The Heisman season that nearly never was.
That was the story surfacing out of College Station last week, when the Dallas Morning News reported that Texas A&M phenom Johnny Manziel was originally suspended for the entire 2012 season by the school.
The ruling, which was levied last August and overruled soon after, was punishment for a June arrest for fighting and possession of fake IDs, reports the paper, and because of it, Manziel planned to transfer.
But the overturn came, in part, because of the backing of Aggie coach and former OU assistant Kevin Sumlin, who wrote a letter in support of Manziel during the appeal process.
Sumlin, in Edmond for the Scott Verplank Foundation Tournament on Monday afternoon, speaking for the first time about the report, said his backing of Manziel wasn't because of the freshman's explosive talent, but rather a belief that the young quarterback already had and would continue to comply with strict internal punishment.
“A lot has been said about discipline, but he went through all that, which is a little bit more than people think,” Sumlin said. “That's not a public deal, it's just what I ask him to do. He did all those things and his parents were involved in all of that. So for him to go through that, then go through camp and those types of things and earn the job, that's what's brought him to where he is now.”
Now, in Manziel's case, would be the college football spotlight.
In the months following this recently-surfaced saga, Manziel passed for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns, rushed for 1,409 yards and 21 more scores and led Texas A&M to an 11-2 season and easy Cotton Bowl win over OU, becoming the first freshman to ever win the Heisman.
But it all nearly never happened. And not just because of the arrest and overturned suspension.
Manziel was in a fierce battle for the starting job during that same tumultuous fall camp. And in many people's estimation, sophomore Jameill Showers was the favorite to land the spot, especially after Manziel's rocky offseason.
“Really close,” Sumlin said of the competition. “That's why we didn't name a quarterback until two weeks before we played Louisiana Tech (in the season opener). About as close as you can get … But hopefully we picked the right guy (laughs).”
By now, it's all a moot point.
Manziel is looking toward the high expectations that await in 2013, as the first Heisman winner to return to school since Sam Bradford in 2009.
But once again, he must shed the stigma of another rocky offseason, this one spent routinely stepping into the PR pitfalls that come with instant fame and the constant spotlight from social media.
“It's been really hard,” Sumlin said of Manziel's post-Heisman life. “You know, he's a young guy. And because of that, he is who he is and he's made some mistakes. Everybody knows that. But right now, I think for him to be back, we have summer school going, we have fall camp coming up. Him being back with his teammates, that's a good deal, good for him.”