If you’re a Texas Aggie current or former student, or if you’ve ever bought an officially licensed Johnny Manziel tee shirt and have joined the rest of America in adoring, admiring, and chanting the name of Johnny Football, you’re in a huge group of college football fans. And, it’s a given that your eyes were glued to the 2014 NFL Draft broadcast May 8, 2014, on ESPN. The best news of the day, is that three of Aggie Head Coach Kevin Sumlin’s football players were drafted in the first round, two of whom had completed just two years of play—senior Jake Matthews, Mike Evans and Johnny Manziel.
But that’s not what many media outside College Station focus on today. It’s all being pitched as an epic fail, with Johnny’s “wild ride,” “downward spiral” or “slide down the scale” as the focus of most stories. In reality, Johnny Manziel, with two years of college play and a Heisman Trophy in his backpack gets to play professional football at age 21. The so-called salary loss by being chosen 22nd was pitched by commentators all of last night as a theoretical “$12,000,000 loss” when compared to quarterback Blake Bortles, the first quarterback taken, chosen third in the draft.
Not being picked by the Texans, not being chosen until No. 22, and going to Cleveland, where one of their team colors is orange, were all reasons Aggies sat in stunned silence as they watched the night go on, and on, and on. Even CBS Sports’ report started off in jest: “The Browns made 45 trades, Johnny Manziel drank 117 bottles of water and the Internet almost combusted every time a team decided not to pick Johnny Football – something that happened a total of 21 times.” Tampabay.com’s story is “Johnny Football is now Johnny Freefall,” on and on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
Some commentators even “blamed” Manziel’s off-field behavior as some of the reason various franchises didn’t take him sooner, and each one of the talking heads who did that either forgot or failed to mention Jake Matthews or Mike Evans, two tremendously talented key players who both were a major factor in Johnny’s being able to run and throw and post all the numbers he did. Matthews created the holes in the line for Manziel to scamper through and Evans leaped tall buildings in a single bound in many miracle catches that equaled every number of “just really good” catches of passes that came his way as a favorite target of Manziel, among many he threw to for two years.
Not once in the six hours of draft-topic television did you hear one ESPN commentator talk about Matthews and Evans being two keys to the “part of the reason” for Manziel’s tremendous success. No question, Johnny is a wunderkind, a phenom, and a wonderful young man who loves children, making sure “his” Charlie Dina and family were with him on the most important night of his life, so far.
But, in addition to Manziel’s superb talent, ability to read defenses, knowledge of plays and options, another group not mentioned were those sidelines folks, the incidental people, called coaches, who create the plays, design the offense and coached your strength to its maximum potential on the sidelines. No one gets to the top alone. There is no “I” in “team.” And, as the song goes, “We are the Aggies, the Aggies are we, we’re from Texas AMC (a throwback to the really old days of Texas A&M, all-male, all-military status). It’s just that “that story” is not what’s spiking and trending in media today, nor is it likely.
Let’s look at some numbers. Texas A&M led the nation, joined by the University of Louisville, with three players chosen in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Tied for second place, with two players each, were Auburn, Alabama, and the Ohio State University. In all, 25 schools in the country who belong to the NCAA were distinguished by having at least one player selected to play million-dollar contract, plus add-on million dollar endorsement pro ball, the dream of virtually every preteen hammering through a workout on a crummy dirt lot in every city across the country. Yet, was that true Aggie accomplishment—two Aggies chosen in the Top 10—really—the takeaway from last night’s draft?
For years the only real “enemy” that Texas A&M had in college sports was the University of Texas. The school’s century-old war hymn is still sung by Aggies, even after long since the SWC and the Big 12 were in the rearview mirror. No Aggie fan today wants to focus on anything before the fantastic SEC. That was the year where Texas A&M finally turned the corner and found the on-ramp to the highway of national acclaim, where Aggies, based on devotion to and love of school, believed they always belonged but could never quite reach.
Today, after two years with Kevin Sumlin (and one with Kliff Kingsbury on staff), with Johnny at the helm, Matthews on the ground and Evans in the air, has the Aggie jet broken the sound barrier. Aggies Head Coach Kevin Sumlin told Texas A&M athletics, ““I am so proud of Jake, Johnny and Mike.” Sumlin continued. “I know Aggies everywhere join me in congratulating our guys on being selected in the first round of the NFL draft.” You can’t turn on a single television station when football is the subject without hearing about Texas A&M and its football program. Aggies love that fact and, well, others don’t.
Further, there’s reason for SEC conference pride as only five schools had two, or three, players chosen in the first round of the draft. Of those five, four were SEC schools. That’s one fact that every Texas Aggie loves and that many University of Texas football fans might still be burning over this morning. That’s how college loyalty works, especially in Texas. But today, there’s a different enemy that faces the Texas A&M football program–it’s that there’s little room for “team” in the world of “I-centric” focus.
Texas A&M athletics’ official press release, “Three Aggies Chosen in First Round of NFL Draft” shows all three Aggies, in order of draft pick, #6, #7, and #22. On ESPN’s web site, the three-way photo is of Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, with the caption “It’s Either Yay! Or Nay” and the first headlines in the skybox being “Manziel slips to No. 22”; “Clowney to Texans with top pick”; “Jaguars take Bortles; Bridgewater to Vikes” and so forth.
