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Johnny Football: Reigning Heisman winner learning to deal with spotlight

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Wednesday, July 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Wednesday, July 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) ASSOCIATED PRESS

On the football field at Texas A&M, quarterback Johnny Manziel must find ways to get through 11 defenders. Wednesday morning at the SEC Media Days, the Heisman Trophy winner had to navigate his way past 1,200 media members.

After a spectacular freshman season that drew attention for all the right reasons, Manziel has experienced an off-season that has garnered attention for the wrong reasons.

The most recent dust-up occurred last weekend when he left the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La., as a camp counselor a day early because he showed up late and missed some practice assignments. Manziel blamed a faulty cell phone and sleeping in -- although an illness and dehydration also were offered by others as excuses -- as speculation ran rampant that partying the night before was to blame.

"I simply overslept. There’s nothing more to talk about and the rumors about the other things weren’t really true," Manziel said. "I just overslept and missed a meeting. I absolutely lived up to it. There was no excuse for not having my phone charged or having an alarm set."

The incident was another sign to him that life in the spotlight can get very bright for high-profile athletes, something he continues to learn with every misstep.

"It was blown a little bit out of proportion. At the end of the day, I hope people will see that I’m still a 20-year-old kid in college and going to be a sophomore," he said. "I’ve made my mistakes, obviously. I need to learn from them and not make the same one twice."

Last month he posted on Twitter that he couldn’t wait to leave College Station, using an expletive to express his unhappiness. But he quickly deleted that tweet and asked for forgiveness with another tweet that told his 385,000 followers to "walk a day in my shoes." Since that time his Twitter account has gone silent, something he called his decision.

"I just haven’t said anything lately because I really haven’t had anything interesting to say," Manziel said. "Twitter is what it is. I learned a lot from it and probably hurt myself a little bit at times."

The off-season has overshadowed a spectacular freshman campaign, when he put up 5,116 yards of total offense and 47 touchdowns while leading the Aggies to a win over No. 1 Alabama, an 11-2 record and a Top 5 finish.

That improbable run made him the focal point in college football, especially after winning the Heisman, which kicked the level of scrutiny up another level. That was evident as a horde of media members gathered wherever Manziel sat down to speak in the various rooms at the Wynfrey Hotel.

"I never realized the magnitude of it (winning the Heisman). I heard it time and time again, but it’s one of those things that you don’t understand until you go through it and deal with it," Manziel said. "My situation is so different because nobody has had three years of eligibility left."

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin spoke of Manziel’s excellence on the field while defending his young quarterback as a work in progress off the field.

"There’s no question he’s made some mistakes," Sumlin said. "Is he perfect? No. I think he has done some things that he’s not very proud of. It’s a growing process. It’s a learning process. That’s something that we’re working at."

Monday he had to face the music on charges from a year ago before he achieved fame on the football field. He entered a guilty plea on a misdemeanor count from June 2012 for not properly identifying himself to police in College Station after a bar fight. Manziel was fined $2,000 and ordered to pay court costs while a disorderly conduct charge was dropped.

But despite all his troubles, he has held onto the faith of his teammates. Senior defensive back Toney Hurd called Manziel a humble person.

"Johnny’s a great guy. He’s a hard working and motivated guy. As teammates, we stand by him, and we know Coach Sumlin will handle the disciple issues off the field," Hurd said. "When the season starts, he’ll be ready to go."

Senior offensive lineman Jake Matthews remains amazed by what Manziel accomplished on the field last season.

"He came out of nowhere and took over as one of the leaders of the team. You could tell he was getting more comfortable as the season came along. It was special to see," Matthews said. "It’s just his determination. When he comes out there, he’s always giving 100 percent (with) the way he rallies the guys to get behind him."

Manziel, who stated that he will miss former A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who’s now the head coach at Texas Tech, as he prepares for this season, appreciates that his teammates support him.

"Nothing has changed. They understand, the leaders of the team, they’re there for me, texting me and saying you’re not doing anything we’re not doing," he said. "We’re working hard, enjoying life. I love those guys, wouldn’t be here without them, and their opinion, and my family and my coaches’ opinion, that’s all that matters to me."

Manziel insisted -- as he worked his way through the media gauntlet -- that his focus is solely on the first day of practice in early August, when he will try to improve on one of the best individual seasons in college football history. He called the tumultuous off-season a learning experience.

"Crazy’s a good word for it," he said.

His teammates watched the media craziness up-close Wednesday. Matthews, when asked whether he gets tired of being questioned about Manziel, smiled when he said, "Yeah, maybe a little bit. I wish you guys cared more about me."

Johnny Manziel - Texas A&M QB

Kevin Sumlin - Texas A&M coach

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