HOOVER, Ala. - One year ago today, Johnny Manziel was hardly a household name.
Of course, that was before Texas A&M’s star quarterback embarked on a season-long journey that took him from freshman signal-caller to Heisman Trophy winner, passing for 3,706 yards, 26 touchdowns and upsetting Alabama along the way.
The ensuing media attention adjusted accordingly, with the heroic antics of “Johnny Football” becoming the talk of the college football world. Whether Manziel has completely adjusted to his new found national spotlight remains up for debate.
“It’s just been different, going from last August to now. The Heisman, I feel like it was just yesterday and now we’re already up to another season,” Manziel said at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. “I used to be a person that watched ESPN and Sportscenter all day, every day. I shy away from it now, articles and things on Twitter.”
In the wake of the buzz he has created on Twitter or, more recently, his late arrival to the Manning Passing Academy, writers and reporters from every corner of the nation have come out of the woodwork to question Manziel’s maturity and commitment to the team.
His teammates don’t quite see it that way.
“He hasn’t changed as a person,” offensive tackle Jake Matthews said. “It is an adjustment he’s going to have to get used to, and it’s going to be like that for a while for him.
“I feel like he deserves [the attention]. He works hard, stays dedicated,” defensive back Toney Hurd said. “Johnny’s perfected his craft. He wants to show not only his teammates but his critics that he’s a great player.”
As for his not-so-punctual arrival to the Manning family’s quarterback camp, fellow attendee Connor Shaw tried to downplay the insinuations that Manziel had showed up late to drills hungover. But South Carolina’s quarterback also recognized that Manziel had failed to fulfill some key duties as a counselor, namely showing up.
“He wasn’t out drinking and partying the way people perceive it to be. I’m not sure exactly what happened through the night, I just know that he wasn’t there the next morning,” Shaw said. “You have a great deal of responsibility and it’s great to be there. You have a group of kids and it’s a little team you have… you’re invited to that camp to do your job, and it’s just unfortunate what happened.”
And while the go-to response by those at SEC Media Days was that Manziel has been overly-scrutinized, Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin at the very least admitted that he would like to see some improvement out of his young quarterback with regards to his off-the-field conduct.
“He’s made some poor decisions,” Sumlin said. “That’s something that we’re working on.”
Manziel still feels the media circus, which has been hot on the Johnny Football trail since the Aggies beat Alabama last season, has occasionally been a little much for an underclassman to handle.
“I would say at times [the coverage] was blown out of proportion. I hope people will see I’m still a 20 year old kid, a sophomore in college,” he said. “I knew all of my actions were being watched, but lately it’s just been magnified.”
But for all of the questions regarding Manziel outside of football, very few believe that he won’t have a good shot at repeating his feats next season. His Texas A&M teammates were among his most vocal supporters.
“He’s definitely going to be ready for the season,” Matthews said. “We know if we give him time, he’s going to be just as good as he was last year.”
Manziel knows that the spotlight won’t go away anytime soon. But if he can continue his impressive passing performance and lead the Aggies offense to another successful season in 2013, he also believes that his biggest critics will begin to slowly fade into the background.
“Football is football. My teammates know where my hearts at, where my head’s at. We’re a family and that’s what a family does. I’m just ready to stop. There’s no more talk after this, everything we say will be decided on the field,” he said.
- Alec Shirkey is the sports editor of The Red & Black.
More from Alec at SEC Media Days: