Johnny Football wears his stardom well

(This article was originally published online by theeagle.com at http://www.theeagle.com/article_dc331794-a22e-5b7b-ad41-3990b327f227.html?TNNoMobile)

By ALLEN REED allen.reed@theeagle.com

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 1:05 pm, Thu Jan 10, 2013.

A Burberry designer scarf, Dom Pérignon champagne, stacks of money and the unyielding admiration of young women dressed in their evening’s finest — it’s good to be a Heisman winner.

Millions watched Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel lead his team to a rout of Oklahoma in Friday’s Cotton Bowl, and thousands tuned into celebrity gossip website TMZ a few days later to check out pictures of Manziel’s post-game partying in a Dallas nightclub.

The university is well aware of Manziel’s actions on and off the field, and its officials are hard at work to protect the young star from the somewhat unprecedented media attention and, in some ways, his own impulses.

The school’s second Heisman winner has become somewhat of a College Station Kardashian. When not hanging out with LeBron James or golfing with the Jonas Brothers, he’s photographed holding a lit sparkler between his teeth when he hits the club.

Manziel circulated the pictures of the celebrities and of money he said was won at a casino from his Twitter account. The candid club shots of what appear to be designer wear and expensive alcohol are taken by anonymous paparazzi.

Sports gossip website Deadspin linked to photos of the partying Manziel when he visited a nightclub after the fireworks on and off the field. Similar to his other photo sets, Manziel is pictured with assorted alcohol and women. Comments on the website range from “I mean, good for him” to “The sparkler in his mouth with a bottle of dom is where I draw the line. I quit you Johnny Football.”

TMZ and Deadspin representatives did not return requests for comment.

In none of the photos is the underage Manziel shown drinking alcohol.

“He’s 20 years old and we have to be realistic about him,” said A&M athletic director Eric Hyman. “He is going from a young person to becoming a man, and it’s not a perfect straight and narrow line, and sometimes you’re going to fall in a pothole or hurdle.”

While Hyman called for realistic expectations from the Aggie faithful of the young student-athlete, he emphasized that university officials are confident in Manziel’s decision-making on and off the field. He pointed to Manziel’s 516-yard performance in the bowl game, which came after both the Heisman presentation and candid pictures of Manziel started to circulate.

Photos of Manziel dressed as Scooby Doo, alongside women not in full-body costumes, hit the internet the night after Halloween.

Hyman said Manziel’s performance is indicative that neither his extracurricular activities nor the ensuing media frenzy has impacted his game. He also pointed to the freshman’s Heisman acceptance speech and press conferences — both widely considered to be handled with poise and maturity.

“He is a 20-year-old young person, and he is a student,” Hyman said. “Ultimately, he is here to get his degree. And I told him to whom much is given, much is required. I told his parents, he’s no longer a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior — he’s a Heisman award winner.”

Extraordinary challenges

Star athletes are no stranger to Hyman. He worked with running back LaDainian Tomlinson at Texas Christian University and running back Marcus Lattimore and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney at the University of South Carolina.

Hyman also worked with troubled South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, who was arrested, suspended and ultimately kicked off the team in 2011. Prior to his being named as A&M’s starting quarterback by Coach Kevin Sumlin, Manziel was arrested shirtless during the summer after involvement in a fight in Northgate and charged with disorderly conduct, giving false information to law enforcement and possession of a fake ID.

Hyman said he doesn’t see similarities between Garcia and Manziel.

“We tried to work with Stephen and it comes to a point in time that there’s only so much you can do,” Hyman said. “The athlete has to help themselves. I don’t see any of the same issues with Johnny.”

Still, Manziel’s stardom is unique, if not unprecedented — even for a storied football program that has had top-10 picks in back-to-back NFL drafts. Hyman recognizes that and said he is convening a meeting with Manziel and his family to help them weather the media frenzy. The meeting will be in addition to the counseling and help normally afforded student athletes.

It’s a necessary step, Hyman said, because Manziel’s situation is extraordinary. The young quarterback is faced with challenges, such as being plastered on gossip sites, that typical athletes are not.

Hyman said the meeting will detail how to deal with the media, autograph seekers, security issues and explain consequences to actions. He said Manziel is ultimately a student athlete, and A&M is committed to helping him graduate. Manziel already takes direction well from coaches and staff, he said.

“He has been receptive. Is he a 20 year old? Yes, but he’s been receptive,” Hyman said. “The maturation process hits us all at different points at our life, and he’s going to experience the same things.”

A&M officials turned to a rival Southeastern Conference school for advice on how to mentor their superstar, Hyman said. Former Florida quarterback and 2007 Heisman winner Tim Tebow similarly achieved pop culture status along with a cult following while still a student.

Steve McClain, University of Florida’s senior associate athletic director for communication, was the point man for handling Tebow’s brand and media presence. McClain said A&M officials called him the day after Manziel won the Heisman.

“There’s obviously some parallels to Johnny’s situation and Tim’s in terms of the public’s, or media’s, appetite for him,” McClain said.

Tebow and Manziel are very different people, McClain acknowledged, but said he was able to share his experiences on how to help handle a famous undergraduate. He said is it important for A&M to have a plan for how to field media requests, to always stick with the plan and to be consistent.

Few people understand how much attention and organization goes into fielding media inquiries regarding a player of that caliber, McClain observed.

Tebow received media requests daily from locations all around the world, he said.

“Having gone through that, you just have to have a plan to manage it,” McClain said. “And the biggest realization is every athlete knows everything they do is scrutinized, but when you win the Heisman Trophy, it takes it to a new level.”

No ‘Honey Badger’

Sports psychologist Justin Anderson said it’s too early to jump to conclusions about Manziel’s mindset. He said the quarterback is faced with intense scrutiny and situations that nearly no other student athlete experiences. He said pictures posted all over the gossip sites are not indicative of wrongdoing.

“There’s a lot of college players doing that same thing, and there’s no limelight and it’s not put out there,” Anderson said. “Is it abnormal behavior? No. Does he have to be mindful of how much attention he’s getting? Yeah. I think with the fame comes more responsibility, particularly when you’re representing the university.”

Anderson said sudden stardom can create conflicts between the player, coaches and teammates.

“It’s always challenging for a 20-year-old to jump into a spotlight like Johnny has jumped into,” Anderson said. “There’s just a lot more going on, and the limelight can be very seductive. That can create lot of great feelings and put a lot of pressure on you.”

To college football expert and NFL draft guru Mike Detillier, Manziel does not show any red flags. Conversely, the editor and publisher of Mike Detillier’s NFL Draft Report sees millions of dollars in professional contracts and signing bonuses for the young Aggie.

Detillier said Manziel is a definite first rounder and has the potential to be the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

“He’s walking on turf that he’s never walked before,” Detillier said. “It’s how you handle success. People say how you handle adversity is how you find out about a person, but it’s really also about how you handle success.”

Detillier, who lives in Louisiana, has worked extensively with another superstar athlete who made a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation — Tyrann Mathieu. The former Louisiana State cornerback, nicknamed the “Honey Badger,” went from a Heisman finalist in 2011 to being kicked off his team in less than a year. Detillier said nearly every collegiate athlete will face adversity, but that he saw none of the issues that plagued Mathieu in Manziel.

“You’re going to make some wrong moves just like you do on the field, but it’s how you bounce back from that,” Detillier said. “I think that that’s what the NFL people will want to see.”

Still, Detiller said the quarterback would be best served to stay focused.

“When you become part of pop culture like he has, that’s a totally different world than the football world,” Detillier said. “He needs to stay Johnny Manziel and not Johnny Football.”