Last year at this time, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel wasn't allowed to speak with the media, per team rules regarding freshmen. Wednesday morning, the media contingent surrounding Manziel was so large he could barely move from one room to the next for his first appearance at SEC media days.
That's how much life has changed since Manziel walked onto a stage in New York seven months ago to accept his Heisman Trophy — becoming the first freshman to receive the award.
But as he faced the media for the first time since his highly publicized debacle at the Manning Passing Academy last week, Manziel admitted he was ill-prepared for instant fame, and reminded the nation he's just a 20-year-old kid "trying to enjoy my life."
"I never realized the magnitude of it," Manziel said. "People told me. I'd heard it time and time again. But it's one of those things that you don't really understand until you go through it and until you deal with it. My situation was so different because nobody had had three years of eligibility left. … I never really, none of us, not coach (Kevin) Sumlin, not A&M, not anybody in the country knew."
Manziel has been unable to escape the spotlight since winning the Heisman. His most recent public relations disaster was his abrupt departure from the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La. Manziel was a member of the football camp staff, which included Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel and Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. Multiple reports said he was hung over from a night of partying and sent home, but Manziel said he missed a meeting because his alarm clock didn't go off and he overslept.
"The speculations of me being too hung over or whatever it was to show up at the meetings the next day and unable to show up are absolutely untrue," he said.
Instead, he said both sides "mutually" agreed he should leave early, and he was suffering from exhaustion.
Shortly after winning the Heisman, Manziel became extremely popular on Twitter posting photos of himself courtside at premium NBA games, partying with friends in Mexico on spring break — and on and on. He raised the ire of Texas A&M fans last month when he tweeted that he couldn't wait to get out of College Station, insinuating he was being targeted for being Johnny Manziel. Later, it was reported that the genesis for the tweet was a campus parking ticket.
"I think off the field, there's no question that he's made some mistakes," Sumlin said. "We've had some discussions about that. … Is our system perfect? No. Is he perfect? No. I think he's done some things that he's not proud of, has made some poor decisions. Unfortunately, the poor decisions are the ones that are really publicized."
What he needs most, he said, is to return to the place he's most comfortable — the football field.
"My teammates know where my heart's at and where my head's at," he said. "I'm just ready to start. There's no more talk after this. Just let's play football and let's let our play do the talking for us like we did last year."
Last season, Manziel threw for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,410 yards. His teammates said they have no doubt his off-the-field distractions won't be an issue when camp opens in two weeks.
"Johnny Football is a great person," defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said. "He's a great guy, he works hard and he's dedicated to his craft."
Still, teammate and offensive lineman Jake Matthews said, a little less Manziel wouldn't be all bad.
"I wish you guys cared more about me," Matthews joked.
Manziel probably wishes the same.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]