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Johnny Football eyes encore performance

After taking the college football world by storm as a redshirt freshman, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is hoping the 2013 season is every bit as impressive.

Talent can take you far in life, and "Johnny Football" as he has affectionately been dubbed, has plenty of that. The difference between him and other gifted youngsters from the past however, may be the confidence which seems to seep out of every pore in his body. Being sure of yourself is one thing, but Manziel has a swagger about him that almost assures his success, even before he walks out onto the field.

After Texas A&M's spring game in which the highly-skilled gunslinger went 24- of-30 for 303 yards and three touchdowns, in just a little more than a half mind you, head coach Kevin Sumlin praised Manziel for the work he has put in this offseason in an attempt to continue his development.

"What you saw today -- it was improvement in the pocket. He wasn't very sloppy when he took off and ran. He got out of the pocket and wasn't careless with the ball. That's what we're working on."

Manziel, the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy and the first Texas A&M player since halfback John David Crow back in 1957, is the ultimate dual- threat quarterback, and his rare talent as both a passer and runner makes him extremely difficult to defend.

His first season as the Aggies' starter resulted in him completing 68 percent of his throws for 3,706 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran the ball 201 times for a whopping 1,410 yards and 21 scores.

The loss of several key pieces to an A&M team that made the most of its first foray in the SEC last year (11-2), means Manziel may be asked to do even more this fall, a thought he relishes with great anticipation.

That's not to say that there aren't suitable replacements for the likes of former offensive standouts Luke Joeckel, Christine Michael and Ryan Swope, but make no mistake -- this is Manziel's show, and while he knows the pressure is on to continue his progression both as a player and a leader, there is no doubt he is up to the challenge.

"There's a big dragon out there for us with all the people who are doubting A&M, all the people who are doubting me that last year was a fluke," Manziel said. "So that's a chip on my shoulder and that's a dragon I need to slay this year."

The Aggies compete in the ultra-competitive SEC West with the likes of two- time defending national champion Alabama, which A&M beat last year in Tuscaloosa (29-24) for its first-ever road win over the No. 1 team in the land, as well as traditional power LSU, Arkansas, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Manziel was instrumental in the upset win over the Crimson Tide, hitting the mark on 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns, while also tallying 92 yards on 18 carries -- all that production of course coming against one of the top defenses in the country.

The 'Bama game served as Manziel's coming out party so to speak, although it can be argued that his ascension to college football immortality was set in motion earlier in the campaign when he directed the Aggies to wins over nationally-ranked foes Louisiana Tech (59-57) and Mississippi State (38-13). His place among the all-time greats was cemented when he led A&M to a 41-13 rout of former Big 12 Conference rival Oklahoma in the 2013 Cotton Bowl.

Manziel, who has critics despite his unprecedented early success, scoffs at the notion that he will suffer a sophomore slump, citing his work ethic and unwavering commitment to doing everything in his power to improve.

"It's more serious this time around," he said. "It's almost personal with all the stuff that's kind of being tossed around about my arm strength and this and that. It's getting kind of personal to me and so we're going to get after it."

Blessed with not only natural talent, but the drive to excel that is inherent in nearly all superstars, there doesn't appear to be much Manziel can't do. Whether it will be enough to lead the Aggies to the pinnacle of team success that those in College Station clamor for remains to be seen.

One thing is certain though -- as long as Johnny Football has a say, A&M will be in contention, and that's all anyone can really ask.