It took 73 years for an underclassman to win the Heisman Trophy (Tim Tebow's sophomore year was the first time the award went to a freshman or sophomore). After that, it took just five years for a freshman to win it.
And now another spectacular freshman is making a run for the trophy.
According to most experts, Florida State's Jameis Winston is leading the pack or is a close second with about a month left in the season. Before Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel won the award last year, the best finish for a freshman was 2004, when Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson finished second. Before that, only two freshmen had come in third (Herschel Walker in 1980 and Michael Vick in 1999).
So, what gives? Why are freshmen all of a sudden Heisman frontrunners?
First, it must be mentioned that many "freshmen" aren’t exactly first-year players. Manziel was a redshirt freshman last year, and Winston is one this year. If a player enrolls in college early, he could have spring practice, summer workouts, an entire fall season, winter workouts, another spring season and then summer workouts to prepare for his "freshman" season.
So in that sense, freshmen now are more advanced than they've ever been.
But the development starts earlier than college. Doug Flutie, himself a Heisman Trophy winner, said the quality of high school football has much to do with how prepared young players are for the big stage. Flutie cited his nephew, Boston College commit Troy Flutie, as an example of how times have changed.
"Troy is so far ahead of where I was at his age in the things that he’s doing football-wise," Flutie told ThePostGame. "All these kids are that way. They run these spread offenses in high school, all these audibles and they learn the game. They're mentally at a whole 'nother level than we were 20, 25, 30 years ago."
And, lastly, Manziel and Winston are just plain talented. Winston is an uber-athlete, a five-star recruit who is also a fantastic baseball player in his own right. Manziel's pocket presence is well beyond his years, and his development during the 2012 season was unprecedented. After Texas A&M's Week 2 loss to Florida, Manziel learned to rely more on his teammates while demonstrating a rare poise.
"He had a one-week adjustment period," Flutie said of Manziel. "It was just amazing."
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