NEW YORK — Johnny Football just got himself a way cooler nickname: Johnny Heisman.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, taking college football’s top individual prize Saturday night after a record-breaking debut.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o finished a distant second and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein was third in the voting. In a Heisman race with two nontraditional candidates, Manziel broke through the class barrier and kept Te'o from becoming the first purely defensive player to win the award.
Manziel drew 474 first-place votes and 2,029 points from the panel of media members and former winners. Te'o had 321 first-place votes and 1,706 points and Klein received 60 firsts and 894 points.
‘‘I have been dreaming about this since I was a kid, running around the backyard pretending I was Doug Flutie, throwing Hail Marys to my dad,’’ Manziel said after hugging his parents and kid sister.
Flutie was one of many Heisman winners standing behind Manziel as he gave his speech on stage at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square.
‘‘I always wanted to be in a fraternity,’’ Manziel said later. ‘‘Now I get to be in the most prestigious one in the entire world.’’
Manziel was so nervous waiting for the winner to be announced, he wondered if the television cameras could see his heart pounding beneath his navy blue pinstripe suit. But he seemed calm after, simply bowing his head and later giving the trophy a quick kiss.
‘‘It’s such an honor to represent Texas A&M, and my teammates here tonight. I wish they could be on the stage with me,’’ he said with a wide smile, concluding his speech like any good Aggie: ‘‘Gig’ em.’’
Just a few days after turning 20, Manziel proved times have truly changed in college football, and that experience really can be overrated.
For years, seniors dominated the award. In the 1980s, juniors started becoming common winners. Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win it in 2007, and two more won it the next two seasons.
Adrian Peterson had come closest as a freshman, finishing second to Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart in 2004. But it took 78 years for a newbie to take home the big bronze statue.
‘‘That barrier’s broken now,’’ Manziel said. ‘‘It’s starting to become more of a trend that freshmen are coming in early and that they are ready to play. And they are really just taking the world by storm.’’
Johnny Football really can do it all.
Peterson was a true freshman for Oklahoma. As a redshirt freshman, Manziel attended school and practiced with the team last year, but did not play in any games.
He’s the second player from Texas A&M to win the Heisman, joining John David Crow in 1957, and did so without the slightest hint of preseason hype. Manziel didn’t even win the starting job until two weeks before the season. Who needs hype when you can fill a highlight reel the way he does?
With daring runs and elusive improvisation, Manziel broke 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton’s Southeastern Conference record with 4,600 total yards, led the Aggies to a 10-2 mark in their first season in the SEC, and orchestrated an upset at then-No. 1 Alabama in November that stamped him as legit.
He has thrown for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and run for 1,181 yards and 19 more scores to become the first freshman, first SEC player, and fifth player overall to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a season.
Manziel has one more game this season, when the No. 10 Aggies play Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl Jan. 4.
At 6 feet 1 inch and 200 pounds, Manziel is master of the unexpected, turning plays seemingly doomed to failure into touchdowns.
His road to stardom was anything but a clear path. Manziel competed with two other quarterbacks to replace Ryan Tannehill this season, the Aggies’ first in the SEC and first under coach Kevin Sumlin.
Manziel came out of spring practice as the backup, and went to work with a private quarterback coach in the summer to better his chances of winning the job. It worked, but still nobody was hailing Manziel is the next big thing.
Then he started playing and the numbers started piling up.
He had some struggles against Florida in the season opener and in a home loss to LSU. The question was: Could Johnny Football do his thing against a top-notch opponent?
The answer came in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Nov. 10. Manziel passed for 253 yards and ran for 92, and the Aggies beat the Crimson Tide, 29-24.
Still, Manziel remained something of a mystery man. Sumlin’s rules prohibit freshmen from being available to the media.
After the season, Texas A&M made him available for interviews, allowing Johnny Football to tell his own story.
Though in the end, his play said it all.