Football fans and especially Aggies, whose school loyalty borders, and crosses, the line of obsession, a very good thing in Bryan-College Station and Texas, are “just” as proud of Jake Matthews and Mike Evans as they are of Kerrville’s and Tyler’s own Johnny Manziel. It’s just that the national commentators miss the big story—three Aggies chosen in first round of 2014 draft” to instead focus on the “lightning rod of college football.” How very identical to the story of Kevin Costner’s spectacular showcase, “Draft Day” played out, down to the very, very last move of the movie and the almost first move of the first round of the draft.
Then there’s state pride. With Texas A&M’s three first-round picks in Jake Matthews, Mike Evans and Johnny Manziel, the only other Texas school to be in the elite first round is Texas Christian University, with one pick. Four of the top 32 players in the nation came from the Lone Star State. Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Texas Aggie former yell leader, is likely to incorporate that very fact, the next time he visits another state to try and raid their jobs and corporate headquarters to move here, as he has plenty of time left to travel.
But will crowds ask the governor about Jake Matthews being chosen as number 6 and Mike Evans being chosen as number 7, with two players in the Draft’s Top 10? Where’s the governor’s official statement of congratulations to Texas A&M for 3 players chosen and TCU for one player chosen this morning? Wait for it. You know the answer. All the talk has been and still is today, Johnny Football.
The draft outcome, thus far, because there’s still two days to go, is a tremendous testament to the football program that has developed, across the team, including ninety-something players, in College Station Texas. Sadly, that was not the takeaway from last night’s draft. That Jake Matthews had stuck around Texas A&M for his senior year, and a chance to play towards a goal National Championship was never mentioned. "Taking one for the team is no longer" celebrated or rewarded very loudly these days.
Competition is a way of life at every level of amateur and professional sports. To be “the best” is the only goal any “winner” has implanted in his brain, when it comes to football. You win, or you lose, and how you play the game is today less important than it ever has been in decades. If you’re a football player, you are handed carte blanche behavior acceptance, if you play for a certain Florida school. If you play for Texas A&M, you’re advised to stay out of Northgate for your entire career, lest your name and mug shot show up on the front page of the local paper. But you shouldn’t have to compete for a tiny, insignificant portion of the limelight because you’re not the quarterback with Nike deals and McDonald’s commercials.
For the Texas Aggies, the biggest story of the night was that Head Coach Kevin Sumlin and the staff he picked and the players he inherited from Coach Mike Sherman, plus ones he recruited personally, came up with two seasons of some of the most exciting football games in school history. The stars of the team were Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans. Those three players are key to the ongoing 24/7 expansion of Kyle Field that is the fastest-moving construction project ever in Aggie history.
Jake Matthews today is the seventh member of his family to play professional football. He was the sixth player chosen in the draft, by the Atlanta Falcons, where he will make a tremendous contribution to their team. From the Houston Chronicle, John McClain noted that Jake’s dad, Bruce, was drafted 9th by and played for the Houston Oilers in 1983. His uncle Clay, Jr., was drafted 12th by Cleveland in 1978 and his cousin, Clay, III was drafted 26th by Green Bay. Jake’s younger brother, Mike, will be an Aggie senior this fall, so the 2015 Draft could be interesting.
Matthews told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the advice his Hall-of-Fame father, Bruce, had given him, “One thing my dad’s always tried to reiterate with me is, if you go out and work hard and do things the right way and put your full effort in, you’ll get the results you want…That’s something I’ve always tried to do.”
Mike Evans going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the perfect answer to former Chicago Bears coach and new Bucs head coach, Lovie Smith, bringing Josh McCown with him to start the fall season. It’s another nice Texas connection since McCown used to play at Sam Houston State University, just down the road from Texas A&M. Mike Evans knows how to follow his quarterback through any play, designed or improvised, and his height makes him available to catch anything thrown to his zip code. Defenses are going to have a tough time playing against Big Mike.
The National Football League’s Draft is the first test; the second is the proving ground that comes from the pre-season training. Third test will come this fall as the first chance for teams to see exactly how all their strategizing plays out, because of the team on the field, to which these draftee rookies are added, and the teams they face, which also added rookie college stars.
This is the big leagues, and despite all the fuss of last night’s first-round folderol, bottom line is that no player can be the “solution” to what ails your professional team any more than sandlot football team revolves around one position. Each player drafted can make a substantive contribution to and impact on their programs, but after all the weeping and gnashing of teeth, there is still no “I” in team.
Congratulations are due to, in order of draft pick, Jake Matthews, Mike Evans, and Johnny Manziel, for being honored by the NFL teams who chose them, and for bringing recognition, honor, and distinction to Texas A&M University. The Aggie family is proud of all of you.
As the rest of the country watches today’s and tomorrow’s NFL Draft updates, some might set a google alert for Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph, writers of the screenplay for "Draft Day," to see if anyone asks them how they knew precisely how the 2014 NFL Draft would play out, ahead of the rest of the country. As the 2014 NFL Draft proceeded out over four hours, one phrase simply would not leave my mind. Because the business of the NFL is business, it just played over and over in my brain with each draft choice: “Vontae Mack, no matter what.” It is what it is. Jake Matthews, Mike Evans, and Johnny Manziel—Whoop! Gig ‘em Aggies. And the picks just keep on coming.