter two weeks before the season opener against Florida.
Manziel and A&M lost the opener, but the Aggies won 11 of the next 12 games as Manziel threw for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns and ran for 1,410 more with 21 scores.
But before the Heisman Trophy, before he fumbled the ball to himself and scored a touchdown at Alabama, before he was dressed as Scooby Doo, before he was known as Johnny Football, and even before he committed to play for Texas A&M, he was a legend in the Texas Hill Country.
Still, before his senior season, he went to camps at Texas, Texas A&M and TCU. None offered him a scholarship.
But Tom Rossley, then the A&M quarterbacks coach and a 20-year veteran of the coaching ranks, was working on it.
"When I watched his highlight tape, the tape just went on and on and on with Johnny playing street football," Rossley told The Eagle Wednesday. "You really questioned whether or not he could plant his feet and make a timed throw which you have to do in college and you have to do in the NFL. But when I went and watched him in spring football in Kerrville, he was so accurate and had such a quick release. He could put the ball wherever he wanted with velocity."
Eventually Rossley, who coached Brett Favre in Green Bay, convinced then-A&M coach Mike Sherman to extend an offer to Manziel, and the rest is history. Though many have been surprised by Manziel's ascension from redshirted freshman to superstar in just two years, Rossley said he isn't one of them.
"I definitely thought he would be as good as he has been," Rossley said. "That's all he did every week in high school. And in his first year, that's the way he practiced. That's just the way he plays the game."
Rossley said he had no doubt about Manziel's future then, and he has no doubt about it now.
In fact, he doesn't think there should be any debate about what the Texans do with their first pick in May's NFL Draft.
"No question. I'd take him today," he said. "We want to keep the legend in Texas. That's basically how we got Johnny to flip from Oregon is that we convinced him to keep the legend in Texas. That would be the greatest thing to keep him [with] either the Houston Texans or Dallas Cowboys, and I think the Texans would be a great spot."
Ask Rossley what he's doing these days, and he'll say his occupation is golfing with former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes and other retired coaches in Horseshoe Bay. Like so many others, Rossley said those coaches didn't believe him about Manziel at first.
"They all thought I was full of hot air for a while," he said. "But now they're all saying that he's the best player they've seen in their time. And there's a lot of old timers out here that have seen a lot."
Credit for Manziel's development has gone to Sumlin, former A&M offensive coordinator and current Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury and Manziel's specialized quarterbacks coach George Whitfield. And even though Rossley saw Manziel's potential before most people did, there is one thing about Manziel's career that surprised Rossley.
"I don't know why everyone in America didn't do all they could to get him," he said.
Many fans will be wondering why for years to come, but Aggies are just glad Rossley did.