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Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Manziel captivates on and off the field

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- On April 20, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will return to his hometown of Kerrville, Texas, a south Texas hamlet of about 23,000 residents, which is located about 65 miles northwest of San Antonio. The locals are planning to throw Manziel a parade and honor him at Tivy High School's football stadium.

Johnny Manziel
In less than a year, Johnny Manziel has gone from anonymous freshman to hanging out with NBA superstars like Chris Paul.

Obviously, a lot has changed since Manziel left Kerrville for Texas A&M in the middle of his senior year of high school in January 2011. Last season, he was named the Aggies' starting quarterback and became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, college football's most coveted individual award.

Along the way, little Johnny Manziel became "Johnny Football" and then "Johnny Heisman." He returns to tiny Kerrville as a national celebrity.

"It will be good to see a lot of my old friends," Manziel said. "I haven't seen them in a long time."

Chances are there will be plenty of cameras, cell phones and Twitter accounts documenting the festivities in his hometown.

Since winning the Heisman Trophy on Dec. 8, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media have documented Manziel attending the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, NBA All-Star game and other sporting events around the country. He'll throw out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers' game against the Los Angeles Angels at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Sunday.

Over the past few months, Manziel was spotted rubbing elbows with Hollywood stars like Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, as well as NBA player Chris Paul and other pro athletes. It even became national news when Manziel was cited for speeding in a small town outside of Dallas in January and when he got a fake Texas Longhorns tattoo during spring break last month. Manziel said the tattoo was a practical joke, but some Texas A&M fans didn't find it very amusing.

With apologies to Dos Equis, Manziel might be the most interesting man in the world -- or at least he's leading the most interesting life of any college freshman in America.

"I guess I thought it would die down at some point, but it really hasn't," Manziel said. "I'm amazed at how little things like that make it into the media. I couldn't believe me getting a speeding ticket made it onto ESPN. It got to the point where I didn't want to go anywhere."

Not even to classes on the Texas A&M campus. Because of Manziel's sudden fame, he's taking three online courses in sports management at Texas A&M this spring. He plans to physically return to campus for summer school, when he hopes there will be fewer autograph and photo requests between classes.

Last week, Manziel shut down his Twitter account because it became too much of a distraction. He told Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin that he's keeping his Instagram account, but he's been much less active on social media over the past few weeks.

Manziel also has found a safe haven at his parents' nearby home in Bryan, Texas. His parents, Michelle and Paul Manziel, moved to the area from Kerrville last fall. Paul Manziel, who manages a car dealership, still works in Longview, Texas, but is at home as much as possible. Manziel's younger sister is attending high school in Bryan and hopes to enroll at Texas A&M in January 2014.

"I love having my parents here," Manziel said. "With everything that's going on, it's good to have them here. It's good to have dinner with them and lay low at their house."

Sumlin said Manziel's sudden notoriety has been a lot to handle because he was relatively anonymous going into the 2012 season. Sumlin didn't name Manziel the Aggies' starting quarterback until Aug. 15, about two weeks before they were scheduled to open the season against Louisiana Tech (the game was postponed because of Hurricane Isaac). Before the announcement, many Texas A&M fans expected Jameill Showers to win the starting job over Manziel, a redshirt freshman who had never seen the field. After Manziel's award-winning season, Showers transferred to UTEP in February.

Johnny Manziel, Kevin Sumlin
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is trying to help Manziel manage all of the Heisman Trophy winner's sudden fame.

"Things have changed," Sumlin said. "He's in a position that's never happened with a freshman winning the Heisman Trophy. Usually either the Cotton Bowl [the Aggies defeated Oklahoma 41-13 in their bowl game] would have been a guy's last game, or he'd have one more year left. He's still young. I think the thing that's probably been most different is six months ago nobody knew who he was. That's the intriguing thing for a lot of people. To go from not even being the starting quarterback six months ago to the Heisman Trophy winner is pretty dramatic."

And, as Manziel has learned over the past few months, being the reigning Heisman Trophy winner comes with a lot of demands. Texas A&M's sports information office has been inundated with autograph and appearance requests for him. In November, Manziel's attorney filed paperwork to trademark "Johnny Football" to protect his image and nickname.

In January, Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman and Sumlin met with Manziel and his parents. The meeting also included officials from the school's publicity, marketing and NCAA compliance departments.

"We've talked," Sumlin said. "I think people made a lot of the meeting we had with his parents and Eric Hyman. People assumed it was a come-to-Jesus meeting. But that meeting was really Eric's attempt to reach out to the family and let them know we're here for them. With the Heisman and the publicity surrounding him, we wanted them to know that we're here to help. People with both good and bad intentions can be problems for him. I think it was smart on Eric's part to get together and get everybody on the same page from a compliance standpoint because there are a lot of demands on him right now."

On the field, Manziel has spent spring practice adjusting to life without former Aggies offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kliff Kingsbury, who left before the Cotton Bowl to become Texas Tech's new coach. Sumlin hired West Virginia assistant Jake Spavital to replace Kingsbury. Spavital, 27, was a graduate assistant on Sumlin's staff at Houston and also worked at Oklahoma State. He has coached record-setting quarterbacks Case Keenum (Houston), Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State) and Geno Smith (West Virginia). Aggies running backs coach/co-offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney will call plays this fall.

"There probably will be some changes, but not as much as you think," Sumlin said. "Jake was with us at Houston. He's very familiar with the system and how we do things. I think the thing that helps him get their attention are the other players he has coached. He's been around some really good players and handled some really good players. To me age doesn't dictate experience in college football. The ability to communicate is a big deal in coaching. His only coaching experience has come within our system. I could have hired a guy who coached for 30 years, but he might have known nothing about what we're trying to do."

Johnny Manziel
As Year 2 approaches, Manziel is working on becoming a better all-around quarterback.

Manziel also will continue to work with quarterback guru George Whitfield, who tutored him last summer. Manziel is scheduled to go to California in May to work with Whitfield, and plans to go again this summer.

"He's working to become a better quarterback," Sumlin said. "He's an unbelievable competitor and he's really hard on himself. There's no doubt he wants to play at the next level and he's embraced what he needs to do for that to happen. His biggest challenge has been to become a quarterback who's an athlete and not an athlete who's a quarterback."

Texas A&M running back Ben Malena said Manziel has already made himself a better passer. Last season, Manziel completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,706 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Malena said he's been even more accurate throwing the ball this spring.

"With his passing, he's on the money now," Malena said. "He's so good with his passes now that when he makes a bad pass, it's noticeable. With some quarterbacks, when they make a bad pass, it's not even noticed. It's not that way with Johnny anymore."

Sumlin said Manziel has also taken more ownership of the offense. He's a more vocal leader than he was as a freshman.

"It's hard to lead as a freshman -- even as a Heisman Trophy winner," Sumlin said.

Life is harder in a lot of ways for Johnny Football, but he isn't complaining.

"I still wouldn't trade it for anything," Manziel said. "It's been the biggest blessing in my life. I'm still going to enjoy every second of it."