All those years watching the kid do amazing things made "Big Paul" Manziel supremely confident in his grandson. Manziel declared the Texas A&M quarterback a Heisman Trophy candidate months before Johnny Manziel became a finalist for college football's most prestigious individual award.
To Big Paul's way of thinking, there isn't much that Johnny can't do. Evading Southeastern Conference defenders? Check. Leading the Aggies to a surprising 10-win season as a redshirt freshman? Check. Breaking SEC records held by Archie Manning and Cam Newton? Check.
Those accomplishments and many more led to one challenge that has been too much even for the player nicknamed Johnny Football, however.
"All our friends and everybody, they all want an autographed football and this and that," Paul Manziel said. "We can't get all that stuff for everybody. When Johnny comes home, sometimes he just wants to lay down and rest. We're all excited, but it's really been a little bit overwhelming."
Paul Manziel lives in Tyler, the city where Johnny was raised before moving to Kerrville during his seventh grade year. Big Paul watched his grandson grow up as a star athlete who enjoyed hunting and fishing. Family photos of Johnny show the tracks of his upbringing, shots of him in football and baseball uniforms, others posing with deer and turkeys that he bagged.
According to his high school baseball coach, Steve Rippee, Johnny could have been drafted had he wanted to play professional baseball. Many of Manziel's early exploits came in baseball, a sport built upon legends, which lends itself to a grandfather's recollections of remarkable feats.
"In Little League, he'd knock it over the fence every other time he hit the ball," Big Paul said. "They had a 4-foot fence that he was knocking the ball over and breaking car windows. They put a 16-foot fence up, and the first rattle out of the box, he put it over that and broke a window on the other side of the street."
While those type of feats can be hard to verify, Manziel's magic moments from his first season with the Aggies are not. There have been a handful of outrageous plays in which he escaped the clutches of defenders and managed to deliver unexpected passes, many of them thrown across his body, in defiance of common football teachings.
One of the most memorable plays --- considered Manziel's Heisman moment by many -- came during A&M's upset of then-No. 1 Alabama. Manziel avoided a sack, bumped into one of his teammates and bobbled the football, then scrambled to his left and threw back over the middle to wide-open Ryan Swope for a touchdown.
"He played shortstop, and that's one reason he can throw the ball [as a quarterback] from every angle," Paul Manziel said. "Everybody wants to know how he can run to the left and throw to the right. He's used to throwing the ball upside down, on his head and from every position. It comes easier to him because that's what he's been doing all of his life."
Big Paul remembers watching Johnny run around in football jerseys and helmets as a little boy. "I think the [Pittsburgh] Steelers was one of his favorite teams," he said.
Johnny, his parents and his younger sister moved to Kerrville after John Paul Manziel, a home builder, got a contract to build 170 houses in the area, Paul Manziel said. Johnny's football legend grew in the Hill Country as he twice led Kerrville Tivy to the Class 4A state semifinals.
"It was overwhelming in high school, with all the records he was breaking and the things he was doing," Paul Manziel said. "People came from all over to watch him play. They drove from San Antonio, from Austin. He was filling up the high school stadiums. He was constantly in the papers in the Hill Country and Austin and San Antonio."
Despite his success, Manziel wasn't in high demand among college recruiters from Texas. Some thought he wasn't big enough -- he's 6 feet tall and weighs 205 pounds now -- and Johnny's first scholarship offer from a major college program was by Oregon.
Manziel committed to sign with the Ducks, but he later switched his commitment to Texas A&M after getting a scholarship offer from the Aggies. Until then, John Paul Manziel planned to move his wife and daughter to Oregon to be near Johnny during his college career, according to Big Paul.
"He did it to be near his entire family, and we were thrilled," Paul Manziel said.
The Aggie quarterback was named the SEC freshman of the year and offensive player of the year this week. He was scheduled to attend a college football awards show in Orlando at midweek and then to be in Manhattan for the Heisman Trophy announcement Saturday night. The other finalists are Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein and Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te'o.
"Johnny's doing a lot of traveling and getting all these awards," Big Paul said. "We don't get to talk to him very much. He's staying so busy. He's still got to go to class and do all his studies. He's a good student."
Manziel said his grandson thought about majoring in oil and gas law before choosing business. He says Johnny wants to someday follow in the family business of oil and real estate.
For now, he's bringing more attention to the Manziel name than any gusher or land deal.
"Everywhere we go, everybody is so proud of him," Big Paul said. "He's accomplished so much in one year. He's broke so many records. We're proud for him, and of him."