Credit: David Flores / Kens5.com
Johnny Manziel, pictured with then-Kerrville Tivy head football coach Mark Smith as a senior in 2010, committed to Oregon before changing his mind and signing with Texas A&M in 2011.
Tuesday, Aug 6 at 12:09 PM
Nicknamed "Johnny Football" during his scintillating ascent to the top of the college football world last season, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel always will be just plain "Johnny" to his former high school coach at Kerrville Tivy.
"Johnny is the same kid he's always been," Mark Smith said Monday. "He hasn't changed. He wants to be a good kid."
Manziel has maintained a warm relationship with Smith, who left Tivy in 2012 to become head football coach at Judson High School.
"We probably don't talk as much as we used to, but I talked to him a little bit this week," Smith said. "He was able to get away with some friends and just enjoy himself without anybody asking him for his autograph. He was able to just relax."
Manziel, who graduated from Tivy in December 2010 and enrolled at A&M a month later, became a national celebrity after winning the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman last year.
But fame has come with a heavy price for Manziel, whose off-the-field activities have been widely reported and closely scrutinized.
Manziel's long offseason culminated with a bombshell Sunday, when ESPN's "Outside The Lines" reported that the NCAA is investigating whether he accepted money for autographing photos and memorabilia in Miami for an autograph broker.
NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from accepting money for "promotion or sale of a product or service," putting Manziel's college eligibility in jeopardy after only one season.
Manziel moved to Kerrville when he was eighth-grader
The ESPN story broke on the day before A&M, which is expected to battle defending national champion Alabama for the SEC title this season, started workouts.
Manziel practiced with the team Monday, but did not speak with the media.
"I promise you the greatest day he was looking forward to was being around his teammates again," Smith said.
While Smith reveled in watching Manziel's meteoric rise last season, he said it's been difficult to see his former quarterback sometimes struggle to adjust to his new life as a celebrity.
"There is no Heisman winner who has had to put up with the scrutiny that Johnny has faced," Smith said. "With all the social media out there, there's nothing he can do publicly without something being said or being found out. I think he's still trying to learn how to handle things and work through it. It's a process.
"I don't know how you prepare for something like this. Unfortunately, there's no handbook. There is no perfect way. I think Johnny understands he has to start doing some things differently. He'll do a better job of dealing with it as he grows older. But I think Johnny is going to continue to be Johnny."
Manziel, 20, was born in the East Texas town of Tyler and lived there until he moved to Kerrville with his family when he was in the eighth grade. He got moved up to the Tivy varsity for the playoffs when he was a freshman, and became the varsity's starting quarterback midway through his sophomore season.
Manziel earned Parade All-American honors as a senior after passing for 3,609 yards and 45 TDs, and running for 1,674 yards and 30 TDs. He completed 228 of 347 passes and was intercepted only five times, and averaged 9.85 yards per carry.
Smith: Manziel always deflected attention to his Tivy teammates
For all his remarkable stats, Manziel didn't receive the attention from major-college recruiters that most Parade All-Americans get. Wary of his lack of height – Manziel is 6-foot-1 – many coaches thought he was too small to play quarterback at college football's highest level.
Still, Oregon coach Chip Kelly offered Manziel a scholarship. Manziel committed to the Ducks in the summer before his senior season, but he had a change of heart after making three unofficial visits to A&M on consecutive weekends that September.
Manziel signed with the Aggies in 2011.
"If people listen to Johnny when he's getting interviewed, they'll hear someone who always talks about his teammates first and wanting to put A&M in the spotlight," Smith said. "All that gets lost with all the other stuff the media reports about. Johnny's always been great about giving the credit to his teammates.
"He was that way at Tivy. When the press wanted to talk about him and his accomplishments, he always made it understood that he wasn't doing it alone. He understood it was a team game. He is confident in who he is and he has that swagger, but it's not that throw-it-your-face arrogance. He's a down-to-earth guy."
Smith, 52, recalled a player who always worked hard in practice and held himself accountable.
"He was a great guy to coach," Smith said. "He came to work every day. He put it on the line. Even when we were working on defense, he would jump in there and get on the scout team. When we would have team meetings or devotionals, if he messed up, he would be the first one to get up and say that. Those are the things I remember about Johnny."