Calhoun's Whitaker recalls close encounter with Heisman winner
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Video: Johnny Manziel in high school
Everyone has a Johnny Manziel story.
Calhoun football coach Richard Whitaker is not an exception.
Three years to the day after the Texas A&M quarterback singlehandedly helped Kerrville Tivy eliminate the Sandcrabs in the playoffs earlier this week, Whitaker sat in his office recalling that chilly night in San Antonio.
Saturday, Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Well before the college football world was taken aback by Manziel's magic on the football field, he was making a legend at high school stadiums across Texas.
Ahead of Calhoun's Class 4A, Division II playoff game, Whitaker said his team put as much speed on the defensive side of the ball because of Manziel's dual threat.
"That was the disheartening thing," Whitaker recalled. "We felt like we did everything right and when he needed to make five yards there was not anything we could do about it. He was just so elusive. I knew going in that was something we were concerned about. That night it was so frustrating because we would get so close to getting a stop and then with his legs he would scramble and get out of it."
No one knows for sure just how many yards Manziel had that night. The Kerrville Daily Times, San Antonio Express-News, Port Lavaca Wave and the Advocate all wrote that the then junior quarterback had more than 400 yards of total offense, but with four different final figures.
What no one debates is Manziel was responsible for four touchdowns - two passing, two rushing. The final touchdown was the game-winning score with less than a minute remaining.
"Our team competed very well that night," Whitaker said. "We had a great team, they had a great team. It was a fun game, other than it being 26 degrees that night. What a great game for the crowd to watch that night. Sure, those are memories we'll always remember."
For what it's worth, it was a memorable game for Manziel as well. When Calhoun took a 31-17 lead late in the second quarter Manziel told his hometown paper "The QB sneak right there at the (yard line), that was a little heartbreaker. Sandcrab nation, they were just going nuts."
However, Calhoun didn't score again. Manziel's fourth touchdown was the difference in Tivy's 38-31 win, which denied the Sandcrabs a spot in the semifinals for the first time in 49 years.
"I promise you, Johnny Manziel made everybody on that team a lot better," Whitaker said. "It's like you heard Michael Jordan made everyone better, or Larry Bird made everyone better."
"He took good players and made them great players. Johnny Manziel made good players at Kerrville Tivy great because he could buy time to get receivers open. If an offensive lineman had a break down it didn't matter because he was going to be elusive enough to get away so they weren't going to get the sack anyway."
Whitaker watched the Aggies upset No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 10. A small smile came across his face in part because it illustrated, at least to him, that the Sandcrabs were not the only team to be mesmerized by Manziel.
Interestingly enough, Whitaker isn't the only person on his staff who had the mission of trying to stop Manziel during his varsity days. Calhoun assistant Claude Bassett was the defensive coordinator at Seguin in 2008 when the Matadors played Tivy in a district contest.
Tivy won that game 40-17.
Bassett said the game plan was to pressure Manziel and exploit his youth. This week, he recalled that he realized that plan may not work when he saw Manziel's calm during pregame warmups.
"The first time we touched him was when we shook hands after the game," Bassett recalled.
Bassett was also an assistant at BYU when Ty Detmer won the Heisman in 1990. He finds it unfair to compare the two former Texas high school quarterbacks, but added that Detmer was more elusive than people may have realized.
"Ty didn't have to be," Bassett said. "The concept of the offense we had and there is one thing: the quarterback is going to be protected."
Detmer may have looked the part in the backfield when he was in high school. Bassett and Whitaker agreed that Manziel didn't during his varsity days. But that all chanced once he was under the lights.
"You look at him and go 'OK, that's a small looking guy,'" Whitaker said. "But, on the field and you start watching him and you try to get your hands on him, it's hard. It's like he has eyes in the back of his head. He feels the pressure well. He just knows how to elude. He has great athletic ability."