Heisman hype campaigns are relics — at least at Texas A&M

COLLEGE STATION — Ten years ago this spring at Texas A&M, an unheralded quarterback was best known for vying with Jameill Showers for the starting gig in 2012.

“When Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, there was no hype (before) because no one knew him,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said.

Manziel electrified the nation in the fall and won his second Heisman Trophy at A&M despite a lack of media interviews from September to late November, per then-coach Kevin Sumlin’s policy. with first-year students. Social media, still relatively new at the time, was generally positive for A&M and Manziel during his record-breaking, Heisman-winning season.

Fisher, for the most part, hates social media and sees it as one of the biggest threats to modern society. But there’s a way it’s tolerable in his playbook — there’s no longer any chance of a superstar getting lost in the late-fall shuffle.

That’s why A&M doesn’t need to launch a hype campaign, Fisher said, when a dynamic player like running back Devon Achane excels in a program with national title aspirations.

“Those days, for me, are over,” Fisher said. “Before you had to hype before the season, now all you have to do is watch. Back then, you had to pitch a guy because guys in other parts of the country never saw him play. Now everyone knows everyone, and what Achane has to do is just go play well.

“You are going to play well and you are excited from the start.”

Some longtime A&M fans have compared the agile Achane to Leeland McElroy, who played for the Aggies in the mid-1990s when the Internet was still a kid.

Then-A&M coach RC Slocum, fascinated by McElroy’s game-changing attributes, uncharacteristically launched a Heisman pre-season campaign.

“In 1995, Leeland hadn’t even started running at A&M, but his numbers in the weight room were unbelievable,” recalled A&M’s veteran sports information manager Alan Cannon. “Coach Slocum is a lot like Coach Fisher – you earn the rewards by your play on the court. But Coach Slocum also understood that we were at a disadvantage since we weren’t on TV in 1994.”

The Aggies had won three consecutive Southwestern Conference titles from 1991 to 1993, but were not televised in 1994 due to NCAA probation. McElroy returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in 1993, and by his junior year of 1995 he was ready to become a superstar.

So Cannon and his team, through iconic Texas Football editor Dave Campbell, longtime regional president of Heisman, acquired a list of Heisman voters.

“With the help of Andy Richardson (longtime boss of 12th Man Productions) and our videographers, we thought it would be useful to send a video and information (campaign) to national media to help promote and remind the media of Leeland and the Aggies,” Canon said. “And as a team, we were ranked in the top 10 in the pre-season polls.”

Brad Marquardt, A&M’s longtime assistant sports director in communications, still has a box of videotapes and a video from the summer of 1995 touting “Lectric Leeland”, and a splendid quote on the box from the American sportswriter from Austin Rick Cantu that stands the test of time.

“Leeland McElroy,” Cantu said, “is the fastest college player since Forrest Gump.”

The film “Forrest Gump” starring Tom Hanks as an Alabama speedster who kept running, had been released the previous year. Meanwhile, A&M’s sports information office sent out postcards and even created a rudimentary website with McElroy’s updated stats.

Lectric Leeland opened the 1995 season with 229 rushing yards and 359 all-purpose yards against LSU, breaking the former SWC record in the latter category, and he took the lead in the first Heisman rush. Unfortunately, McElroy sprained his ankle a few games later, and the Aggies lost back-to-back games to Colorado and Texas Tech.

“The Heisman campaign has taken an exit on the information highway,” Cannon said.

The Aggies in 2012 lost their first game as members of the Southeastern Conference to Florida, but it was obvious they had a special quarterback in Manziel. This time around, Twitter and Facebook were prominent players in Manziel’s hype machine until the fall of 2012, and the World Wide Web offered reruns with a few taps on phones. smartphones and tablets. A&M built a website dedicated to advertising Manziel for the Heisman, like McElroy.

“I took quite a bit of a beating from my peers and the media across the country when Johnny won the Heisman and I didn’t do any interviews per team policy until the end of the regular season. “, recalls Cannon. “I will say when he did a national conference call and followed it up the next day with an impressive media presentation at the Bright Football Complex the week before the scheduled poll date, he cemented his candidacy for Heisman.”

Now Achane, who also excels as a sprinter on the A&M track team, offers the Aggies perhaps their next best shot at an individual price.

“If you play well, people are going to see it immediately,” Fisher said with two snaps. “There is nothing to hide. Everyone knows everything right away. Whatever you do, good or bad.

Achane was all good during the Aggies’ 8-4 season in 2021, making a national name for himself with a 96-yard kick return for a touchdown in A&M’s 41-38 upset of the No. 1 era. 1 Alabama in October at Kyle Field. Overall in 2021, he averaged 7.0 yards per carry and nearly 11.0 yards on 24 catches.

“We have video, photo, and social media people who can document and distribute information instantly to the world, and we’ll be keeping tabs on notes of interest and recordings,” Cannon said of the plan for all individual award nominees. .

But should Heisman voters expect “Dynamo Devon” domino sets or videotapes in the mail this summer? Fisher has a better chance of coaching A&M’s famed equestrian team.

“The hype and all that? I don’t think it’s necessary,” Fisher said with a smile.

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Twitter: @brentzwerneman

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