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on Leading the Next Generation


What We Learn From a Freshman Heisman Trophy Winner

The news came on Saturday night about Johnny Manziel, who is called “Johnny Football” at Texas A & M. This weekend, he just got a cooler name—it’s “Johnny Heisman.”


photo credit: cerebruminc via photopin cc

For the first time in history, a freshman student won the Heisman trophy, the award for the most valuable football player in the NCAA. He won it as a kid who wasn’t even mentioned at the beginning of the season; it seemed no one knew him. What’s more, he played for a team that left the Big 12 and joined the toughest conference in college football—the SEC. He hadn’t even won the quarterback job until two weeks before the season started, yet broke Cam Newtons’ record for total yards and he led his team to a win against Alabama. He led his team to ten victories—and in the SEC West, that’s saying something. This is a true Cinderella story.

Since he’s so young, one might think he’d be immature in his response to the award. Instead, I believe he gave some of the most mature responses in Heisman history. He is Tim Tebow II. Only younger. Here are some lessons we learn from his speech. They are true marks of maturity:

1. Humility: He talked about how he needed to improve over the next three years, knowing he was still learning and growing.

2. Passion: When he was told he couldn’t achieve this goal as such a small player it motivated him all the more. His ambition deepened.

3. Perspective: He said after winning the award: “It’s amazing to think I’m a student …and I get to play a game too. This is fun.” He realizes what’s most important.

4. Teachability – When asked how it felt to win so young, he said: “I need to pick Tim Tebow’s brain, who won as a sophomore five years ago.” He is a wisdom seeker.

5. Poise – He seemed incredibly calm after his name was announced. He simply bowed his head, then walked slowly and deliberately up the steps to get the trophy.

6. Gratitude – I can’t believe I’ve been so blessed to win this award. I am with so many deserving candidates; I wish they could all be up here with me.

Johnny Manziel restores my faith in the fact that a man can be mature just two decades into his life. May he challenge other students to exhibit such maturity, and may his tribe increase.


  1. Joseph Lalonde on December 10, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Tim, thanks for sharing this. I’m not a huge football fan but love hearing stories of those that hold themselves well when receiving honor. Sounds like someone raised a great man.

    • Tim Elmore on December 17, 2012 at 7:58 pm

      Thanks for taking time to comment. As the comments above show – he may not be perfect but he has done some things right to get where he is.

  2. Patrick McHugh on December 12, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Tim, I liked this post a lot, shared it and took part of it for my blog today (crediting and linking you). One response I got was, Johnny Manziel already has an arrest record. Although I agree with you, he demonstrated great qualities this weekend, the fact that Johnny had pretty recently shown very poor judgement makes me pause to think once again how many of our star athletes do dumb things, when do we forgive them and why, and what a public life they live kind of linking to your discipline bridge post today.

    • Tim Elmore on December 17, 2012 at 8:02 pm


      Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I wasn’t aware of Johnny Manziel’s arrest record. I don’t know Johnny personally and can’t speak to the details of the incident.

      I don’t condone or defend bad behavior or poor decisions. But I also don’t think the details of this night negate the great qualities that Johnny Manziel demonstrated to earn the Heisman trophy. It is good to be reminded that he is human and has flaws as well. As I say with many examples, let’s “eat the fish and spit out the bones.” When we pick out examples for our kids to emulate, we must also balance this with the warning that our human heroes will fail us at times.

      Thanks again for bringing this up. I’m curious to hear if others think that this incident excludes Johnny Manziel from being a role model? How do you explain to students when their heroes let them down?

  3. Justin Brownlee on December 15, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Tim, I love your work, but I think you may have missed it with Manziel. As the earlier comment states, Manziel was arrested last summer after involvement in a racially induced bar fight.

    I wish him the best and I hope he continues to grow as a man and as a leader. For me personally though, as a young married man planning on raising a family, Manziel is not someone I want exalted as a high character leader to the next generation…not yet, at least.

    • Tim Elmore on December 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm

      Hey Justin,

      Thanks for weighing in. You can see my comments below to Patrick. I think we can all agree with the fact that we don’t want our kids emulating the record of Johnny Manziel (the crime in his past). While I don’t condone it, I feel he has made a great turn in his life now. And…I believe there is a difference between poor judgment and poor character.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

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What We Learn From a Freshman Heisman Trophy Winner