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Yes, Sensei

New assistant brings credibility, insight to Manziel's QB position

Published: Friday, August 30, 2013

Updated: Friday, August 30, 2013 00:08


Mark Doré

Quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital works with starter Johnny Manziel (left) and former backup Matt Davis during the final week of fall camp.

Johnny Manziel had made his usual pre-snap checks during fall camp, but some slight pressure and no space to maneuver forced a telegraphed throw. Senior linebacker Steven Jenkins took quick advantage, jumping the pass and snaring the interception before bolting back the
opposite way.

Manziel sulked to the sideline, head down as he played over his mistake, while A&M’s first-team defense celebrated behind him. The defending Heisman Trophy-winner was soon joined step for step by Jake Spavital — the Aggies’ new quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator — as he counseled his young charge, offering calm, levelheaded insight rather than harsh criticism.

“I’m not much of a yeller out there, because if a quarterback screws up, the whole stadium and the media knows he screwed up,” Spavital said. “I’ll tell him what I think and he’ll tell me what he thinks about certain things and we just try to work it out through there.”

For the 28-year-old assistant coach, it hasn’t been long since he once stood in 20-year-old Manziel’s position, taking his first reps under center at Missouri State just eight seasons ago.

Despite Spavital’s youthful disposition, his reputation around the college football community has skyrocketed during the past half decade, capturing the attention of many of the sport’s top offensive gurus.

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said Spavital’s experience over the past five seasons granted him an immediate distinction from the Aggies’ two other coaching hires.

“He brings instant credibility, dealing with coaching Case Keenum and the number of guys they had at Oklahoma State and West Virginia,” Sumlin said. “[Also], being around [the current coaching staff] before, and the offense; he knows it like the back of his hand.”

In just five years of coaching, Spavital has spent extensive amounts of time with the who’s who of the spread and air raid offensive systems, ranging from Auburn’s Gus Malzahn to West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen.

Yearlong stints with Tulsa, Houston and Oklahoma State, along with a two-year stay at West Virginia, allowed Spavital to work with many of college football’s top quarterbacks from the past five seasons, including Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith.

Now add Johnny Manziel to the list and Spavital has many of college football’s most visibly successful quarterbacks of the past five years all with one interesting similarity — himself.

Less than a week following Texas A&M’s dominant Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma last January, Spavital found himself on Sumlin’s coaching roster replacing his former mentor, Kliff Kingsbury, who bolted College Station for the vacant coaching position at his alma mater, Texas Tech.

While questions regarding Spavital’s age floated around the message boards, Sumlin’s long-time philosophy regarding the issue emerged as any supporter’s default response.

“A lot of people equate age with experience,” Sumlin said. “There’s some truth to that, but just because a guy is older doesn’t necessarily mean he’s better. It’s not about experience, it’s about what type of experience you have.”

Manziel said he and Savital have slowly begun to build a connection both on and off the field, a factor with potential to impact the Davey O’Brien Award-winner’s performance down the stretch during the season.

“It’s been good with Coach [Spavital] being there,” Manziel said. “We’ve been trying to bond together and create a really good relationship between him and me. He’s come in, he’s real easy to get along with, and he’s a brilliant

During fall camp, Spavital spoke on Manziel’s ability to receive and process criticism, saying the young quarterback has a receptive attitude with a quick turnaround.

“[Manziel] is very coachable,” Spavital continued. “He’s a smart kid. When you tell him one thing, [he can] take it out there and remember to do that and execute it.”


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